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Daniel Sandford reports for BBC News
"Scientists working for the electric companies say the research is flawed"
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Professor Denis Henshaw and Dr John Swanson
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Thursday, 2 December, 1999, 17:50 GMT
Pylons 'treble cancer particles'
Research claims electric cables cause cancer

People living and working near high voltage electricity cables may face a greater danger of getting cancer than those who do not, controversial research has concluded.

After completing 2,000 experiments near pylons, a team from the University of Bristol has concluded the cables are responsible for trebling the amount of cancer-carrying pollutants in the air.

But their results have been condemned by scientists working for the electricity industry - and are likely to be directly contradicted by a huge survey of childhood cancer to be published on Friday.

Dr John Swanson, who works for the Electricity Association, said: "Professor Henshaw has not shown any link with human health, let alone childhood cancer."

The American government's policy of not siting houses close to power lines is well founded
Professor Denis Henshaw
They say that "hissing" cables, known as the corona effect, can extend the risk several hundred metres from power lines.

Professor Denis Henshaw and his team said the electromagnetic field surrounding the cables was to blame for the alleged link between power lines and childhood leukaemia.

The other study - a wide-ranging analysis of childhood cancers in the UK by respected scientist Sir Richard Doll - is due to be published in the Lancet medical journal on Friday - and will be the strongest indicator yet of whether or not a link exists.

Professor Henshaw said: "Given the body of evidence that links childhood leukaemia to traffic pollution, we are driven to the hypothesis that the links between power lines and disease can be considered causal.

"While the risk of leukaemia is small, it is on our evidence an avoidable risk."

His team placed a number of metal spheres in fields near Bristol and recorded the amount of airborne particles deposited on them. They found there was three times the risk of the pollutants being deposited on the skin for people living or working nearby.

In two cases, the cancer-causing pollutants were recorded 500 metres from power cables, they say in the International Journal of Radiation Biology.

Previous studies have been either inconclusive, or based on very small numbers of subjects or tests.

First study dismissed

Professor Henshaw's first small-scale study was dismissed by the National Radiological Protection Board, the government agency responsible for ensuring public safety from electromagnetic fields and radiation.

His latest study was financed by the Foundation for Children with Leukaemia, the Department of Health and the Medical Research Council.

Environmental lawyer Martyn Day, whose London firm is representing the families of 12 children who believe their cancers were caused by proximity to power lines, said: "If both these studies seem to show a relationship, it will make a big difference.

"When Professor Henshaw put forward his original study, there was a great deal of scepticism in the scientific community."

However, he said that the study from Sir Richard Doll was likely to be more influential.

A recent study looking at Canadian children found "little support for a relation between power frequency electromagnetic field exposure and risk of childhood leukaemia".

More than 23,000 homes in the UK are situated near power lines.

Campaigners are calling for a mandatory 50m "buffer zone" each side of the lines.

In the US, legislation prevents new homes being built near power lines.

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See also:
08 Apr 99 |  Health
Are mobile phones a health hazard?
29 Oct 99 |  Health
Child leukaemia 'starts in womb'
29 Oct 99 |  Medical notes
Leukaemia: Medical notes
17 Aug 99 |  Health
Child leukaemia linked to infection

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