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Child Leukemia Again Linked to Power Lines

Study: Slight Tendency for Kids With Leukemia to Live Near Power Lines
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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 are not."

Moulder, like Dickinson, points out that animals exposed to strong magnetic fields -- much stronger than those found near power lines -- don't get cancer.

In June 2002, the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences updated its 1999 report on possible risks from electromagnetic fields (EMF).

"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.

Power Lines and Infections

Dickinson suggests that the Draper team's findings are real. But she thinks that living near power lines is linked to something else -- something that really does increase a child's leukemia risk.

"We know the rate of leukemia varies by a factor of two or three between isolated rural areas," Dickinson says. "And this is related to an influx of population that can change pattern of the infections to which a child is exposed."

Sudden exposure of once-isolated children to a lot of new childhood diseases, Dickinson suggests, may be linked to leukemia risk. She suggests that this may be a "confounding factor" in the Draper team's findings.

But even if living near power lines does raise a child's risk of leukemia, Dickinson notes that the risk is small.

"A 70% increase in leukemia means that the 1 in 2,000 risk of leukemia becomes a 1 in 1,200 risk," she says. "In the U.K., this means that five extra children might get leukemia. We need to keep this in perspective -- look at the thousands of children hurt in road accidents each year."

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