Power lines above pub spark concern for health: Jonathan Foster visits a Manchester inn where the fear of disease hangs in the air

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NONE OF the high-voltage cables above the Sparking Clog pub leaks electricity to drinkers below, but a potentially fatal pollution from the power lines may be in the air.

Measurements of the electro-magnetic field produced overhead by one National Grid line, and two operated by the regional Norweb company, have shown levels 24 times greater than the safety limits recommended in a recent study carried out in Sweden.

The Sparking Clog, named after a traditional Lancashire game of striking iron-capped clogs on gritstone pavements, nestles under the force of more than 660,000 volts at pylon height in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester.

National Grid and Norweb are sceptical of reports linking protracted exposure within electro-magnetic fields to illness, especially the onset of leukaemia in children. This week, consultants for National Grid are collating results from their measurement of the Sparking Clog field.

Margaret Singleton, the landlady, has complained of illness - including severe headaches - which has cleared up when she has spent time away from the pub. High readings have been taken in a washroom behind the bar and in the Singletons' bedroom.

The Swedish government is expected to issue new planning guidelines this month, based on the assumption that powerful electro-magnetic fields are harmful. Epidemiological studies in Denmark and the United States also suggest that power lines and other electrical installations may be linked to cancers and brain tumours.

Norweb is expected to be sued for negligence by the Studholme family, who live near the Sparking Clog. Their 13-year-old son Simon slept with his head close to an electricity meter. An electricity sub-station stood outside his room, and two cables ran below the drive of the Studholmes' house.

Simon died from leukaemia in 1992. Martyn Day, solicitor for the family, said yesterday that anxiety about the possible effects of electro-magnetic pollution was increasing in Britain, and the National Radiological Protection Board has called urgently for more research.

Mr Day, whose firm also represents leukaemia victims suing British Nuclear Fuels, said: 'There has been concern about the effects from new power lines proposed in southern Scotland and Yorkshire, and a national steering committee is to be formed to pull together interested groups and individuals. The Studholmes have been awarded legal aid for investigative reports which we are now awaiting. The level of knowledge is limited, and the action will rely on epidemiology to lead the way. But the most significant study, in Sweden in 1992, took a very large population sample and found a strong link to children with leaukaemia.'

(Photograph omitted)