The Boogeyman in the Hybrid: Top Five Threats
2. Hybrids cause cancer, as a result of electromagnetic fields.
The National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute say that there are potential hazards of long-term exposure to strong electromagnetic fields (EMFs), with specific cancer risks for people living near high-voltage utility lines. The argument goes: Hybrids produce EMFs, so that means hybrids cause cancer.
A small number of hybrid drivers who became slightly ill after buying a hybrid used field-strength testing instruments and found EMFs at levels exceeding various international standards for safety. However, those standards are uneven and vary in result based on the testing equipment and procedure. The New York Times quoted Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer for the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, “It would be a mistake to jump to conclusions about hybrid EMF dangers, as well as a mistake to outright dismiss the concern. Additional research would improve our understanding of the issue.” Bottom line: If putting a cell phone to your head everyday doesn’t concern you, then driving a hybrid, with shielding against EMFs—shouldn’t keep you up at night.
1. Hybrid batteries are filling up landfills with carcinogenic ooze.
Some environmentally motivated car buyers are concerned that a hybrid utopia might turn into a toxic nightmare when the nickel metal hydride batteries in today’s hybrids end up in landfills. While the regular old lead acid batteries found in all cars are quite bad for the environment, nickel metal hydride turns out to be a lot less toxic. So, it might be advantageous for all car batteries to use nickel metal hydride instead of lead—but that’s not going to happen. “Lead is so cheap. It’s difficult to get people to seriously discuss replacing lead batteries in a conventional vehicle” said Karen Thomas, state policy manager at Environmental Defense, in an interview with HybridCars.com.
The answer for nickel metal hydride batteries is the same a for lead: recycling. It’s impossible to rescue every car battery from the dump. More than 40,000 metric tons of lead are lost to landfills every year. But that represents a very small percentage of lead batteries. At this point, nearly every single hybrid battery is still in use. When hybrid batteries start to die out—still several years in the future—those batteries can and will be reused or recycled.
These explanations won’t end the speculation about the nefarious effects of hybrid cars. Readers are encouraged to share their research and express their views.