The difference between health and safety is immediacy. The adverse health effects of overhead high voltage power lines manifest themselves over time. Safety, on the other hand, is an immediate issue. If a child runs the risk of getting a fatal electric shock due to induced currents in a chain-link fence, that is a safety issue that needs to be addressed. If children playing in a greenbelt underneath high voltage transmission lines run the risk of suffering a fatal shock, clearly the power lines are not safe. Tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms and other high winds bring transmission lines and towers to the ground. This is a safety issue. Colchester Elementary School in Strathcona County, Alberta, Canada closed its doors in June 2013 because parents refused to subject their children to the health and safety risks of the newly-constructed 500kV overhead Heartland line which is only 140 metres from the school.
For your reference, RETA has prepared 3 fact sheets regarding safety of overhead high voltage power lines, as part of its Fact Sheet series. They focus on safety regarding weather and storms, electric shock and pipelines. RETA has also authored Airplane, Helicopter and Hot Air Balloon Accidents Due to Overhead Power Lines.
Even in elementary safety videos for in-field workers, workers are advised not to touch their vehicles if they are close to high voltage power lines due to the risk of electric shock from induced currents. When it comes to our children, why would we even take the chance?
Electricity transmission companies state that they mitigate all of the potential safety issues. However, no mitigation will be fool-proof and when asked what level of risk they deem acceptable, they have no answer. So, here are a few of the potential safety issues. We are continuing to research these areas to get the answers that electricity transmission companies refuse to provide.
- Above-ground high voltage lines can greatly increase the risk of potentially catastrophic failures when run alongside pipelines like the ones in the Sherwood Park Greenbelt, where AltaLink and EPCOR have recently completed the 500kV Heartland Transmission Line. Overhead power lines and towers can induce electrical currents in pipelines, attract lightning to the flammable liquids in pipelines, and significantly increase pipeline corrosion rates.
- Overhead high voltage lines can induce enough current to cause a fatal shock in metal objects below. This is particularly hazardous when these lines are built so close to homes and schools, as is the case with the Heartland line recently built by AltaLink and EPCOR in Strathcona County, Alberta, Canada.
- High voltage towers and lines have fallen over in ice storms and tornadoes, including in Edmonton in 1987 and in Quebec and Ontario in 1998, both catastrophies that resulted in many deaths, and millions of dollars to repair high voltage power lines and towers that were destroyed or damaged.
- Power outages affect hundreds of thousands of electricity customers every day in North America. Overhead power lines are negatively affected by inclement weather, birds, rodents, aircraft and hot air balloons, vehicles crashing into poles and towers, farm machinery, solar storms, etc. Power outages are costly in terms of infrastructure repair, lost productivity, spoiled food and other damages; and there have been many deaths attributed to major outages.
- There are hundreds of reports of helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and hot air balloons colliding with overhead power lines, causing death, injury, and costly damages.
- Solar storms can knock out entire above-ground electricity transmission grids within huge geographic areas.
- Security experts have warned that overhead electricity transmission infrastructure is extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
- Overhead power lines start wildfires that have burned thousands of acres of land.
- National defense operations are negatively affected by above-ground power lines, which could affect national security.
All of the above-mentioned impacts are eliminated if high voltage power lines are buried.