Powerlines Cast Cancer Cloud in Massey

Powerlines are an eyesore and a dominant feature in the Massey landscape, suspended directly above both private and commercial residences.

Many people are concerned about the effects that electromagnetic radiation have on human health. Concerns have been raised about a cluster of cancers in this low income, sprawling suburb of Waitakere.

Google Street View of lines

Source: NZ Herald

by Kirsty Wynn

“Two neighbours of high-profile cancer victim and film-maker Cameron Duncan have been diagnosed with the disease – adding further weight to concerns about the apparent dangers of overhead power lines.

While overseas investigations have found clear links between electromagnetic radiation and childhood leukaemia and other forms of cancer, little research has been done in New Zealand.

The Auckland District Health Board has carried out an investigation into the apparent cancer cluster in Massey, West Auckland, but found cancer rates there were no higher than in other areas of a similar population level.

But the research data was based on who was living in the target area up until 2001 and did not take into account the recent cases, which included Cameron and four others at Massey’s Royal Road school.

An Auckland urologist, who has studied the connection between high-voltage power pylons and cancer, has found strong links between high-tension power lines and childhood cancer, breast cancer and depression.

Meanwhile, energy giant Transpower -which is proposing a controversial 400kV line from Whakamaru to South Auckland – says its lines are safe.

Months after the death of her son Cameron, Sharon Duncan remains adamant about the reasons he went to an early grave – constant exposure to electromagnetic radiation from overhead power lines.

She was shocked to hear two more of her neighbours had been diagnosed with the disease that had killed her son.

“That takes the number of people with cancer surrounding our house up to five,” Mrs Duncan said.

“We had already lost two immediate neighbours to cancer and then Cameron.

“And we have a power pole right in the middle of all the houses concerned.”

One of the latest neighbours to be diagnosed is Parvati Smith, who lives directly in front of the Duncans’ home.

“There seems to be a lot of us in the street who have cancer,” Mrs Smith told the Herald on Sunday.

“I think it needs to be looked into properly – there are too many people around here with it.”

Mrs Smith, who lives next door to Cameron’s former home, and Dorothy Tyler, who lives directly across the road, have both been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past year.

The street has power lines running through it – directly over the Duncans’ home and over the Smiths.

Mrs Smith said finding she had breast cancer in a routine mammogram in March was a huge shock.

“I was in a daze because I am very healthy and have no family history but we do have the power lines over the house.

“My husband was quite worried about the powerlines and had copper wiring put through the house a while back.”

Mrs Smith does not know for sure what caused her cancer but said she was considering moving.

“We have lived here for 23 years but it has made me think about it. I spoke to Sharon and she told us to get out.”

Mrs Duncan sold her Anich Rd property last year, saying she lived in a cancer triangle.

It was also last year that details emerged that Cameron and two close friends – Jeffrey Thumath and Charles Hetaraka – were diagnosed with cancer within two months of each other.

Cameron and Charles both died in 2003 when they were 17 and New Zealand athletics champion Jeffrey, now 20, will soon have surgery for lung and stomach cancer.

The boys shared a number of commonalities including being born at St Helen’s Hospital in Waitakere, attending the same school, playing competitive sport, and being diagnosed and receiving treatment within two months of each other.

Their mothers – Gail Thumath, Elizabeth Hetaraka and Sharon Duncan – all had a link to the West Auckland suburbs while they were pregnant.

It was also revealed last year that two other Royal Road School pupils and another local boy living near the school had cancer.

Kristian Gibson was 14 when he died of a brain tumour. He was at Royal Road School at the same time as the three boys and died in the same year as Charles and Cameron.

Another Royal Road pupil – who did not want to be named – developed pre-cancerous cells in the same year.

Local boy Samuel England, 18, was diagnosed with cancer at 10 months of age but is now clear of the disease.

Since then, other Massey residents with cancer, and parents who have lost children to cancer, have come forward demanding answers.

Families bordering a sub-station in Timandra Ave in Massey (Picture from Google Maps, click to enlarge)

claimed their cats were having litters of deformed kittens, and living near the power centre was making them sick.

The Savaiinaea family have two children with leukaemia and their mother, Violet, had a miscarriage last month at 22 weeks.

Mrs Savaiinaea’s two children Sone, 8, and Alesha, 6, were born near substations – Sone when the family was living in Otara and Alseha in Timandra Place.

Along with leukaemia, Alesha has severe asthma and Sone has epilepsy. Both children have Netherton’s Syndrome – a disease which causes their skin to peel and become infected and makes them lose weight.

Her other children – who were not born near the substation – are healthy.

Mrs Savaiinaea – a taxi-call-centre worker – was made distraught by the miscarriage. It is the second she has had since moving to Timandra Place.

“I knew something was wrong and I thought the baby had leukaemia because the pregnancy was the same as when I had Alesha.

“I was about five months’ pregnant and I went to the doctor for something else and they found the baby had stopped breathing,” she said.

“The doctors had already told me if I got pregnant again there was a 60 per cent chance I would have another baby with leukaemia.”

Mrs Savaiinaea said her family has suffered ill health since moving to the street eight years ago.

All the homes in the cul de sac are owned by Housing New Zealand.

She is convinced the substation has made her and her family sick and said her mother doesn’t visit any more because she gets headaches every time she visits.

“My mother has stopped coming around now because she gets bad headaches every time she comes out here. She said it is the power station, so we have to take the kids to see her now.”

Mrs Savaiinaea said no one should be allowed to live under power lines or near a substation.

The Auckland District Health Board launched an investigation into the apparent cancer cluster late last year and released a report three weeks ago stating there was no elevated risk in the area.

The report said the incidence of cancer in the area was not elevated and “no environmental cancer-causing agents link the occurrence of the cancers involved”.

But the mothers of Cameron, Charles and Jeffrey said the report used outdated information and drew conclusions from a cancer register which did not include their sons.

Mrs Duncan, along with Mrs Hetaraka and Mrs Thumath noted the cancer registry referred to went up to 2001 while their sons were diagnosed in 2002.

Medical specialist Dr Robin Smart has been studying the relationship between power pylons and health effects since he found Transpower’s proposed 400kV line from Whakamaru to South Auckland would run 300m from his Whitford property.

The Auckland urologist has read 100 medical papers and found strong links with overhead lines and health conditions like severe depression, childhood leukaemia – which is two or three times higher – and breast cancer.

He said the power limits in New Zealand were far too high.

“Research shows that if you live near lines with more than 0.1 micro tesla of magnetic radiation there is evidence you are at risk.”

He said levels here – set by the World Health Organisation – were far too high.

“They have set very high levels of 200 micro tesla. It is so high a lot of countries are now stopping people from living under the lines.”

Mr Smart said the solution to the power-pylon debate was using the safer DC lines – rather than the AC lines which have alternating or pulsing current – and putting them underground.

Transpower spokesman Chris Roberts said the company maintained the lines to the Ministry of Health guidelines. “We are not health experts – we just do as we are told,” Mr Roberts said.


1985 Jeffrey Thumath born at St Helen’s Hospital in Waitakere.

1986 Cameron Duncan and Charles Hetaraka born at St Helen’s.

1988 Kristian Gibson born in Melbourne, Australia.

2001 Gibson diagnosed in August with cancerous brain tumour.

2002 Hetaraka and Duncan both diagnosed with cancer.

2003 Thumath diagnosed with cancer. Gibson dies in February, aged 14. In July Charles Hetaraka, 17, dies. Duncan dies in November.

2004 Dorothy Tyler diagnosed in April with breast cancer.

2005 Parvati Smith diagnosed this month with breast cancer.

Further New Zealand based reading:

“Under the Wires” Listener Magazine Article, April 2007

Powerlines Double Risk of Cancer in Children