It's an electric field!
February 23, 2004 5:59 AM   Subscribe

On the A46 motorway heading towards Bath, Richard Box has "planted" a field of flourescent tubes powered entirely by the electric field surrounding some overhead power lines. A very cool piece of art, but with a serious background: some people believe that the electromagnetic fields around power lines can cause cancer, while others aren't so sure.
posted by bwerdmuller (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I like the neon brains the best.

Thanks for the cool links!
posted by contessa at 6:45 AM on February 23, 2004

Wow. I want to go out and try this.
posted by angry modem at 6:46 AM on February 23, 2004

Oh, and a friend of mine just linked me this: the Arch of Death
posted by angry modem at 6:50 AM on February 23, 2004

Well -- I for one have seen Neighbors -- and can attest that power lines do scary things. Ask Cap'n Vic!
posted by RubberHen at 6:55 AM on February 23, 2004

Er, arc.
posted by angry modem at 6:58 AM on February 23, 2004

Guess I know where to go this weekend. Thanks!
posted by Goofyy at 7:04 AM on February 23, 2004

so where are the studies of powerline workers? Wouldn't they due to the continuous close proximity to said lines be adversely affected at higher rates than the general public?
posted by SweetIceT at 7:14 AM on February 23, 2004

Please explain the connection between the lights and the alleged cancer. The artist mentions no such connection on his site.
posted by jjg at 7:19 AM on February 23, 2004

Very cool. Also see: The Lightning Field.
posted by gwint at 7:53 AM on February 23, 2004

I found it curious that the skeptics link kept qualifying their studies by saying things such as "local power lines" or "residential electric and magnetic fields". The issue as I've always heard it was about "high tension" lines that transmit power over distance. The sort pictured in the title article.
posted by Goofyy at 7:55 AM on February 23, 2004

Yeah, I've been a skeptic about the link between high-voltage electricity lines and cancer. The lines are so prevalent in the US that it seems to me that if there were anything more than the most tenuous relationship between the two it would have become glaringly obvious by now - kind of like the link between smoking and cancer.

Cool idea though, kinda wish I could see this.
posted by deadcowdan at 7:57 AM on February 23, 2004

Please explain the connection between the lights and the alleged cancer. The artist mentions no such connection on his site.

No, but I included it as a related issue because I thought some people might be interested; the art illustrates the point about the strength of the electromagnetic field. Mostly it was just a cool link.
posted by bwerdmuller at 8:19 AM on February 23, 2004

Nikolai Tesla would be proud. Shame the Guardian site doesn't have their front-page picture of this from Saturday, it was great.
posted by rory at 8:21 AM on February 23, 2004

"As Robert Beck points out in THE BODY ELECTRIC, people living next to transformers have a 22% higher incidence of suicide. In one study 693 out of 700 people working around transformers developed nervous disorders"

Taken from:
posted by banished at 9:10 AM on February 23, 2004

some folks think pylons are beautiful works of art, all by themselves.
posted by steef at 9:38 AM on February 23, 2004

I'm sure living next to transformers isn't too healthy. But - as many scientists have pointed out, EMF field strength drops off exponentially over distance. SO - in other words - the residents in the cancer cluster areas were getting more EMF from their TV's and Microwaves. End of story ? Unfortunately not :

Recent studies have suggested that problem with power lines is not the EMF at all - Rather, particulate pollution blowing directly over power lines (where the field strength is indeed very high) become ionized. Then they are inhaled by residents living downwind - where the cancers clusters tend to be located. ( Google search - "Cancer clusters, power lines, aerosols" )
posted by troutfishing at 10:28 AM on February 23, 2004

people living next to transformers have a 22% higher incidence of suicide

Yeah, or maybe Megatron wants you to think it was suicide.
posted by biffa at 1:24 PM on February 23, 2004

Pretty cool, I wish there were more photos or a movie of the field. After looking at the work Fulgurite I googled around and found Fulgurite Endoscopy, a look inside fulgurites. I also found some research indicating ball lightning utilizes ionized aerosols to contain the plasma. Ball lightning research may be aided by Naval Research Labs' development of nanoferrous aerogel which spontaneously combusts in the atmosphere. Lightning Stock offers cool photographs, takes a while to load. I was also intrigued by the farmer's hack mentioned on slashdot which uses fencing alongside power transmission lines as an inductive coil to steal power.
posted by roboto at 2:03 PM on February 23, 2004

a cool scan from the Daily Mail [via /.]
posted by roboto at 2:13 PM on February 23, 2004

And strangely enough troutfishing, Denis Henshaw of Bristol University mentioned in the second FPP link from the BBC is one of the world's most prominent researchers on the issues surrounding particulate pollution. I interviewed him a few years ago for a feature I was doing on EMF radiation and health.
posted by Duug at 2:56 PM on February 23, 2004

Duug - Dasein thinks this a fraud, obviously. You've covered the story - what do you think? I really don't know - I'm dubious about the EMF case (except for families living, literally, on top of transformers or power lines) but the ionized aerosol theory seems at least plausible to me. Cancer clusters tied to this would be, at the least, patchy and hard to detect.

Particulate pollution has been shown to have a powerful impact on human health. So the prima facie case should be fairly easy, resting on the question : do power lines throw off a significant amount of ionized aerosols ?
posted by troutfishing at 5:53 PM on February 23, 2004

A final thought - from what I've read about the scale of carbon monoxide related deaths and illness (from auto pollution) the power line impact would be comparatively minor.
posted by troutfishing at 5:56 PM on February 23, 2004

... you would expect the much stronger magnetic field from earth to be devastating. Yet no such effect has ever been found.
Actually, it has a 100% mortality rate as far as I can see.

Seriously, though, I noticed the same thing as Goofyy - it almost sounds like someone not being too generous with the truth.
posted by dg at 2:55 AM on February 24, 2004

I wouldn't want to live next to one of those high tension lines, that's fer sure.

Anyway - as dg noted - we all die in the end. From rust (oxidation). Rust never sleeps.
posted by troutfishing at 11:13 PM on February 24, 2004

troutfishing - I interviewed a passel of professors and the like from around the world and they were all agreed that the problem is we simply don't know enough!

There is a definite biological effect arising from proximity to strong EMF (such as say that emitted in the 50s by industrial sewing machines) and mobile phones also appear to affect the blood brain barrier. But so far there is no conclusive proof as to just how serious the effect is in relation to long term health.

With regard to the power towers, the week after my report came out the UK's biggest government agency on the subject - the National Radiological Protection Board - came out and admitted that there was some provable connection between proximity to the towers and childhood cancers.

However since then, they appear to have changed their mind? Or their story?

I'm not sure. All I know is that ever since that article I stopped using my mobile phone for anything other than essential calls and SMS.
posted by Duug at 12:00 PM on February 25, 2004

Rust never sleeps.
It's better to burn out than to fade away, though.
posted by dg at 3:02 PM on February 25, 2004

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