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The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"The vast bulk of scientific research suggests that power lines are safe"
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Sir Walter Bodmer, NRPB
"These are very small risks - but we have to state them"
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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 13:19 GMT
Watchdog confirms pylon cancer link
Electricity pylon BBC
Parents have demanded restrictions on pylons
The UK Government's radiation watchdog has admitted there is a "weak association" between electromagnetic fields and increased risk of childhood leukaemia.

The National Radiological Protection Board's investigation has reviewed all the evidence about health.

The evidence doesn't only relate to power lines, it's down to the effects of electrical power around the house

Sir Walter Bodmer, NRPB
This includes a study of 3,000 children in the US, Europe and New Zealand, published late last year, which suggested that pylons could double the risk of childhood leukaemia.

The NRPB's study, chaired by respected scientist Sir Richard Doll, has concluded that the increased danger is slight as the ordinary risk is only one in 20,000 children.

Although the evidence is weak, the watchdog calls for further detailed research to explain "anomalous" studies.

'Weak' evidence

Sir Walter Bodmer, NRPB chairman, told the BBC: "The evidence doesn't only relate to power lines, it's down to the effects of electrical power around the house.

"The evidence is weak, but it's the responsibility of a body like ours to state the scientific case as it is, and leave policymaking to government."

More than 23,000 homes in the UK are situated near power lines and it has previously been suggested by campaigners that the electromagnetic fields surrounding the cables can trigger leukaemia.

Janette Smith, from north Yorkshire, said that three members of her family had contracted cancer since they moved to a house close to power lines.

She said: "We are relieved to hear the report, because many people have disputed the fact that it could be the pylons.

"If it has caused cancer in children, there is a possibility that it will cause cancer in adults."

'Buffer zone'

Opponents are calling for a mandatory 50-metre (160-ft) "buffer zone" each side of the lines. In the US, legislation prevents new homes being built near power lines.

If it has caused cancer in children, there is a possibility that it will cause cancer in adults

Janette Smith, Campaigner
But some campaigners claim that "hissing" cables can extend the risk several hundred metres from power lines.

Research by Professor Denis Henshaw and Dr Peter Fews, at the University of Bristol, suggests power lines produce electrically charged particles called "corona ions".

According to their controversial theory, these attach themselves to airborne pollutants such as exhaust fumes, giving them an electrical charge and making them more likely to be deposited in the lungs when inhaled.

Some UK parents have engaged lawyers over the issue but studies have mainly been inconclusive.

A study by Bristol University scientists in 1999 identified a "causal" link between pylons and leukaemia. But a number of other studies, including one involving Canadian children, have failed to prove a link.

In a statement, the Electricity Association said: "The considerable body of evidence that has been accumulated over the last two decades clearly suggests that magnetic fields do not cause cancer or any other disease.

"If it is indeed the guidance of the NRPB that this is no longer the case, we would like the Board to clarify what needs to be done as an industry."

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02 Dec 99 | Health
Pylons 'treble cancer particles'
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