It is time for the Wisconsin utilities to stop releasing their voltage trash - known as transients and harmonics - into the ground, and upgrade the system statewide to protect people, and not just cows, from exposure to biologically harmful ground currents.
I'm not after money. I don't care if Xcel would give me a million dollars right today. That's not going to buy my cat's health. That's not going to buy my health. --Pamela Jaffke
.........................................................................Since realizing she was electrically sensitive, Dr. Pamela Jaffke, a dairy veterinarian in Owen, has worked to make her house safe. Stetzerizer filters helped a bit, but were unable to bring the electrical pollution levels down far enough. "The only thing that made things truly livable, I just unhooked the neutral from the water main," she says.
Then her home's electrical pollution levels spiked November 1 following some work to the sewer pipes, which stopped them from carrying the ground currents, and she and her cat, Magic, were hit hard with debilitating symptoms. "It was an absolute disaster for both of us and it's continued that way," says Jaffke, who has Multiple Sclerosis, and gets painful tingling in her legs from this electrical exposure. Her cat has trouble walking and stops eating.
Xcel came out and ran circles around her without addressing the problem, she told me. "If I was a dairy farm, they would be forced to do something. Anything over 1/2 volt, they are forced to do something," says the veterinarian. The current readings in her home range from 1/2 to one volt.
Wisconsin law currently protects cows from high levels of stray voltage, which Jaffke says is not "stray." "Xcel put it there and it is Xcel's problem," she says. The term stray voltage only legally applies to cows. The currents are referred to as electrical pollution in relation to humans. "But there's no laws to protect people," says Jaffke.
Not a New IssueThe health menace of stray voltage/electrical pollution is not a new issue. Wisconsin journalists have blazed a fiery trail to try to expose it. Reporter Chris Hardie at the La Crosse Tribune had won five Wisconsin journalism awards and was nominated for a 2000 Pulitzer Prize for work covering the issue, including a special website dedicated to it, while journalist Kurt Gutknecht had been fired as editor of the Wisconsin Agriculturist for continuing to write about the health affects on animals and the farmers themselves.
State Representative Barb Gronemus, D-Whitehall, had proposed legislation in 2003 to force the utilities to clean up their act. The legislation died in committee despite huge support exhibited at a public hearing September 18, 2003. Supporters blame pressure from the big utilities on the lawmakers for its failure.
At a volt, I'm objecting.Today, Dr. Jaffke insists she is covered by the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) 92D, which states that there should be no objectionable flow of current over the earth. "At a volt, I'm objecting," she says.
It is likely to be an uphill battle. Xcel Energy has a history of fighting customers over health issues. They argued in a 2008 article that the cow deaths could be blamed on other factors than stray voltage. In an article in the La Crosse Tribune on December 11, 2006, Xcel and the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin claimed that no credible scientific evidence had been raised "that suggests the electrical system in Wisconsin is unsafe or causes any health problems in humans."
Such resistance to customers' needs and safety is deeply ingrained in the untouchable utilities and their unaccountable defender despite numerous studies showing harm, and the nonstop procession of people reporting illness over decades. (See Research and Technical sections at Electrical Pollution , and the Stetzer site for some of the studies and cases. Here is a case involving cancer.)
Owen Council MeetingDr. Jaffke is enlisting the help of her city to help deal with the powerful utility. She explained her case and read a list of lies Xcel told her during the Owen city council meeting on December 15. For example, the utility told her that the 5-wire system is unsafe. But, adding a fifth wire would easily correct the problem of electrical pollution for her - and for all residents statewide.
This acceptable, effective method appears in the 1995 report from the research arm of the utilities, the Electric Power Research Institute. It states: "A method that practically eliminates ground currents associated with primary distribution line and still maintains the advantage of a four-wire multi-grounded system is a five-wire system."
It would just cost pennies to do, says Jaffke. It is such a simple solution, she told Owen council members, who were alarmed to hear about the serious health effects the respected veterinarian and her cat were experiencing. The council meets in a building right behind her house, "which pretty much implies that they're getting fried, too," says the human "canary in the mine."
Jaffke hopes her city will have the will and the legal clout to get results. She says, "The city has an obligation to protect their citizens and make sure that any corporation doing business in town is up to code."
Owen mayor Tim Swiggum said during a telephone interview that they plan to go at this from both ends: They will talk to the guys who help them when they are extending power lines to see if that area of town is overloaded, and they also will meet with the higher-ups at the utility to see what they have to say about this problem.
"It's fairly new to me," says Mayor Swiggum, who has begun to educate himself on this controversial issue. "I don't want to burn any bridges. We need the electric company," he adds, though he agrees that Pam Jaffke definitely needs help with the problem in her house.
Jaffke told me she warned the city, "Xcel is going to try to tell you that everything's fine just like they told me. You'll have to be able to refute every one of their arguments. They're not just going to roll over and do whatever you say."
The Owen resident says she just wants a resolution to the problem, and hopes the city can help. But she would not mind if the utility ended up suing her because "in court they'll be exposed as a fraud."
"I'm not after money. I don't care if Xcel would give me a million dollars right today. That's not going to buy my cat's health. That's not going to buy my health," the Owen veterinarian says.
How Can People Check Their Own Homes?Jaffke says the way to check for voltage coming into your home is to borrow or buy a $50 volt meter. A trifield meter will show the microwave frequencies coming into the house. So, for about $200 people could get together and purchase both meters. "Between a trifield meter and a volt meter you have all the tools you need to figure out the garbage that's coming into your house," she says.
And I say, if the utilities got up to speed and took care of the mess they have made, everyday people would not need to try to do this kind of detective work or have to battle the power companies for their health. What a racket.