Aside from electrocution, what dangers lie below power lines?

  • Eskom has warned South Africans not to construct homes in the servitude below high-voltage power lines.
  • Building a home here heightens the risk of electrocution should the lines be damaged or if electricity arcs from the power lines to a home.
  • Other risks such as damage to electronics, your health or implants such as pacemakers are unlikely.

On Monday Eskom issued a rather interesting media statement that wasn’t about loadshedding.

Rather, the utility stopped just short of pleading with South Africans to refrain from building their homes below high-voltage power lines. Eskom refers to the area between the power line and the ground as the servitude and living here carries a real risk.

That risk is related to a physical fault or failure on the power line. As the utility explains, in the event of a fault, as much as 765 000 volts of power can flow from the power lines to the ground. Should this electricity come into contact with a person, that person will be electrocuted.

Further to this, Eskom says that if high winds or storms damage power lines, these lines could fall to the ground, potentially conducting hundreds of thousands of volts onto a shack or a house. There is also potential for electricity to arc from the power lines to a metal roof according to Eskom.

Another risk highlighted by Eskom in recent years is that if a home is constructed below a power line and the homeowner erects a washing line using wire, there is potential for a current to be induced, shocking anybody who touches that line.

The utility also mentions that if homes are constructed under these power lines it makes it difficult to conduct repairs and maintenance. The utility doesn’t seem overly concerned about folks stealing power from these high-voltage lines because according to it, the power supply is so great that it would blow any household electronics a user intended to power. However, while this may be the case for the massive high-voltage lines that carry electricity across the country, other lines can be tapped into as you can see throughout cities and towns in South Africa.

But what about other risks? Surely living below or near a high-voltage power line carries some risk right? As it turns out, not really.

When it comes to your health, there appear to be no ill effects on healthy individuals. Many years ago there were fears that the electro and magnetic field (EMF) could increase the risk of cancer but several studies over the years have put those fears to rest.

Even when it comes to sensitive biological implants such as a pacemaker, the EMF created by high-voltage power lines shouldn’t affect those implants. With that having been said, we highly recommend you consult with a doctor if you have a pacemaker as they will know better than we do.

Even other electronics aren’t all that susceptible to the EMF generated by high-voltage power lines. This is largely due to the electromagnetic inference protection built into modern electronics but of course, exceptions can happen.

We have to point out that many South Africans don’t get to choose where they live. As many as 2.4 million South Africans were awaiting homes in 2023 according to the National Housing Needs Register. In a Statistics South Africa Survey conducted in 2020, as many as 1.9 million households indicated they lived in informal dwellings.

Because of this backlog, many South Africans have no choice but to move to informal settlements which may be located near power lines so that residents in the area can siphon power from those lines. This is of course, illegal but with so many South Africans living in poverty and much of modern life requiring electricity, this theft is understandable even if we don’t condone it.

While we appreciate Eskom warning South Africans about the risks of living below power lines, we’d appreciate the same energy being applied to warning South Africans about the dangers of air pollution.

In June Eskom was permitted to ignore the minimum emissions standards set out by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. This allowed Eskom to fire up Kusile power station without its flue-gas desulphurisation units in place. These units collapsed in 2022 and without them, dangerous toxins can make their way into the atmosphere when coal is burned to generate electricity. This is a danger Eskom itself is thrusting upon people and we’d appreciate some effort being placed into warning South Africans about it.

At least more folks now know about the dangers of power lines, well, when electricity is flowing through those lines.

[Image – Tom from Pixabay]


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