Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl announced Monday, January 11th that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) has agreed to a community request to conduct a “full and thorough” environmental review for its proposed Scattergood-Olympic Line 1 underground power line project.
“The community has provided leadership as they always do when issues of interest have come up. It’s very gratifying that David Freeman [acting manager of DWP] has agreed to taking this action,” Rosendahl told The Argonaut.
“Exploring alternate routes for the power cable line is much more important than shoving the existing route down constituents’ throats,” Rosendahl said.
After several extensions, the public comment deadline for the proposed DWP underground power cable project has been suspended until health and safety issues are resolved.
Rosendahl, at the request of his constituents, said he had previously contacted Freeman to ask for an extension until January 15th to resolve health and safety issues of exposure to the EMF (electromagnetic field) in residential neighborhoods. That time extension proved to be too short based on the concerns from communities such as Mar Vista, Westchester and Playa del Rey.
Rosendahl was the moderator for the Wednesday, January 6th meeting of DWP representatives and guest speaker Dr. Leeka Kheifets, an epidemiologist and statistician with the UCLA School of Public Health.
Kheifets, who was invited by Rosendahl, addressed a large audience of concerned residents, many from Mar Vista, about studies of electromagnetic fields (EMF) and childhood leukemia.
“Dr. Kheifets is the number-one expert on this issue. In the history of this issue, she’s been one of the most prominent people on the planet in discussing health impacts and research on EMF safety,” Rosendahl said.
Her experience includes heading the World Health Organization’s Radiation Study Program and co-authoring “Establishing a Dialogue on Risks from Electromagnetic Fields,” he noted.
DWP representatives presented their potential designs of the cable layout at the meeting and discussed possible mitigation to make the underground cables safer.
The DWP Scattergood-Olympic Line 1 project proposes construction of approximately 12 miles of underground power cable from the Receiving Station (RS-K) at Centinela Avenue and Olympic Boulevard in the Mar Vista area to the Scattergood Generating Station (SGS) in El Segundo at Vista del Mar and Grand Avenue.
An ad hoc committee had been established by Rosendahl that consists of DWP representatives and residents from Mar Vista and Westchester in an effort to find common ground and work out a solution that focused on safety for the communities.
This committee will continue to work with Rosendahl through upcoming meetings, and the councilman stated that this would not be the only safety-oriented meeting, nor would the proposed cable route necessarily remain unchanged if health and safety concerns were not met.
Mar Vista residents said they are concerned about power cables being placed under the streets, in some cases very narrow streets that could create a potential health risk to young children both in their residences and going to and from school.
The underground power cables would be placed under the streets, but because of other infrastructure such as gas pipelines already underground, residents say that the power cables could be located closer to sidewalks and homes than they feel is safe.
Kheifets said that the focus on magnetic fields and carcinogenic effects started in 1987 by looking at residences and the workplace, and since 1998, experts have studied many different diseases, including childhood leukemia, which is the “main driver” in this whole area.
“This is an enormous area, with thousands of studies and discussions of exposure. Power lines are extremely low frequency fields (ELF),” she said.
Kheifets said the major determinant of exposure is distance. She said that ordinary household items such as hair dryers and electric shavers carry a high milligauss level [a milligauss is one-thousandth of a gauss, a unit of magnetic flux density], as do alarm clocks and the older electric blankets. These are short-term exposures, but are used over a long period of time.
Studies over a 24-hour period of one woman wearing a meter to measure exposure showed a complex situation, with changes in measurements based on driving, feeding a baby, going to school and being exposed to everyday life, said Kheifets.
“How to capture, summarize, and how to know which aspect is important is the question. There’s a lot of uncertainty in just one day; what is important is all of the exposure over a lifetime,” she said.
“Epidemiologists struggle with this. How do you study, summarize, and do occupational studies, residential studies with different approaches?
“We’ve studied many diseases, particularly cancer in children, leukemia and brain tumors, which are the most common cancers in children.
“A childhood leukemia study by age in Europe followed age groups from age one to 19, through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and was very alarming. The main piece of evidence was that the relative risk was higher at three milligauss and lower below three milligauss,” she continued.
“Both UCLA and European studies show this picture; from three to four milligauss you see a doubling of risk.
“What do we do, how do we interpret it? We have a consistent association between childhood leukemia and exposure of three to four milligauss. It could be chance, but it’s very unlikely, because of so many studies,” said Kheifets.
“When you have 20 or 30 studies all over the world, it’s hard to think that it’s just chance. We understand very little about the causes of childhood leukemia. So we’re not quite sure that we’re controlling for the right things.
“Childhood leukemia peaks at two to three years of age — we think that something may happen very early in utero. But what is the second hit, what happens after birth that leads to the disease? The incidence of childhood leukemia is very rare. Some believe it could be viral, but we don’t know. It’s very complex. There’s no specific time period to identify it,” Kheifets said.
Other diseases studied include breast cancer, other cancers, neuro-degenerative disease, melanoma, cardiovascular disease, depression, suicide and hypersensitivity.
One hypothesis proposed for breast cancer was that EMFs are connected to melatonin, a hormone produced in the pineal gland that signals the body when to go to sleep and when to wake up, regulating the circadian rhythm, said Kheifets.
She said that there is some evidence that an increase in magnetic fields leads to a decrease in melatonin, but there is fairly good evidence that decreased melatonin leads to cancer.
“We have to make policy and do risk assessment. The most premier agency in the world is the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which has done close to 1,000 such evaluations for all kinds of agents,” she said.
“We evaluate separately epidemiological data and data on humans and animals, look at other supporting data like cells and other things, and come up with classifications.”
Kheifets said there are four classifications of agents including:
The first is that the agent is carcinogenic to humans. There are 108 classified carcinogenic agents, including asbestos, alcoholic beverages, benzene, radon, solar radiation, x-rays and tobacco, she said.
The second class is weaker (2a) or “probably” carcinogenic based on strong animal evidence. There’s always uncertainty between animal evidence and human evidence, so there are 66 agents classified in Group 2a, including PCBs and formaldehyde, she noted.
The third category (2b) is “possibly” carcinogenic based on evidence in humans that is considered credible but for which other explanations could not be ruled out. This group includes coffee, styrene (vinyl benzene) and gasoline.
Group 3 is unclassifiable because there is very little or no evidence, and Group 4 is no carcinogens, Kheifets stated.
“How do we take all this data and develop policy? This issue won’t get resolved very soon or very quickly.
“People take this kind of data in different ways and they come up with different answers as to what kind of policy needs to be in place,” she said.
Kheifets says she favors the low or no cost precautionary approach, because even with uncertainty, childhood leukemia is “worth doing something about, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
“A majority of scientists believe that if it’s not proven, there’s no need for action. They require a very high level of certainty before they want to do anything. There are other people that think the limit of exposure should be at two milligauss, while others say we should extrapolate from animal studies and set the limit at 100 milligauss,” Kheifets explained.
Some specialists think other more common diseases like adult leukemia, breast cancer, brain cancer and miscarriage also need to be considered, she said, and because they are much more common diseases than childhood leukemia, they believe it would be agreeable to spend much more money.
As an example of guidelines, Kheifets cited the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, saying a majority of countries in the world have policies adopted from its guidelines.
“If we’re really worried, there are a variety of ways to reduce exposure. Sitting in front of your computer for six hours or five minutes of using the hair dryer can be reduced,” she pointed out.
DWP Presentation —
A DWP environmental representative said that engineers have driven the proposed route looking for sensitive receptors, potentially significant impacts to schools and traffic, and geotechnical issues. The information is then reviewed so that the department can begin to work on mitigating these issues.
He said that DWP has adopted safe guidelines from state agencies, and works with the low cost/no cost approach, which is estimated to be about four percent of the project budget. New design mitigations are considered, as well as configuration of cables and engineering.
Vince Curzi, the underground transmission manager, said that the deeper the line for the cable, the lower the EMF. He cited a report from Power Delivery Consultants for the DWP that outlined three line design configurations: flat, triangular and squashed triangular. He then discussed the lessening of the milligauss level based on the configurations.
Curzi said that aluminum plates on top of the cables and on the sides and top of the trench would provide protection and reduce the magnetic field directly above by seven milligauss.
DWP officials said they would consider shielding of the cables with one-quarter aluminum sheet on three sides, but the cost would be $1 million per mile. The penalty to the community for this option means it would be in lieu of any line movement, said one of the ad hoc committee members.
One resident suggested avoiding the “million-dollar-a-mile” cost of shielding all of the streets by focusing on the residential streets instead.
The aluminum plating on the sides and top of the trench would be the most protective method, Curzi said in answer to a question.
DWP power engineering manager Min Le said that the department does not have control over where the line goes because the infrastructure under the street is congested from gas pipelines and other material.
One speaker said the project seemed to be based only on potential growth for the Westside to the detriment of local communities.
Le said the project is planned in response to multiple problems on the Olympic Line 2 that have caused blackouts and the new line would reinforce the system.
“We are adding redundancy, not capacity,” said Le.
Asked if an earthquake could rupture the cable, Le said that the gas lines are made of steel and aren’t flexible like the power cables, which can move and twist, making them less likely to break.
A Mar Vista resident said that pre-painted lines for the DWP project on local streets are right next to the curb in some areas, much closer to homes, such as on Armacost Avenue, and asked that shielding be provided if the cable was put in.
A DWP representative said the department tries to stay as far away from the property line as possible.
Rosendahl told the audience that he takes a strong position on the subject of safety.
“I don’t have a route in my mind and they haven’t convinced me of anything yet. I understand their logic, but we’ll have a discussion about the route at another meeting and they will point out where they want the route to be,” he said.
“This is a real issue for all of us. We’re going to get into this as a community. We have to resolve the safety issue first, and then resolve the route issue,” Rosendahl continued. “If DWP isn’t going to be supportive of shielding when they’re the ones who brought it up, they’re going to be in trouble.”
Another internal meeting will take place with the ad hoc committee and the DWP, and meetings will continue until everyone is satisfied with the safety issue, Rosendahl told the audience.
“When awareness of this issue first came about, I decided that December 1st, the closing period, wasn’t enough time. And so, we moved it to January 15th,” he said.
“First, the health and safety, that is the purpose of today’s meeting. If this meeting doesn’t make us comfortable, we’ll hold another meeting or two, until we get that issue resolved.”
Rosendahl pledged that meetings on the safety issue will continue. Individuals can e-mail his Mar Vista deputy, Len Nguyen, for updates at firstname.lastname@example.org/.