The following was written by PoPville contributor David McAuley, founder of Short Articles about Long Meetings.
Photo by David McAuley
At its regularly-scheduled meeting September 4, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6E/Shaw voted to table a decision on a proposed new electricity substation at K and First Streets NW, in Mount Vernon Square. The vote took place after PEPCO representatives and local residents argued over whether electromagnetic radiation from the plant will pose a danger to the community.
The ANC is involved because PEPCO must get zoning relief in order to construct the substation. The footprint, height, and setback of the building are within what PEPCO may build without seeking zoning relief, but the current plans do not include as many spaces for cars and bicycles as required, nor do the plans meet the requirements for a trash room. However, since the building will be mostly “unmanned”, it was argued, normal building requirements are not relevant in these categories.
A team from PEPCO, led by Vice President for Government and External Affairs Mark Battle, presented first.
“A substation is not a power plant,” Battle said.
Battle also said there will soon not be enough capacity from existing substations, given development in the Mount Vernon Square area.
The selection of the site was simply based on where electricity was needed, without regard to the socio-economic status of the area. Battle showed maps and photographs which showed electrical substations in all eight wards of DC. He said there were substations next to million-dollar homes. Battle also showed a photo of a substation next to Sibley Hospital.
Battle presented scientist and consultant Dr. William Bailey as an expert witness. Bailey said that radiation from electromagnetic fields “does not effect our health in a normal environment”. However, Bailey admitted there had been some studies which showed correlation between exposure to electromagnetic radiation and certain cancers, but other studies had shown no relation. Furthermore, correlation does not mean that one thing caused another.
“Substations themselves are not strong sources of magnetic fields,” Bailey also said. He also emphasized that the amount of radiation that people are exposed to falls off dramatically as they go away from the source, and the strongest source of radiation from electromagnetic fields in the average home are household appliances.
The opposition to the substation then had a chance to present. Tiffany Aziz, a local parent who has been active in opposition to the proposal, said she had been fighting “for many reasons” and said she had a petition against the substations with “close to 500 signatures”.
Elizabeth Kelley. Photo by David McAuley
Elizabeth Kelley, director of Electromagnetic Field Safety Alliance, made a presentation to the ANC about the potential dangers of electromagnetic radiation fields. Kelley said there was “so much research showing harm”, “no proof of safety”, and “hundreds of scientists who are concerned”. She said there were many studies that found a relationship between cancer and electromagnetic radiation, as well as links to obesity, asthma, ADHD, and abnormal thyroid function.
“It has not been possible to shake the connection between electromagnetic radiation and childhood leukemia,” Kelley also said.
“There’s a lot of industry involvement in the creation of scientific panels,” Kelley said, addressing the issue of why some studies had failed to link electromagnetic radiation to health issues. She also said that some of the studies cited in Dr. Bailey’s presentation were “industry-tied”.
Kelley also said the US Environmental Protection Agency has never said what level of electromagnetic radiation is safe, because the EPA had been “defunded” after “heavy lobbying”.
Kelley concluded: “It has been shown time and time again that there is a relationship.”
Bailey called Kelley’s conclusion a “mischaracterization”, which Kelley denied.
After more than a hour on the topic, the ANC decided to close debate, as there were other matters to attend to. The vote to table a decision until the October meeting, to give Commissioners a chance to examine the documents and reports that accompanied both presentations, was unanimous.