Child Leukemia Again Linked to Power Lines
Study: Slight Tendency for Kids With Leukemia to Live Near Power Lines
WebMD News Archive
June 2, 2005 -- Living near high-voltage power lines raises children's risk
of leukemia by 69%, a British study shows.
That doesn't prove that power lines cause the deadly blood cancer, the
study's authors are quick to point out. Despite 30 years of research,
scientists still can't come up with a plausible reason why the weak magnetic
fields near power lines might cause leukemia.
Gerald Draper, DPhil, director of the childhood cancer research group at
Oxford University, led the study. Draper's team compared more than 29,000
children with cancer, including 9,700 children with leukemia, to age-, sex-,
and birthplace-matched children without cancer. The children's birth homes were
located on the power grids of England and Wales.
Compared with children who lived more than 600 meters from a high-voltage
power line, those who lived within 200 meters of the power lines had a 69%
greater risk of leukemia. Those living 200 to 600 meters from power lines had a
23% higher risk of leukemia. The findings appear in the June 4 issue of the
British Medical Journal.
There is a slight tendency for the birth addresses of children with leukemia
to be closer to these lines than those of children matched for comparison,
Draper and colleagues write. "We have no satisfactory explanation for our
results in terms of causation by magnetic fields, and the findings are not
supported by convincing laboratory data or any accepted biological
An Unusual Disclaimer
That's an unusual disclaimer for a researcher who has found a statistically
significant link. But the data leave Draper and other experts scratching their
heads for an explanation.
There are many theories about how power lines might cause leukemia. The most
obvious one is that the magnetic fields created by power lines somehow make
cancer cells grow in susceptible people. But there's a problem with this
theory, notes Heather Dickinson, PhD, principal research associate at the
Center for Health Services Research at the University of Newcastle in
"What is puzzling is that the magnetic field from power lines is only 1%
of the earth's magnetic field, which surrounds us all," Dickinson tells
WebMD. "Your fridge or vacuum generates a magnetic field of about the same
strength. In England and Wales, only 5% of the exposure to magnetic fields
comes from high voltage pylons. So if this is a hazard, people with appliances
should be just as concerned."
John E. Moulder, PhD, director of radiation biology at the Medical College
of Wisconsin, is an expert on how exposure to various kinds of electromagnetic
fields and radiations might cause cancer.
"Power lines cannot be proven absolutely safe," Moulder tells WebMD.
"But people have looked very hard for a causal relationship between power
lines and cancer and nobody has found one. People aren't going to like this.
They really want to be told we are absolutely sure one way or the other, and we
Moulder, like Dickinson, points out that animals exposed to strong magnetic
fields -- much stronger than those found near power lines -- don't get
In June 2002, the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
updated its 1999 report on possible risks from electromagnetic fields
"Over the past 25 years, research has addressed the question of whether
exposure to power-frequency EMF might adversely affect human health. For most
health outcomes, there is no evidence that EMF exposures have adverse
effects," the NIEHS report concludes.