Cancer-cluster school mission
Article from: The Sunday Tasmanian
August 17, 2008 12:00am
*EDUCATION and Health Department officials are to meet staff from a
Hobart school at the centre of a cancer cluster scare.*
Premier David Bartlett said the department would speak to teachers and
parents at Hazelwood School in Moonah about their health concerns on
The State Government has twice investigated reports of a large number of
staff at Hazelwood's Moonah campus developing cancer over the past two
The school sits under a high-voltage powerline and on top of an
Public Health's Dr Stephen Newbery said the electromagnetic radiation
field (EMF) had been tested and had inconclusively shown no short- or
long-term harm to humans.
The scare has reignited debate on EMF safety levels.
Radiation experts say safe EMF levels do not take into account prolonged
The state's public health authorities say extensive research has shown
there is no risk but that less exposure is better.
Last year there were reports of electrical currents passing through the
school's pool, requiring it to be closed and a cable replaced. The pool
is still shut.
Dr Newbery's department conducted the second set of testing at the
school earlier this year. It was however conducted after major
electrical work was carried out on the school's electricity switchboard
which has caused concern for radiation testers.
The first tests were conducted by Aurora Energy in 2006 after initial
concerns were raised over the number of staff developing cancer.
Aurora Energy spokeswoman Christine Ward said the levels were tested at
10 sites around the school property, including the substation, main
switchboard and under the powerlines.
Emission standards are set by the International Commission on
Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection and the World Health Organisation.
They are then adopted wholly or modified for Australian conditions by
Federal Government agencies, such as the Australian Radiation Protection
and Nuclear Safety Agency.
The State Government then uses those figures for its testing.
Dr Newbery said health agencies continually monitored scientific
research into EMFs.
"An enormous amount of work has occurred in this area and basically what
they are saying is the development of cancers as a result of exposure to
this electromagnetic radiation is not considered to happen," Dr Newbery
Most household items, including toasters, kettles and electric blankets,
emit 50 hertz. It is the same for high-voltage powerlines.
"You can never say yes or no about the risk of prolonged exposure but
the research that shows there is no link helps make all agencies
increasingly confident," he said.
"Basically if you can minimise your exposure to this radiation, which
comes from anything that is electrical, without going to too much
trouble or expense, you should do it."
Radiation expert Don Maisch said it was time for government agencies to
stop depending on outdated standards.
Mr Maisch said the fact that staff had reported feeling shocks when they
entered the pool was a serious concern and could have elevated radiation
levels around other parts of the school.
He said it was also a source of worry that the testing this year had
been conducted after the electrical work.
"As cancer takes many years to develop after exposure to an
environmental agent, it is the long-term electromagnetic field exposure
to staff that is the issue of concern," Mr Maisch said.
"These so-called accepted levels are those set many years ago and are
only designed to protect against immediate health hazards."
He said the Australian Radiation Laboratory had stated that the accepted
levels "are not intended to provide protection against possible cancer
induction by continued exposure at the lower field levels".
Mr Maisch said, in this context, the term "accepted levels" became
irrelevant to the onset of cancer.
He has called for an extensive study on the Hazelwood site when the
school moves to Howrah next year to examine the link between cancer and
He also wants to look at whether the current safe levels stand up.