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Monday, 29 November, 1999, 12:28 GMT
Fresh evidence on pylon health risks
Some scientists theorise that electrical fields can lead to cancers

The fierce debate over the health risks of living close to electrical power lines could be given a sensational twist this week by fresh research.

One study will suggest that some children living close to cables could be receiving a large dose of radiation - more than double the maximum recommended for nuclear workers - which might be triggering diseases such as leukaemia.

But the other, a vast analysis of childhood cancers in the UK, due to be published on Friday, is likely to be the strongest indicator yet of whether a link exists.

If both these studies seem to show a relationship, it will make a big difference.
Martyn Day, environmental lawyer
The proposed connection between the electromagnetic fields generated by power lines and cancer, particularly in children, is highly controversial.

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

Professor Denis Henshaw, from Bristol University, is due to publish his latest findings in the International Journal of Radiation Biology later this week.

His team is understood to have made more than 2,000 measurements under power lines.

His previous studies have suggested that minute airborne droplets - aerosols - carrying cancer-causing pollution could be the missing link between power lines and illness.

His theory is that the electromagnetic fields, while not strong enough to cause health problems by themselves, attract these droplets, and lead to people under the lines being exposed to far higher levels of environmental toxins.

Two of these are benzene, produced by road traffic, and radon, a natural and slightly radioactive gas.

Theory dismissed by authorities

His 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.

However, the latest research is expected to have found that in some areas, children living near cables could have received a radiation dose up to 95 times more than than the recommended maximum.

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, says that the latest research is likely to be far more robust.

He 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 second study, headed by respected scientist Sir Richard Doll, was likely to be more influential.

It is due to be published in the Lancet medical journal on Friday.

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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