Hold Firms Liable For Health Costs

Posted: March 16, 1993

The White House Health Reform Task Force's recent suggestion to spread the cost for health care not just to doctors, hospitals, and insurers, but to those in society responsible for illness and disease, such as producers of harmful products like tobacco, alcohol, and guns, and environmental polluters, is a medicine hard to swallow, but oh so necessary. In a perfect world, corporations whose activity endangers the public voluntarily would police themselves, and do everything possible to minimize their hazardous emissions. In our profits-driven, bottom-line environment, however, this just doesn't happen.

A case in point is the electric power industry. Although as early as 1979, studies showed a link between exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFS), and increased incidence of childhood cancer, electric utilities waged a public relations campaign to brush off the dangers, challenge the scientific evidence, and call EMF concerns "premature."

As additional epidemiological studies found a high statistical correlation between EMF exposure and development of leukemia, brain cancer, and breast cancer in men, electric utility companies expended more money to contradict and condemn the mounting evidence.

In 1975, the Philadelphia Electric Company purchased an eight acre parcel of land in Delaware County abutting a residential neighborhood and swimming club. In 1991, PE applied for permission to build an electric power substation on the property. Although the project had substantial initial resistance by municipalities and citizens concerned about possible health hazards posed by EMFs, PE refused to consider pleas to relocate the substation and high voltage transmission lines to a non-residential site. Although the PUC has not approved the substation, PE has begun building it anyway.

On Sept. 30, 1992, two groups of independent Swedish researchers released the results of significant long-term epidemiological studies on the relationship between exposure and dose-response to EMFs and development of cancer. The studies showed a threefold increase to childhood leukemia with exposure to levels as low as 2 milligaus, and fourfold higher leukemia rates among Swedish children living near power lines. A Wall Street Journal article translated these numbers into more than 500 cases of childhood leukemia in the United States.

Vice President Gore recognizes that environmental hazards contribute to health care concerns. Perhaps Hillary Rodham Clinton's taskforce has hit upon a brilliant idea to help reduce our health care crisis. Hold companies responsible for actions that impact negatively upon our nation's health, and hit them in the only place they notice - their wallets.

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