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Friday 22 August 2014

Family's fears for autistic girl over power-line noise

Joanna Kiernan

Published 27/04/2014 | 02:30

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CONCERN: Josie Fleming with her mother Maria Fleming and stepfather Paul Cole in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon - the couple say Josie would be disturbed by the noise from pylons. Photo: Brian Farrell

THE family of a young autistic girl say her life will become unbearable if plans to install pylons close to their home go ahead.

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Josie Fleming, 15, from Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, is highly sensitive to noises such as those emitted from the 400kn cable pylons which EirGrid propose to install just 50 metres from her home.

"EirGrid is proposing to put pylons with 400kV very close to our garden and house," Paul Cole, Josie's stepfather, told the Sunday Independent.

"They have told us they will only buzz on days of high humidity, but in the west of Ireland, that means about 80 per cent of the time," he said.

Paul and his wife Maria Fleming, Josie's mother, bought the rural property specifically to give Josie a better quality of life.

"We bought this place especially for Josie, so she could have a safe area to run around in. We've invested everything into it. If this goes ahead, then there is nothing left for us at all," Paul said.

"We're in a proposed corridor and if the pylons go up, we won't be able to move because all of our money is invested in the house and it will be unsellable," Paul added.

"We won't be able to move, but we won't be able to stay with Josie."

Maria claims the progress Josie has made would be put back by years if the pylons are erected beside their home.

She said: "Josie has made considerable progress in the last few years, she can now tolerate a hoover in the house, go to a public toilet without fear of the hand dryer, tolerate buzzing insects better, but all these achievements could be jeopardised if she is subject to long periods of buzzing corona noise.

"Up until a few years ago, all of those situations were intolerable for Josie and we can see that she struggles with them at present if put under stress. Buzzing noises still make her very anxious and it would be unfair for her to put in the situation EirGrid proposes," she added.

Josie's family are suspicious of how these issues have been sidelined ahead of the upcoming local elections.

"We're not sure at this stage now what's happening as it's been put back because of the elections. They've all gone very quiet at the moment," Paul said, adding "but we can't afford to."

EirGrid maintains that the buzzing sound emitted from its power cables, known as 'corona', is rarely a problem beyond 50 metres, which is the distance it intends on keeping any proposed pylons from dwellings.

"While conductors (the wires which carry the electricity) are designed and constructed to minimise corona, surface irregularities caused by damage, insects, raindrops or pollution can strengthen the electric field strength enough for corona discharges to occur," a spokesman said.

"In certain conditions, this can be heard as a 'crackling' sound, occasionally accompanied by a low frequency hum," the spokesman added.

However, Dr Anthony Staines, a professor at Dublin City University who specialises in public health and academic epidemiology and has worked with the Irish Autism Action, says Josie's family have a legitimate complaint.

Dr Staines told the Sunday Independent: "This is a real problem. You would have the same problem if there was a large road built near by or a railway, or they built a factory nearby and I think you have to manage it in the same way you would manage those.

"There is nothing special about the sound from a pylon. There is no evidence of general health effects from the sound of a pylon, but absolutely there are people with autism who are exquisitely sensitive to certain environmental stimuli and this child is clearly one of those and I would have no doubt that what the parents say is absolutely true. Their particular situation is something that has to be taken into account in the whole planning process."

EirGrid subsequently released a statement to the Sunday Independent in which it promised "to ensure that the concerns of the family about noise related to proposed power lines are fully addressed in relation to this project".

However, the Fleming family said they had not received any contact from the company at the time of going to print last night.

Sunday Independent

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