03/06/2005

Study links power lines to childhood leukaemia

Children who live near power lines are more likely to develop leukaemia, a team of scientists has claimed.

Researchers from Oxford University found that children who lived within 200 metres of high voltage power lines had a 70% higher chance of developing leukaemia than those children who lived more than 600 metres away from the power cables.

The study also found a 20% increase in the risk of developing leukaemia in children who lived between 200 and 600 metres from power lines.

However, the team admitted that the results of the study could be coincidence.

The study was conducted by Dr Gerald Draper and colleagues from the Childhood Cancer Research Group at Oxford University and Dr John Swanson, a scientific adviser at National Grid Transco. The research, published in the British Medical Journal involved 29,000 children suffering from cancer, including 9,700 children in England and Wales who had developed leukaemia between 1962 and 1995. Researchers found that 64 of the children lived within 200 metres of power lines at birth, while a further 258 lived between 200- 600 metres of power cables at birth.

However, researchers admitted that the risk of leukaemia might not be caused by the effect of power cables at all and may be related to other factors, such as the areas where power cables tend to be located or the sort of people who live in those areas.

The Oxford University team plans to study the issue further.

Cancer Research UK have stressed that the causes of childhood leukaemia are still mostly unclear. The charity said that the disease is probably caused by two factors – an event, which damages a baby’s DNA before it is born, followed by an unusual pattern of infection in later childhood. Professor John Toy, Cancer Research UK’s Medical Director said: “This study reports a very slight increase in the risk if childhood leukaemia for children born near power lines, but the researchers could not link this to the power lines themselves. These results may indeed be entirely due to chance.

“What this paper does not show is that power lines directly cause childhood leukaemia. This may seem confusing, but there may be other more common factors that exist in these areas that contribute to the apparent increased risk.

“People who currently live of have lived near power lines in the past need not panic about this research. The triggers that cause childhood leukaemia are most likely a random cause of events over which a parent has no control.”

Dr David Grant from Leukaemia Research also echoed Professor Toy’s statement. He said: “Leukaemia Research recognises there is a lot of public anxiety and concern about living close to pylons and exposure to power-frequency magnetic fields. There is no reason why anyone should be advised to move house on the basis of these new results.”

(KMcA/SP)

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