Daily Telegraph (London, UK), April 29, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The British Health Protection Agency recommends a precautionary approach to high-voltage power lines. It's very simple: We suspect harm but the science is uncertain, so keep children away.]

By Nic Fleming, Medical Correspondent

Despite taking seven years to complete, Dr Gerald Draper's investigation into the links between childhood leukaemia and high- voltage power lines was by no means conclusive.

The research, published in full by the British Medical Journal last summer, looked at more than 29,000 children with cancer, including 9,700 with leukaemia, born between 1962 and 1995, and a control group of healthy youngsters in England and Wales.

Dr Draper and colleagues, from the Childhood Cancer Research Group at Oxford University, recorded the distance between the children's addresses at birth and the nearest high-voltage power line. They found that 64 children with leukaemia lived within 650ft of the line, and 258 lived between 650ft and 1,950ft away.

By comparing with control groups, they concluded that those within 650ft were around 69 per cent more likely to develop leukaemia, and those living between 650ft and 1,950ft away were 23 per cent more likely to develop the blood cancer, when compared to those living further away from power lines.

Around 500 children under 15 are diagnosed with leukaemia, cancer of the blood, every year in Britain and around 100 die.

Dr Draper estimated that, of the 400-420 cases that occur in England and Wales, about five might be associated with living in proximity to high voltage power lines.

The first suggestion of a link between EMFs and childhood leukaemia came from US researchers Nancy Wertheimer and Ed Leeper.

Eddie O'Gorman, the chairman of the charity Children with Leukaemia, said: "Planning controls must be introduced to stop houses and schools being built close to high-voltage overhead power lines."

While the researchers found a clear trend between the distance at which children were born from power lines and the risk of leukaemia, they could find no explanation for the finding. Some scientists have suggested magnetic fields produced by the lines could be to blame. However, the study found a raised risk beyond 650ft -- a distance at which magnetic fields from power lines are at or below background levels.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has said this could mean at least some of the increased risk of leukaemia could be associated with factors other than EMFs.

The HPA responded to Dr Draper's study by suggesting that a "precautionary approach". Dr Michael Clarke, scientific spokesman for the HPA, said: "There is no hard evidence of a risk, but there is a hint of one. We formally suggested that the Government should consider precautionary measures."

The Department of Health said: "The Department of Health commissioned and funded the biggest ever study of its kind into cases of childhood cancer in proximity to high voltage power lines. This showed a statistical association, but no casual link.

"We have set up a group to consider the evidence and whether there is a need to develop precautionary measures. Ministers will consider the group's recommendations when they report."

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