Thursday, November 04, 2004

The pylon panic

'Pylons "double child cancer risk",' says BBC News, reporting on research from the Childhood Cancer Research Group at Oxford University. 70,000 children under 15 were studied for the report, half of whom had cancer of various types. For most types of cancer, whether children had lived near power lines had no effect. However, the rate of leukaemia for those relatively few children born or living near power lines was 1.7 times higher than for other children. The report author, Dr Gerald Draper, believes that power lines may be responsible for 20-30 cases per year that would not otherwise have occurred.

Even the report author believes caution is required in interpreting these figures. 'The findings have been surprising, it has made us want to figure out the reasons for these results, and whether power lines might be to blame. But I feel strongly that we have not yet found out conclusively that this is the case,' said Dr Draper.

There are around 500 cases of leukaemia per year in children in the UK, so the risk for any particular household is low. Doubling a tiny risk is still a tiny risk. Even if this new report were accurate, it would suggest an increase in the risk of leukaemia from about 1 in 1400 to around 1 in 700 for the relatively small number of families who actually live near power lines. According to John Brignell, discussing a similar finding in 2001 on spiked, that amounts to an extra case of leukaemia every other year.

In any event, the overall risk is so small that it is very possible that this figure is just a statistical artefact and there is no real effect at all. Moreover, no-one has yet managed to put forward a convincing mechanism for how the fields created by power lines might cause cancer.

Other research has shown no link. For example, in 1999, UK Childhood Cancer Survey found no link between the strength of electromagnetic fields in the home and cancer. This would seem to be a superior study in that the strength of such fields was actually measured, rather than simply assuming that fields were higher in homes near pylons.

Families may very well not want to live near pylons because they tend to spoil the view, but there is little evidence they will cause cancer.

Pylons 'double child cancer risk', BBC News, 30 October 2004

Pylons safe, says 'definitive' research, BBC News, 3 December 1999

Power cables - what risk?, by John Brignell, spiked

spiked-central | Panic | Don't panic


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