Urban Disorganization and Perils of Power Pylons

Leukemia, digestive system problems, and neurological disorders are some of the known health risks associated with living near power lines.Leukemia, digestive system problems, and neurological disorders are some of the known health risks associated with living near power lines.

The past two decades have seen a rapid increase in the urban population of Iran, but in proportion to the unending influx from rural areas, cities have only grown marginally.

The World Bank reports that in 1882, 1961, and 2012 the rate of urbanization in Iran was 25.7%, 34.04%, and 72% respectively. The rate currently is over 73%.

The highest rate (over 90%) of urbanization is attributed to Qom, Tehran and Alborz provinces. The capital Tehran with a current population of 8.5 million (14 million in Greater Tehran) has seen the largest population growth, with a 1.7 million increase between 2006 and 2011.

Despite repeated promises by successive governments to decentralize the metropolises and provide decent facilities to all urban and rural area, concrete action is lacking.

Corresponding to the urbanization process, there is no proportionate increase in the basic urban infrastructure. Lack of adherence to building bylaws and construction safety regulations are often the norm to accommodate the growing masses particularly in the poorer neighborhoods of most metropolises and bigger cities.

Conditions are such that residential buildings are being constructed close to high voltage pylons, which can be a serious hazard to health, the Persian language weekly ‘Salamat’ reported. A glaring example is the 300 families living in Javanmard-e-Qasab neighborhood in Tehran Municipality District 20, one of the southernmost districts.

Javanmard Qasab is not the only neighborhood where people are at great risk of developing dangerous diseases like acute lymphoblastic leukemia; there are several other neighborhoods in western and eastern marginal areas of the city facing a similar plight.

Authorities claim that the houses have been constructed illegally near the pylons.

On his recent visit to Javanmard Qasab, and A’laeen neighborhoods, also in District 20, Rahmatollah Hafezi, head of Tehran City Council’s Civil Service Commission and Environmental Health, expressed concern about the health safety of the residents due to the overhead power lines.

“So far, we have visited several districts including districts 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22, which all are coping with some kind of environmental health concerns; among them, District 20 has the most serious problems,” he said.

  Damage to DNA

The electric pylons can create electrical or magnetic fields, often called EMFs, which can damage DNA or human cells directly. People living close to the pylons can develop various kinds of health complications including blood and brain diseases and even physical disabilities.

According to the law, homes should be at least 20-50 meters from the pylons, while people in several backward neighborhoods are literally living under them.

He pointed to a study recently conducted in the UK on the health of children living between 200 and 600 meters from pylons. The study revealed that the first group was 69% more likely to develop leukemia.

Ali Guorani, head of the Health Ministry’s Department for Radiation Health said the strength of an electric field depends on its electric voltage. High voltage pylons can create harmful EMFs and continued exposure “will definitely leave serious impacts on the body.”

While the Health Ministry has announced that residents should live 20-50 meters away from pylons and power lines, “we are not in charge of monitoring housing projects close to the transmission towers. This is the responsibility of the power generation and distribution company ‘Tavanir’,” he said.

“We have not assessed all the health complications that people living near the pylons may likely develop, but leukemia, digestive system problems, and neurological disorders are some of the known health risks associated with living near power lines.

Dr Ali Nazari, director general of Tavanir told ‘Salamat’ that in 2015, the company signed a MoU with the relevant organizations and “we are mandated to raze all existing buildings in areas where we have to install new pylons, built after 2015.”

But in the case of the buildings in the two neighborhoods mentioned above they were constructed before 2015, and therefore the company has no jurisdiction in the matter.