Electricity Transformer Brings Danger Close to Playground; Gas Utility Not Protected
Observations of the Olive-Mary Stitt School playground and the school’s east entrance reveal several health, safety and security issues that could bring harm to children and staff, and expose District 25 to serious liability. Design, safety and protection aspects of electric and gas utilities near the newly designed east playground, listed below, compare unfavorably to utility aspects of at least five other District 25 schools.
After reading the utility aspects below, readers may wonder how these designs were approved in modern times with high concerns for safety and security in a school district that normally shows high regard for student safety and well-being. How did the architect allow it? How did the school board allow it? How did the Village of Arlington Heights allow it? A village official asked about the design, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stated that school district building conditions are not subject to local building codes and village standards, but are instead subject to state laws regarding school construction. The result? For example, at shopping centers and commercial properties approved by village code in Arlington Heights, you will see gas connections protected by bollards (yellow cement posts), but you may or may not see gas connections protected by bollards at public schools.
Introduction of Hazards at Olive-Mary Stitt School
1. The gas line connection and gas meter to the school are not protected by bollards, which are designed to prevent vehicle impacts, and resulting gas leaks, fires and explosions. Bollards are rigid steel posts filled with concrete (PHOTOS: Olive Gas Utility Unprotected).
2. A large kiosk style electricity pad transformer is located in the middle of the west side of the remodeled east playground which presents a risk of trauma and severe injury to students. The transformer is protected by yellow-painted bollards, but the bollards are located about 50 inches from the edge of a marked 4-square playing area, which puts a running child at risk of collision with the bollard that could cause serious injury, including spinal fracture and paralysis, or severe head injury (PHOTOS: Pad Transformer on Playground).
3. The large kiosk style electricity pad transformer presents a risk of fire and playground exposure to fire and dangerous smoke if a fire breaks out in the transformer.
4. The large kiosk style electricity transformer presents a risk of electrocution if vandals remove the lock or if the lock is accidentally left opened. Defeating the lock provides access inside the transformer, which could expose a curious child to lethal electricity.
5. The large kiosk style electricity pad transformer presents risk of exposure to electromagnetic fields, with concern regarding health effects, such as childhood leukemia. Research has found a weak correlation, but not a cause and effect relationship between ELF (Extremely Low Frequency radiation) and childhood leukemia. Some experts recommend prudent avoidance to ELF.
In summary, (#1) the natural gas pipe connection at the east wall of the building is not protected by bollards, but should be protected by bollards, and (#2) the large kiosk style electricity pad transformer and it’s bollards should not be located on the playground.
In five other District 25 schools that The Cardinal checked, all schools had bollards protecting their gas connections with school buildings. In five other District 25 schools that The Cardinal checked, all transformers were a great distance from any playground areas. Thomas, Patton and Dryden transformers were also protected by 6-foot fenced or walled enclosures where dumpsters are also located. South Middle School was the best protected with bollards in a loading dock/dumpster area. Photos: Patton, Ivy Hill, Windsor, Dryden, South, Thomas
So how did architects, planners and the school board fail to provide the necessary high level of safety and security at the Olive-Mary Stitt School east playground area when the school and playground was remodeled during the past year?
Details about the hazards at Olive-Mary Stitt School explain the dangers of having an unprotected gas utility connection near a school entrance and playground, narrow fixed objects (bollards) on a playground, and an electricity pad transformer on a playground.
GAS UTILITY …
Unprotected Natural Gas Connection
The Olive-Mary Stitt School playground interrupts Belmont Avenue with a T-intersection at the front of the school on the north side, and a dead-end street at the back of the school on the south side. Both nearby traffic areas present the risk of an errant or malicious driver leaving the roadway and hitting the gas connection, possibly causing a fire and explosion. The risk is elevated because the gas connection is not protected by bollards. A direct hit of the gas connection could cause a fire and explosion.
The risk of catastrophe is also elevated because large groups of children could be standing or playing near the gas connection if it happened to be ignited after a crash.
The Pad Transformer and Severe Trauma
Apparently, a lesson was not learned after District 214’s settlement of $12.5 million was awarded to former Rolling Meadows High School football player, Rob Komosa.
The $12.5 million settlement was reached for the former Rolling Meadows High School football player in a lawsuit filed in 1999 by Komosa’s mother, Barbara, against Northwest Suburban High School District 214. Rob was 17-years-old when he was tackled and hit a steel fence post head-first during football practice at Rolling Meadows High School October 7, 1999. His injuries paralyzed him from the neck down. A $47 million lifetime sum award has been reported by representatives of Clifford Law, the law firm representing Rob Komosa. He died more than 13 years after his catastrophic injury from complications that he battled during his years surviving the injury.
While nearby 4-square play at Olive would not likely cause forces associated with severe trauma, nearby horseplay or other uses of the playground, such as practicing long ball football catches on the playground, could result in a serious Komosa-magnitude personal collision with a bollard protecting the transformer. Also, horseplay, such as tag or tackling, near the 4-square playing area could result in collisions with a bollard. Also, because of the transformer’s proximity to the playground, children are more likely to climb on the pad transformer, which presents a fall risk onto the pavement or onto a bollard, causing serious injury.
Transformer and Electrocution
An open pad transformer presents the risk of electrocution and electric arc flash burns. Vandals could destroy the lock on a pad transformer and pry open the case, exposing lethal internal elements of the pad transformer. The Olive school transformer located on a playground elevates the risk of exposure to lethal electricity, compared to a transformer placed within 6-foot walls, as in other District 25 schools.
When Aaron and Brett Studer were young boys, they got into an electrical service box in their yard, and Aaron suffered second and third degree burns to his face. Fortunately there were no permanent scars.
TRANSFORMER FIRE …
Transformer failures can involve fire, explosion, heat, high-voltage arcs, mineral oil ignition and splattering, and can injure people nearby. Most transformers have a tank filled with insulating oil. Transformer fires can occur from vandalism, a lightning strike, or even when an animal, such as a mouse, builds a nest inside a transformer. If equipment ages from cable failure, insect or animal infestation and degradation, water collection, rust, etc., or if there is an unexpected equipment malfunction, or if arcing or a nearby power overload fails to trip a breaker; extreme heat and fire can result. Thick black smoke can suddenly pour from transformers, and flash explosions can occur without warning. Mineral oil, which is used for insulation under normal conditions, can ignite and become explosive oil during fires. Even firefighters are warned not to approach transformer fires with an aggressive close approach because of the the threat of arcing voltage and exploding hot mineral oil. Pad transformers are designed with safety factors and protection that minimizes dangers to the public and contains the electricity, heat and hazards; but failures can occur.
Pad transformer fire with dry chemical used to extinguish the fire by firefighters working together with ComEd utility workers at an apartment complex in Arlington Heights in 2010.
Transformers are usually extremely reliable, but when problems occur, dangerous situations can develop rapidly with frightening arcing noise, smoke, heat and possibly fire, dangerous arcing, and explosions. Tragic results could occur if children were sitting on the transformer when a failure occurred, or if children were in line in their class sections just a few feet from the transformer between the east school entrance and the transformer. Firefighters fight these fires initially from 30 to 50 feet away, but a large group of children could be in very close proximity while a transformer failure occurs. Usually these fires require that utility workers and firefighters work together for a couple of hours or several hours to extinguish and clean up after the fire. The placement of a pad transformer on a playground, near a school entrance (compared to a remote loading dock, for example) also increases the chance of prolonged disruption of school activities, in case of a lesser incident requiring an abundance of caution and maintenance or repair. The playground transformer is located less than 12 feet from a school entrance and wall where students are sometimes crowded in class sections before entering school.
In the case of a fire in the transformer, it is also possible that the fire alarm would be activated — either by smoke detectors or by a manual pull of a fire alarm by someone who saw the fire or smoke at the transformer. It is possible that a crowd of students, evacuating the school as taught in fire drills, could exit the east door right into the area of the burning transformer nearby.
Fire involving a transformer at St Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, Kentucky in 2010.
ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) Electromagnetic Field Exposure and Cancer, Health Issues
Most electric power operates at a frequency of 50 or 60 cycles per second, or hertz (Hz). Close to certain appliances, the magnetic field values can be of the order of a few hundred microtesla (µT). Underneath power lines, magnetic fields can be about 20 µT and electric fields can be several thousand volts per meter. However, average residential power-frequency magnetic fields in homes are much lower – about 0.07 µT in Europe and 0.11 µT in North America. Mean values of the electric field in the home are up to several tens of volts per meter.
NATIONAL RADIATION LABORATORY (New Zealand) ELECTRIC AND MAGNETIC FIELDS AND YOUR HEALTH [PDF]
Extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation is at the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum and is a type of non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation has enough energy to move atoms in a molecule around or cause them to vibrate, but not enough to remove charged particles such as electrons (ionize) and directly damage DNA. ELF radiation has even lower energy than other types of non-ionizing radiation like radiofrequency radiation, visible light, and infrared.
In 1999, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) described the scientific evidence suggesting that electromagnetic field (EMF) exposures pose a health risk as “weak,” but stated that it was enough to “warrant limited concern.”
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences EMF Electric and Magnetic Fields Associated with the Use of Electric Power [PDF]
For example, a pooled analysis of the results from several studies, published in 2000, found that there was an increased incidence of childhood leukemia associated with exposure to time-averaged magnetic fields greater than 0.4 μT. The magnetic field next to pad transformers or kiosk transformers have a magnetic field of 1–10 μT within 12 inches of the transformer. Sitting on the transformer, leaning on the transformer, or leaning on bollards surrounding the transformer could expose children to a magnetic field of 1–10 μT.
NATIONAL RADIATION LABORATORY (New Zealand) ELECTRIC AND MAGNETIC FIELDS AND YOUR HEALTH [PDF]
A NATIONAL RADIATION LABORATORY (New Zealand) document reports that local supply ‘kiosk’ transformers have a magnetic field of about 1–10 μT (10–100 mG) at 300 mm (11.8 inches) from the transformer, and about 0.1 μT (1 mG) 2–3 metres (78 inches to 118 inches) from the transformer. Keep in mind that children playing near the four-square area next to transformer, or child spectators might lean on the transformer while they are waiting for their playing rotation, which would not be a good behavior (lack of prudent avoidance, as it’s called) because they could be exposed to 1–10 μT in the magnetic field. Children at Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary school have have been observed actually sitting on the transformer, which would likely cause an exposure on the high side — toward 10 μT. A quick research check did not find any information regarding whether ComEd transformers are shielded to prevent magnetic field emanation, so the presumption is that the magnetic fields for ComEd are similar to the transformers reported in New Zealand.
Literature research cited in the IARC MONOGRAPHS ON THE EVALUATION OF CARCINOGENIC RISKS TO HUMANS [PDF] discovered important findings regarding exposure to ELF near transformers …
A survey of neurovegetative disorders and haematological effects was conducted in a group of three men and 10 women who had worked near electrical transformers, high tension cabling (13 kV) and a power generator. In one room the 50-Hz field was 1.2–6.6 μT at floor level and 0.3–1.2 μT at 1.5 m above floor level. The magnetic fields in an adjacent room also used by the group were 0.2–0.3 μT and 0.09–0.12 μT, respectively. The subjects had worked on the premises for at least 8 h per day for one to five years. The occurrence of neurovegetative disorders was assessed from self-rating questionnaires completed by the exposed workers and matched control groups. A comparative analysis of the questionnaires showed that the exposed group suffered a significant increase in physical fatigue, psychological asthenia (weakness, lack of energy), lipothymia (feeling faintness, but not actually fainting), decreased libido, melancholy, depressive tendency and irritability. [The Working Group noted the possibility of subjective bias in self-reporting questionnaires.] There was also a significant decrease in total lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell that fights disease and illness) and CD2, CD3 and CD4 lymphocytes, as well as an increase in the number of natural killer cells (a type of lymphocyte that responds to stressed cells without activated antibodies). Leukopenia (reduction of white blood cells) and neutropenia (abnormally low neutrophils in the blood, leading to increased susceptibility to infection) were seen in two subjects who were chronically exposed to a field strength of 1.2–6.6 μT. The effects disappeared when exposure stopped, and reappeared when exposure was resumed (Bonhomme-Faivre et al., 1998). [Bonhomme-Faivre, L., Marion, S., Bezie, Y., Auclair, H., Fredj, G. & Hommeau, C. (1998) Study of human neurovegetative and hematologic effects of environmental low-frequency (50-Hz) electromagnetic fields produced by transformers. Arch. environ. Health, 53, 87–92]
The New Zealand NATIONAL RADIATION LABORATORY refers to reviews by World Health Organization (WHO) and other experts and report claims that the fact that there is a correlation of leukemia and magnetic field does not necessarily mean that there is a cause and effect relationship. The authors of the pooled analysis commented that “the explanation for the elevated risk estimates is unknown, but selection bias may have accounted for some of the increase.” (Selection bias is an artifact arising from the way the studies are carried out.)
The research findings have been reviewed by several panels of experts around the world, including the World Health Organization (WHO). Overall, these groups doubt that long term exposure to magnetic fields causes cancer. Although the relationship between childhood leukemia and magnetic field exposures suggests that there may be a link, laboratory research does not indicate any effect of magnetic fields on cancer.
This includes several studies on animals exposed over their lifetimes. The report also mentioned that there are also considerable doubts that ELF magnetic fields, at the levels found around power lines and electrical appliances, could produce any effect at all.
The National Cancer Institute provides a similar report with a little more details about the studies correlating magnetic fields and leukemia. NCI reports that although a study in 1979 pointed to a possible association between living near electric power lines and childhood leukemia, more recent studies have had mixed findings. Most of these studies did not find an association or found one only for those children who lived in homes with very high levels of magnetic fields, which are present in few residences.
Several studies have analyzed the combined data from multiple studies of power line exposure and childhood leukemia (but the exposure levels are much less than the exposure associated with leaning or sitting on a transformer within 12 inches distance):
A pooled analysis of nine studies reported a twofold increase in risk of childhood leukemia among children with exposures of 0.4 μT or higher. Less than 1 percent of the children in the studies experienced this level of exposure.
A meta-analysis of 15 studies observed a 1.7-fold increase in childhood leukemia among children with exposures of 0.3 μT or higher. A little more than 3 percent of children in the studies experienced this level of exposure.
More recently, a pooled analysis of seven studies published after 2000 reported a 1.4-fold increase in childhood leukemia among children with exposures of 0.3 μT or higher. However, less than one half of 1 percent of the children in the studies experienced this level of exposure.
For the two pooled studies and the meta-analysis, the number of highly exposed children was too small to provide stable estimates of the dose–response relationship. This means that the findings could be interpreted to reflect linear increases in risk, a threshold effect at 0.3 or 0.4 μT, or no significant increase.
The interpretation of the finding of increased childhood leukemia risk among children with the highest exposures (at least 0.3 μT) is unclear. However with transformer exposure at up to 10 μT, the ELF exposure is about 30 times higher than most studies have considered for normal exposures of children.
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ELECTROCUTION SOURCE …
safeelectricity.org (concerning electrocution/burn hazard)
ELF/EMF SOURCES …
NATIONAL RADIATION LABORATORY (New Zealand) ELECTRIC AND MAGNETIC FIELDS AND YOUR HEALTH [PDF]
NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE Electromagnetic Fields and Cancer
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Bonhomme-Faivre, L., Marion, S., Bezie, Y., Auclair, H., Fredj, G. & Hommeau, C. (1998) Study of human neurovegetative and hematologic effects of environmental low-frequency (50-Hz) electromagnetic fields produced by transformers. Arch. environ. Health, 53, 87–92. Pubmed Abstract