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Last Updated: Monday, 6 June, 2005, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Do overhead power lines pose a safety risk?
Living too close to overhead power lines could increase the risk of childhood leukaemia according to a major study.

The research carried out at Oxford University discovered that children who had lived within 200m of high voltage lines at birth had a 70% higher risk of leukaemia than those 600m or more away.

But the scientists stressed that there are no accepted biological reasons for the results and that the findings could be linked to the environments where pylons are located.

Around 1% of homes in the UK are said to be within 200 metres of high voltage National Grid power lines.

What do you think of the findings? Do you think that living near overhead power lines pose a health risk? Send us your comments and experiences.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

I work in a school very near to overhead pylons. I am extremely concerned about the effect they might have on the children in our care. They have been affected by the cables with two incidents of childhood cancer this past academic year. There is no doubt that electricity is an intrinsic part of our society, but should these pylons be near schools and residential areas?
Anon, Bucks, UK

As the risk of leukaemia posed by power lines is next to non-existent, could someone explain to me why a 70% increase of that risk would be mathematically significant? We have this all the time - the fact is, many illnesses are statistically probable. They are not caused by mobile phones, microwave ovens, or power lines. Why people have such difficulty accepting that a host of factors cause illness is beyond me.
David, Leicester, UK

Powerlines are bad, food is bad, cars are bad, flowers are bad, everything we do is probably bad and dangerous. The question is without these dangerous elements of our life, how will power get from A to B, how will we communicate without wires, how will we eat the very food we need to live? Let's grow up before we all start living in a risk free bubble.
John Gearing, United Kingdom

We'll never settle this if we don't do better science. They need to measure actual magnetic-field strength in the homes. They also need to measure other factors such as defoliants that are often sprayed around pylons to provide better maintenance access, as well as ionisation by-products from the high-voltage lines themselves. Also people who live near pylons are often in a different socio-economic level, which may be relevant.
Peter Nelson, Boston USA

Money is not an excuse for the power generation and supply companies not to act on these findings
Simon, UK
No-one is saying we should get rid of electricity. What these reports are showing is that children (who are more susceptible than adults) who live very near to high voltage power lines have an increased likelihood of contracting cancer than would otherwise be the case. The remedy is the safe delivery of electricity to people's homes, not living in caves as one here has suggested. Even if it's only 1 or 2 deaths a year (which I doubt), that is unacceptable if we know what causes it and can prevent it. Money is not an excuse for the power generation and supply companies not to act on these findings.
Simon, UK

It was interesting to hear the representative from National Grid on the BBC news say there was no need for people to sell their homes if they lived next to pylons. What he forgot to mention who in their right minds would now buy a house near a pylon This survey has wiped out the value to thousands of houses. Although they say there is no conclusive evidence the mere fact there is a report has reinforced the fear of the general public. I have had a pylon sited next to my house last year and have been trying to sell it without any success because of the pylon but now after the release of this report I can kiss goodbye to any chance I had.
Dermot Finnigan, Manchester England

If a very small magnet and electric current from the cell phone can damage the ear, is it not possible that the giant cables carrying mega tons of electricity can be termed as hazardous?
Firozali A Mulla, Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania

Overhead power lines are certainly an eyesore (though not as bad as wind farms). However health effects are dubious - underground power transmission should be much more dangerous as people will be closer to the much larger electric and magnetic fields resulting from transmission of power along underground cables. Electromagnetic fields from mobile phones at 0.2m are much greater than from overhead power lines at 200m. I take it that all those who aren't prepared to accept that overhead power lines are dangerous (as opposed to unsightly) are going to throw away their mobile phones too?
Brian Beesley, UK

This is old news. The exact same scare was around 10/15 years ago. "Experts" then said there was no risk - now they say there is. Why don't they stop messing about and tell the truth for once to the public?
Sandra, UK

I've always thought them dangerous. They must pose some kind of risk, when you consider what they do. But instead of saying maybe and we are not sure, can't these idiots that write these reports keep things to themselves until they have definitive proof? They are simply adding to the panic of parents that may already be causing them to mollycoddle their kids too much. What kind of a world do we live in when terrifying people is considered good science? These people sound like politicians!
Jennifer Hynes, Plymouth, UK

I think we should wait until the research is complete until formulating a view. Once the anti-mobile mast brigade find out about this we will never hear the end of it. The scientists have stated that there is no known biological reason for the findings and it could be a geographical phenomenon. We should wait until all the facts are known before stirring up public fears. Rumours that mobile phone radiation is harmful are still unsubstantiated and the opposition to masts is fast becoming mass hysteria.
David, Cornwall

Farmers here never can grow anything useful under high power transmission cables. Crops are almost always deformed. But is this the cause for major alarm? Is it that growing things, such as children should be kept away? Not everybody is susceptible to the same things, some smokers never get sick, but that is really not the norm. We take too much for granted, and really never respect things properly. Reduce exposure, reduce risk.
John, New York City, USA

It is the fear and worry of the pylons that cause the health side-effects. Just like people worried about MMR and phone masts. If people stop stressing and worrying then they won't get ill.
Giles Jones, Staffordshire, UK

Although interesting in an academic sense it is time that media stories like this carried a link to league tables of relative risk. As others have commented, 2,000 children a year are killed on the roads. If this is true then the study risk factor will probably be way down in the noise along with being killed by lightening. Zero risk living is not an option, we need to concentrate on the higher relative risks.
Jeremy Slawson, Plymouth UK

Well blow me down with a feather the experts come up with yet another scare. Every day the experts find a link between this disease or that disease and what we eat, do or think. Let's all stop eating, drinking and living then we might avoid all the terrible diseases we are going to get if we listen to them and live to be 150.
M Grant, Dundee

I think that they do cause a huge risk to society, but the question to ask is, "is there another alternative".
Manjinder Singh Kang, Tamworth, Staffordshire, England

I'm sure the power companies will have their experts just like the tobacco industry did to dispel any thought that we are not perfectly safe. Right!
Russ B, Novi, MI, USA

The danger of overhead power lines has been known for a long time - but hushed up. The answer? Invest in sustainable sources of energy. Of course this won't happen overnight, which is why we need to start now and stop just paying lip service to the issue. We need to wake up in the UK and stop being so complacent.
Alex, Milton Keynes, UK

Why are builders still allowed to construct houses so close to power lines?
A Rye, UK/Spain
Wasn't this proven years ago? We have known about this risk for a long time. Why all the fuss now when something should have been done about it long ago? Why are builders still allowed to construct houses so close to power lines?
A Rye, UK/Spain

Magnetic fields are very dangerous, which is why I will have none of them in my house. The inconvenience of using candles and having no TV, computer, phone, car, or electric cables of any kind anywhere near me is well worth the reduced risk. I just want to find a way of removing the largest source of electromagnetic radiation, after all everyone knows the sun is dangerous too. Perhaps I can find a nice cave somewhere.
Chris, UK

I've lived 200 yards or so from pylons for all my life (37 years) and I've very rarely been ill. In fact, the only real illness I've had is chicken pox about three years ago! What a crock!
Carl Ogden, Radcliffe

Tell you what, since mains electricity provision is so dangerous let's do away with it. Let's have all heat provided by combustion, all light by flame or battery torches. No electricity to power the health interventions that we all take advantage of (water treatment, surgical instruments etc). Then let's see how wonderful the health and safety of children - and everyone else - is!
Liz, London, UK

Our civilisation lives on electricity, we could not function without it
Richard Way, Luton, UK
I read reports about a potential link between power lines and leukaemia when I was studying Biology and Medicine at university in the US, over 30 years ago. At the time, they placed various domesticated animals near power lines, and found higher than normal rates of blood diseases in the young of these animals. You do not find farmers in the US leaving their pregnant animals near power lines. Our civilisation lives on electricity, we could not function without it and I doubt that anyone would want to get rid of their lights, TVs or computers, let alone refrigerators. But builders should not be building homes under power lines. The evidence has been there for years, but sadly, no one seems to concerned.
Richard Way, Luton, UK

So what kind of people buy houses right next to power lines? Don't they stop to think about the view, the resell value, the weird buzzing noise in damp weather which must indicate some electro-chemical process going on in the air? Why take the risk?
Simon, Bristol

I live under some pylons. I don't have children but hope one day I will and I need some definitive answers as to the danger of power lines.
Julia Smith, Wakefield, UK

They aren't buried underground for financial reasons. They're an eye-sore and dangerous. It's a wonder people don't complain about these more than wind farms! They're far more obvious - and no-one can say such a structure is pretty.
Mark Yates

My son is about to start school where a pylon is about 50 metres away from the playground. I am seriously considering the choice of schools, this information has made me very confused as to what to do next!
Ian Butterworth, Blackpool

My first home in Australia was overlooked by power lines. Within 10 houses of our place 3 people had some form of cancer all diagnosed in the same year. Including the boy next door with leukaemia, another neighbour with bowel cancer and a third lady five doors down who initially had breast cancer which later spread to her whole body after remission. Is this a coincidence?
Kathryne Hughes, Singapore

I wonder if there have been any studies done on the effect of high voltage underground cables (e.g. 275kV and 400kV)? Having worked in the past as a cable engineer I know that many of these cables pass through highly populated areas at distances a lot less than 60m.
Peter Flett, Stirling, Scotland

I can well understand that prolonged exposure would be injurious to health
Rosemary Charles, Norfolk
If under high-power lines, e.g. when in a traffic jam, I begin to feel unwell within minutes. I can well understand that prolonged exposure would be injurious to health. I am similarly affected by microwave ovens and mobile phones which I think will provide many health problems in a decade or so - the power lines concern is only the tip of a gathering, 'iceberg'.
Rosemary Charles, Norfolk, UK

To Rosemary Charles, Norfolk: Rosemary, I thought I was the only person who suffered from this effect. There is a power line (direct from a power station) near where I grew up, that crosses the river suspended from two massive pylons. Standing under it always gave me a weird headache accompanied by a kind of queasy feeling. I think this issue should be investigated urgently.
Franchesca Mullin, Belfast, Northern Ireland

If overhead pylons are suspected of giving us cancer, then surely this is another good reason to get solar energy instead of nuclear power.
Andrew Briggs, UK

This report clearly points to the need for further study before we switch off all the lights in England! Many factors may come together in this situation. Having measured soil samples in Kent for Radon one is struck by just how widespread it is. Maybe we are seeing the results of a combination of geology, Radon and power distribution.
Martin Page, Ashford

If there is a real effect, it's much more likely to be chemical than magnetic. Electric discharge from the high voltage lines will cause production of trace amounts of ozone which might explain the health risk. If so, I would expect the leukaemia incidence to be higher downwind of the lines - it should be possible to check this. In any case, it looks as though only about 2% of the leukaemia cases studied could be due to power lines, so there are obviously lots of other more important factors, such as pollution from traffic.
James Bridge, Canterbury, Kent, UK

In power stations there are many workers that work right next to high voltage transformers. The emissions from these are so powerful that they cannot use ordinary PC monitors as the display wobbles badly. There have been no instances (that I know of) where someone has had any health issues connected to this high level of exposure and these people have been working in the same buildings for many years. However, when you talk about power lines that's a different case. Certain organisms are attracted by the magnetic flux produced by these power lines and these organisms may cause problems. I would suggest that these organisms are the real problem.
M G, Morecambe

How else is it proposed that electricity is supplied to the masses? Contrary to popular opinion, power lines CANNOT be hung from sky-hooks.
Daniel Dobson, Barnsley

Is the debate really about overhead cables and health risks or is it aesthetics? It seems that anything that is functional but not necessarily pleasing to the eye (pylons, mobile phone masts) all have (dubious)health risks. Maybe underground cables are shielded in some way otherwise wouldn't the risks be greater as they are closer to people? I guess an alternative to the national grid is for everyone to install solar panels and wind generators for themselves.
Paul Booth, Cambridge

We are currently subject to a new power line of 400kva running through one of the country's newest National Parks. What effect would under grounding have on the leukaemia rates, has the study looked at this as an alternative? Most people I think would support under grounding if it reduced the rates of leukaemia, even if it added more cost to what we all pay for electricity.
Simon Dodds, Laggan, Invernesshire, Scotland

About 10 years ago I remember reading several reports from the Nordic countries correlating cancers with the location of their over and underground high voltage power lines. I think this was pooh-poohed in the UK, like when big business wants to press ahead with its own agenda. Perhaps it's time to unearth them again for a second reading?
Tony Elkin, Basingstoke, Hants, UK

They have known about this in Australia for years. The government MUST know this.
James McDonagh, Stanford-le-Hope Essex

Let us urgently look for solutions - this is not the first time high voltage lines have been proven carcinogenic. With 7,OOOkm of lines and 21,800 pylons to maintain, we can expect the National Grid to fight back tooth and claw. Let's mandate the government to find a fix - a healthy, safe, environmentally green fix.
Lyn Gambles, London, UK

It's quite alarming that there is still no definitive answer. If living under these pylons is dangerous and can harm both children and adults alike. What will it take for the government to do something about it?
S. Syed, Berkshire

What about electricity sub stations, often in residential areas? There must surely be magnetic fields here. Anyone have any knowledge?
John Davey, Bristol

Swiss medical folk have determined that emissions from all electrical sources have some negative effect on health and have advised kids should be kept away from micro-waves and hi volt grid lines. While nutrition and exercise etc, for young mums is their own responsibility, a safe "electro smog" free environment is clearly the (local) government's.
David, Baden, Switzerland

322 children out of a sample of 9,700 live within 600m of a power line and have leukaemia, that's 3.3% of the children in the study. That might suggest that living close to a power line is safer than not. Statistics can be used to prove anything.
Geoff King, Bath, Somerset

Is it true that in Russia they banned housing near them years ago?
Rob, Sheffield

My son has leukaemia and a week doesn't go by when you don't hear off another random survey. Not enough darkness at bedtime because the child can't top up their melatonin, so don't leave the landing light on. Children are more susceptible to childhood cancer if they live close to petrol stations. We lived next to two and I have one child, the neighbour next door has 3 children and not one of her children suffered with anything so serious as cancer. Now this new finding, all rubbish as far as I am concerned. As a parent you need a definitive reason why it happened, but that can never happen.
Nikki T, Kingston-on-Thames

I'm an American living overseas and there have been studies concluded here in Indonesia and in the USA which arrive at similar conclusions as this study. There must be a connection between pylons and cancer. The researchers are just afraid of causing a panic amongst the population.
Paul Krenz, Jakarta, Indonesia

I recently bought a new property within 20m of a high power line. My daughter was born last July. However, I don't think its right to put unnecessary doubt into people's minds when there is no conclusive proof.
Anthony Matfield, Stevenage

Your report states that 'although the trend was definite, the researchers said they could not reasonably explain why it occurred'. As stated, the magnetic field created by overhead power lines is small; but the potential gradient directly underneath such a line is very high (of the order of 10,000 volts/metre). It is very far from clear that such a high value is safe. It is pertinent to ask what effects such high values have on, for example, body chemistry.
Graham Jagger, Leicester, UK

Once again scaremongering tactics. Have you no thought for people who live by these pylons? With housing already in short supply, you are only endangering the public health further with continuing negative reporting!
Mike Kelly, Guernsey


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