Charges that electrical energy from high-voltage power lines can harm children have convinced the Fairfax County school board to postpone a decision on where to locate a new school in Reston.
The Reston 6 elementary school is planned for a 13-acre site adjacent to a Virginia Electric and Power Co. right-of-way with high-voltage lines. The school board was scheduled vote on the site last week, but deferred its decision until Thursday to investigate charges by a group of Reston parents that exposure to electrical force from Vepco's transmission lines could harm children attending the school.
The group cited experiments by a New York research biophysicist and others that showed continuous exposure to high-voltage electrical fields have stunted the growth of laboratory animals. But not everyone is convinced of any danger.
"We can investigate this a week or we can investigate for a year," said school board vice chairman Anthony T. Lane. "The fact is we're not going to find the kind of answers we need. Real conclusive evidence of harm just doesn't exist."
Reston parents opposed to changing the site and some school officials say the charges of electrical danger are an 11th-hour effort by Reston residents who want the new school moved to a site closer to them. The group of about 15 parents which is making the charges, however, say its intentions are sincere:
"I honestly believe those lines represent a health hazard the school board has yet to appreciate," said Raymond J. Sander, a leader in the move to change the school site. "Sure, when we started out (to change the site) we didn't know about the possible danger of those lines, but now we do. This is a different, serious issue."
Scientists have lined up on both sides of the issue when assessing the possible dangers of exposure to electrical fields surrounding high-volrage power lines. Some say there is no conclusive evidence that humans are harmfully affected by exposure to electrical fields whose strength is measured at 4,000 volts per meter, for example. Others say humans can be affected by exposure to electrical fields whose strength is as low as two volts per meter.
Two high-voltage lines run through the Vepco right-of-way near the proposed Reston school site off Cross School Road Huge, 100-foot concrete towers carry one 230,000-volt line and another 115,000-volt line. Vepco says it plans to add another 230,000-volt line. School officials have cited one calculation by a Reston parent that says the electrical field strength from the lines is 70 volts per meter at the edge of the Vepco right-of-way, which would adjoin playing fields for the school.
Research into the effects of high-voltage electrical fields comes at a time when sources of electric power are being moved further away from customers and thus power companies are having to construct more and larger transmission systems. The higher the voltage of an electric line, the stronger the electrical field surrounding it.
Dr. Andrew A. Marino, a research biophysicist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., said he believes "chronic exposure to voltages beyond what one is exposed to naturally is to be avoided."
He said recent experiments showed that rats continuously exposed to electrical fields with strengths varying from two to 100 volts per meter all showed different degrees of stunted growth.
Marino, who testified before the New York Public Service Commission on the health and safety of 750,000-volt lines being built in upstate New York is often quoted by Reston residents who want to move the school site.
Reston parents who want to keep the site often quote David E. Janes, a researcher in electromagnetic radiation with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. He said he doubts electrical energy from Vepco's lines could harm children.
Janes said he "couldn't imagine anyone suggesting any deleterious effects from electrical fields of 70 volts per meter. If there were any effects at all, they would be very subtle."