Radiation and Electric Power Transmission

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Substantial evidence exists to suggest that the low-power, low-frequency, electromagnetic radiation emitted in the average household does not pose a risk to either short or long-term health. However, some research has pointed towards radiation exposure as a cause of illnesses such as leukemia, neurodegenerative disease, depression and miscarriage.

One mechanism proposed for how radiation exposure increases cancer risk was that the electrical fields around power cables attract aerosol pollutants. To resolve this, one solution suggested was to bury these overhead cables underground to prevent the electromagnetic  fields from radiating further than the power lines and into nearby areas. However, this procedure is expensive, costing twice the amount it does to install the power cables overhead.

In 1997, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) published a report in the New England Journal of Medicine that documented the findings from an epidemiological study spanning seven years. The research failed to provide any substantial evidence of a link between the incidence of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and high magnetic field levels in households. The study analyzed the risk of living in households with high measured time-weighted average magnetic-field levels among 638 children with ALL and 620 controls.

However, in 2005, the Canadian government announced that pooled data form several epidemiological studies had suggested that children living in households where the average magnetic field levels are greater than 0.4 microtesla (4 milligauss), are at twice the risk of developing leukemia compared with children living in household where this cut-off is not exceeded.

In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a fact sheet based on research conducted by WHO in 2007, the IARC in 2002 and the ICNIRP in 2003. The fact sheet stated that insufficient evidence existed to support that the magnetic fields were a causal factor in childhood leukemia. Furthermore, with regard to other forms of childhood cancer and cancer in adults, the link to magnetic field exposure was even weaker than for childhood leukemia.

Reviewed by , BSc

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Last Updated: Oct 30, 2014

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