Report on effects of extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields on human health

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A response to the Stakeholder Advisory Group's report on the effects of extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields, by a member of SAGE.

Today sees publication of a report from the Government's Stakeholder Advisory Group on the effects of extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields (ELF EMFs) on human health, (SAGE).

SAGE member Denis Henshaw, Professor of Human Radiation Effects at the University of Bristol, has criticised the report for failing to recommend sufficient measures to protect public exposure to EMFs near power.

Professor Henshaw described the report as disappointing in view of the serious omission of meaningful discussion of the scientific evidence, as well as the failure to recommend strong precautionary action for new housing developments and no recommendations for existing powerlines over populated areas.

He said: “The overall weight of scientific evidence strongly supports a favourable cost-benefit analysis for the introduction of precautionary measures against EMF exposures, including a powerline corridor within which the building of new homes would not be permitted.

“While the report discusses a 60-metre avoidance corridor around powerlines, within which new houses would not be built, it falls short of recommending this option. In view of the extensive international evidence of adverse health effects across a wide range of illnesses, from both epidemiological studies and laboratory experiments, this lack of a clear recommendation for even this minimum distance is extremely disappointing.”

There is compelling evidence from laboratory studies that low level magnetic fields enhance the effects of known cancer-causing agents on cells. The evidence supports the established mechanism by which magnetic fields can increase the lifetime of free radicals in the body and hence their ability to damage DNA.

In addition, a major report by the California Department of Health that reviewed over 200 international epidemiological studies, concluded that there was a possible causal link with exposure to magnetic fields and increased risk of childhood leukaemia, adult leukaemia, adult brain cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or motor neurone disease) and miscarriage. 

People exposed to EMFs in and around their homes have been found to experience disruption of the nocturnal production of the important hormone and natural anti-cancer agent melatonin.  This may provide a common link with the various reported health effects.

Where high magnetic fields as a result of house wiring are identified, the report recommends measures for remediating or removing exposure to such fields.

Cancer risk assessments from harmful agents are usually based on the assumption that the risk reduces to zero only when exposure to that agent is zero. Such an assumption would suggest that around 60 cases of childhood leukaemia annually are linked to EMFs in the UK.   When other illnesses associated with EMFs are considered, the public health impact could be at least one hundred times greater.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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