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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 12:31 GMT
Electromagnetic fields 'raise cancer risk'
The cause of many childhood cancers is uncertain
Prolonged exposure to high level electromagnetic fields (EMF) in the home could double the risk of childhood leukaemia, a major international study has found.

However, the scientists found no evidence that EMF exposure was linked to an increased risk of suicide, reproductive problems, heart disease or cancer in adults.

And they found no evidence linking the increased risk of leukaemia in the UK with living close by high-voltage electricity power lines.

Whether this risk is caused by the EMF exposure remains unknown

Professor Anthony Swerdlow
The three-year review was carried out for the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) by six senior epidemiologists from major institutions around the world.

These included the Institute of Cancer Research in the UK, the US National Cancer Institute and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

The experts examined the findings of all previous research into the potential health hazards posed by EMF exposure.

Cancer evidence

Professor Anthony Swerdlow, an epidemiologist at The Institute of Cancer Research, said: "We concluded that there is no chronic disease for which a causal relation to EMF can be regarded as established, but there is evidence for an approximate doubled risk of leukaemia in children exposed to high levels of EMF.

"Whether this risk is caused by the EMF exposure remains unknown."

The conclusions on the leukaemia risk follow a study by the National Radiological Protection Board released in March which found a weak association between EMF exposure and childhood leukaemia.

That review noted that in the UK about 0.4% of children are exposed to high EMF levels.

Nearly all homes are exposed to low level EMFs from electrical wiring and domestic appliances.

Common problem

Childhood leukaemia, which develops in the bone marrow, accounts for one third of all childhood cancers - around 500 cases in the UK each year.

The link - or absence of it - to power lines remains controversial.

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.

ICNIRP sets international guidelines for protection against the electromagnetic fields associated with the transmission, generation and use of electricity.

These are adopted by governments world-wide, the World Health Organisation and the European Commission.

The new study is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

See also:

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