Wednesday, April 15, 2009

One Man’s Crusade

Mark Dwyer - The Newfoundland Herald
(Reprinted with permission)

Gerry Higgins is relentless. He admits it. In fact, he practically
introduces each telephone call with an apology, excusing his

His diligence is admirable and, at times, annoying. At one point his
endless phone calls sparked a verbal exchange with this columnist.
“Sorry if I’m being a nuisance,” he offers, “but I’m not going away.”

I’m glad he didn’t.

Higgins is a 53-year-old widower. Just before Christmas in 2005, his
wife Margaret, just 45, lost her five year battle with cancer.

He wears the pain on his face like a mask and, in some ways, refuses to
let her go, realizing that too many questions remain unanswered.

Higgins is confident, if not convinced, that electrical transformers
played a role in his wife’s death, and he’s advocating for a local
study into the effects of overexposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs)
since his wife was initially diagnosed almost a decade ago.

Just after exchanging wedding vows in 1980, the young couple settled
down in a small bungalow in Norris Arm and started a family. That
little nest, though, was enclosed by heavy power lines, which Higgins
believes possibly played a role in her death.

As reported in an interview with The Independent several years ago, he
discovered that out of the 62 transformers in his town, there were
incidents of cancer located close to 60.

That’s a heavy statement considering the modern world is powered by
electrical transformers, and Higgins realizes he has many detractors,
some who quietly wonder if his motives are financially-driven. “I don’t
want a nickel from this; I want a study,” he says.

Higgins, who’s spoken to thousands of cancer victims, has support from
scientists all over the globe, some of whom have been conducting
research into the health effects of EMFs for decades.

Trent University professor Magda Havas, who has spent years examining
the issue, is one of Higgins’ loudest supporters, noting he should
receive a medal for his “tenacity and his desire to prevent others from
experiencing the death of a loved one from cancer.”

She notes there is significant scientific evidence that the magnetic
field from power lines and other sources is associated with breast

“Epidemiological studies,” she says, “show that magnetic field
exposure, in a number of occupations, increases the risk of breast
cancer in both men and women. This is especially true for women under
the age of 50 with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer.”

Plus, studies with human breast cancer cells show that magnetic fields
increase the growth of breast cancer and reduce the effectiveness of
melatonin and tamoxifen. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by
the human body that is “oncostatic” — which means it reduces the growth
of cancers. Tamoxifen is a drug given to breast cancer patients to
reduce the growth of breast cancer cells.

“I don’t know if Gerry’s wife used this treatment but if she did the
drug would not be as effective if she remained in a high magnetic field

Margaret Higgins did take the drug.

Lastly, according to Havas, studies with mice show that breast cancer,
induced with a chemical carcinogen, appears earlier and grows more
quickly when exposed to high magnetic fields.

“Since 1 in 9 women in Canada is likely to develop breast cancer in her
lifetime, anything that promotes the growth of breast cancer, even
slightly, becomes a very serious health concern,” she says.

Simply put, Havas suggests moving transformers away from homes and
making certain that people don’t live near power lines would be a step
in the right direction.

Gerry Higgins won’t quit. I guarantee it. He vividly remembers the
shock on his wife’s face and the tears in her eyes when her doctor
confirmed she had breast cancer in 2000. He watched her die, but truly
believes others can be helped.

He is calling for a study in this province, conducted by an independent
body, to answer the question — Does living near a transformer and power
lines increase your likelihood of developing cancer?

“Surely this is a valid question and the government of Newfoundland and
Labrador is in the position to answer it,” says Havas.

By funding an independent study, the government could put this question
to rest, and hopefully give Gerry Higgins the answer he’s looking for.

Mark Dwyer, The Herald’s managing editor, can be reached at
mdwyer at

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