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What Are the Health Risks of Living Near an Electric Substation?

written by: nostolgia • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 10/30/2012

By analyzing the cases of people living near power stations, researchers believe that humans can suffer from cancer and tumors when exposed to EMF radiation. How dangerous is it to live near a substation? Is this something you should be concerned about?

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    Electricity is generated in power stations and is distributed country wide by substations located near populated areas. There has to be substations located around lived in areas in order to distribute power. But can these substations be harmful to the health of those that live nearby? To understand how theses power substations are causing possible health risks to the human body, learn more about the process involved in the transmission of power from substations to a domestic user.

    Image: Flickr, Vaxomatic/Patrick Finnegan, South Prairie Substation

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    What is an Electric Substation?

    A substation is used to step down high voltage (generated in power stations) for domestic and commercial usage. The aim of these substations is to provide electricity to a populated area. A typical substation includes:

    • Power lines
    • Transformer
    • Switches and relays

    Power lines are the main source of electrical transportation to a domestic area. To minimize the power loses, electricity is transmitted at high voltage levels and minimum current levels. These high voltage lines transmit radiation called the "electro-magnetic field" or shortly EMF. Whenever a current passes through a conductor, an EMF is always associated with it. EMF contains an electric and magnetic field component oscillating at 180 degrees. The phase difference between the electric and magnetic fields is 90 degrees.

    Some researchers believe that this radiation could possibly lead to cancer in human body. A device called a "Gauss meter" is used to measure the intensity of EMF.

    A transformer is a small metal device of cylindrical type. Its main function is to reduce the voltage level usually from 4000V to 440V/220V for domestic usage. The EMF strength near the transformer is high, but reduces rapidly as we move away from it.

    Electromagnetic induction occurs in switches and relays installed in the substation and is also a possible cause of EMF radiation.

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    How EMF affects the Human Body

    EMF contain both electric and magnetic field at 90 deg of phase difference and oscillating at angle of 180 deg.The electric field traverses the air and starts oscillating human cells at high frequency, causing them to heat up. Thus high-power EMF can damage body cells. Similarly the varying magnetic field induces an electric current in human cells and tissues. Since skin is directly exposed to these radiations, it can be badly damaged.

    Studies have been done on people that live within 300 meters of a substation. There is some evidence to suggest an increased risk of some type of cancer. However, the evidence has not been conclusive enough to change any legal stance on the issue.

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    Researchers who believe that humans can suffer from cancer and tumors when exposed to EMF radiation get their data from studies of people living near power stations. But they fail to give proper justifications, like the relation between EMF field stength and the possible risk associated with it or the mechanisms that can trigger processes like cancer and the creation of tumors. Solving this mystery will require that further full-fledged research be conducted.


  • Substations Fact Sheet -
  • Questions and Answers about EMF -