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New Evidence Links Power Lines And Cancer
Journalist: Andrew Alderson
October 06, 2002

Overhead power lines and household electrical appliances increase the risk of developing cancer, according to the findings of an eight-year study into the effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

The 4.5 million study, the largest held into the effects of EMFs on health, suggests that hundreds of thousands of Britons, particularly children, are at risk from life-threatening illnesses linked to the emissions. Pregnant women are also at greater risk of miscarrying.

Its findings will be seized on by campaigners who argue that EMFs from overhead power lines and mobile phone masts are responsible for cancer and leukaemia "clusters" across Britain.

The National Radiological Protection Board, the Government watchdog on radiation, reported last year that its studies into the effect of EMFs had been inconclusive.

The latest study was commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to publish the full report in the next few months. Scientists reviewed scores of previous studies from all over the world, including Britain, and carried out new research in the San Francisco area.

The researchers told The Telegraph that they believe that EMFs increase the risks of life-threatening illnesses including childhood leukaemia, adult brain cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

Dr Raymond Neutra of the California Department of Health Services, who led the research, said: "In Britain, hundreds of thousands of homes are exposed to levels [of EMFs] that mean they could be at risk."

Dr Vincent DelPizzo, a senior member of the research team, said: "People have a right to be warned but whether a major effort to reduce EMFs is appropriate must still be decided."

The first suspected link between overhead power lines and cancer was made in America in 1979. Some reports, however, have dismissed a connection, while others have said that evidence is inconclusive. Until now, those considering long and costly legal action have been advised that it would probably fail because of lack of proof.

John Scott, the Conservative MSP for Ayr who led an unsuccessful campaign to stop the erection of more than 200 pylons in South Ayrshire, said yesterday: "The implications of this [study] could be enormous for the power-generating companies."

If the report bolsters demands for the burying of all power cables, the cost will run into billions of pounds. A spokesman for the Electricity Association said: "If the Government ever decreed that power lines had to be placed underground then the costs would be passed straight on to the consumer."

Every mile of underground cabling costs nearly 16 million to install, whereas overhead cables cost about 800,000 over the same distance.

The power companies could face a string of lawsuits from families who claim to have been affected by EMFs, as could manufacturers of domestic appliances.

Martyn Day, a solicitor representing a dozen families who are considering legal action against power companies they claim were negligent, said: "The evidence has been accumulating over the past 23 years and this sounds a very significant piece of additional information."

Among those who claim to have been affected are Ray and Denise Studholme, who believe that their son Simon would still be alive if he had not been subjected to a strong electromagnetic field in his bedroom.

As Simon slept, his head was less than 3ft from an electricity meter and a burglar alarm in a hall cupboard. According to the family, tests after their son's death revealed that the two appliances gave off an EMF more than six times the recommended safe limit.

Simon was diagnosed with leukaemia in November 1990, nearly two years after the family moved to their three-bedroom home near Bolton, Greater Manchester. He died in September 1992, aged 13.

The family hopes to use the study's findings to resume a test case against Norweb, their electricity supplier. They dropped a civil case five years ago after losing their right to legal aid.

"We faced an uphill battle all the way to win compensation," said Mr Studholme, 54, who has retired from his job as a financial adviser because of his poor health.

"If I had known about the electromagnetic fields Simon would not have been sleeping there. Within six months of moving here he used to get up in the morning complaining of headaches and feeling light-headed," said Mr Studholme.

In America up to five per cent of homes have EMF levels considered potentially dangerous. It is estimated that the same percentage of homes in Britain could be at risk, either because of nearby power lines, internal wiring or electrical equipment.

Dr Michael Clark, the scientific spokesman for the National Radiological Protection Board, said yesterday that the board welcomed new research into the effect of EMFs but would not comment on the findings from California until it had studied the full report.

Roger Coghill, who runs an independent science laboratory in Pontypool, Gwent, and who has studied the effect of EMFs on people's health for more than a decade, said that he was impressed by the latest research project.

"This is a huge, well-conducted study and people must pay attention to its results. Some power companies have deliberately suppressed research in this field. But in the end the truth will out and here it is.

"We are all on the same side: we all want electricity but none of us wants brain tumours."

Exactly how cancer could be caused by such exposure remains a mystery, however. The strength of the magnetic fields falls away rapidly from overhead power lines - just a few dozen yards from a pylon registers well below the natural magnetic field level of the Earth. Studies of living cells and animals exposed to such weak fields have hitherto failed to reveal any changes normally linked to cancer.

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