Government response to the Stakeholder Advisory Group on extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields (ELF EMFs) (SAGE) recommendations

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Covering Letter

Minister for Public Health and Sport
Shona Robison MSP
T: 0845 774 1741
E: scottish.ministers@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

Christine Grahame
Convener
Health and Sport Committee

The Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh
EH99 1SP


12 October 2009

I am writing to let the Committee know that a Joint Government Response to the advice received from the Stakeholder Advisory Group on Extremely Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields ( SAGE) in its "First Interim Assessment: Powerlines and Property, Wiring in Homes and Electrical Equipment in Homes" which was published in April 2007 will be laid in the Scottish Parliamentary Information Centre on the 16 October 2009 along with a copy of this letter.

The Scottish Government has liaised with relevant UK Government departments and other devolved administrations in the development of an agreed response to the SAGE First Interim Assessment. A copy of that response is enclosed for your information and should remain confidential until the announcement is made in Westminster by way of a Written Ministerial Statement on Friday the 16 October. Unfortunately an announcement to the Scottish Parliament on the 16 th [by way of a Parliamentary Question] is not possible due to the Parliamentary recess, however given the likely interest in the response I will arrange for a copy to be placed on the Scottish Government Website.

Following receipt of the SAGE recommendations UK Health Ministers requested that the Health Protection Agency ( HPA) provide advice on the SAGE interim report. A copy of the HPA's advice, which was received in October 2007, is available to be viewed at http://www.hpa.org.uk/webw/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1204276682532?p=1207897920036 .

SAGE made recommendations for relatively low-cost and proportionate action in four key areas. The Scottish Government supports these measures proposed by SAGE on: (i) optimal phasing of high voltage overhead power lines (ii) electrical appliances in homes (iii) household wiring practices; and (iv) the provision of advice to the public on ELFEMF. SAGE also put forward an option to introduce a moratorium on building new homes and schools near high voltage power lines and new high voltage power lines near homes and schools.

However SAGE's cost benefit analysis does not support the option of creating corridors around power lines on health grounds. The response therefore reflects the Governments' agreed view that this additional option would be disproportionate in the light of the evidence base on the potential health risks arising from exposure to ELFEMF, and there are no plans to take forward this action.

The Scottish Government is, however, liaising currently with key stakeholders, including the energy and building industries and COSLA, to consider how the 1998 guidelines of the International Commission on Non-ionising Radiation Protection ( ICNIRP) on public exposure to electromagnetic radiation (as specified in EU Recommendation EC/519/1999 and agreed by the UK Government) might be addressed within the Scottish planning system, with regard to proposed developments near high voltage power lines.

Given the uncertainties of the scientific evidence on the health risks associated with EMF I have written to the Health Protection Agency asking that they keep under review the possible relationship between childhood leukaemia and other causes of ill health and exposure to EMF/ ELF and that they report back any new scientific developments as they emerge. I received a letter from the HPA on 22 September in which they confirm that they will keep the health evidence under review and that such work will be made public as soon as possible. In addition a copy of my letter asking that the health risks should be kept under review has been copied to the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment ( COMARE).

I regret that it is not possible to make an announcement to the Scottish Parliament in parallel with the announcement made at Westminster, but trust that you will keep this advance notification of the Joint Government Response to SAGE as confidential until 16 October.

SHONA ROBISON