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 WDDTY Special Report: Power Lines - Short Circuits to Illness 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled What Doctors Don't Tell You by . View all columns in series
EMFs from power lines have been linked to leukemia, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases—so why is nobody doing anything about them?

Electromagnetic fields (or EMFs) from electricity lines almost certainly cause leukaemia, Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative illnesses. Yet, most scientists—and every power supplier and government planning department around the world—continue to deny that power lines are a health hazard.

The International Agency for Cancer Research of the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified extremely low-frequency (ELF) EMFs as a possible carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) in light of the overwhelming evidence that has been uncovered in recent years. Indeed, the Agency’s latest position, reported in 2001, is a complete reversal of its stance of four years ago, when it agreed with most scientists that there is no evidence of a causal link between power lines and severe illnesses. The WHO also recommends that power lines be sited well away from homes “to reduce people’s exposure”.

In the UK, the government-funded advisory group SAGE (Stakeholder Advisory Group on ELF EMFs) reported in 2007 that there is now sufficient evidence of a causal link between power lines and childhood leukemia for power companies to adopt a precautionary approach. In particular, SAGE recommends that, in future, power lines should be placed underground, and that no new homes should be built within 60 metres of existing power lines.

It’s a view shared by the State of California, which commissioned a $7m, 10-year review of power- line safety in 1993. The study, called the ‘California EMF Project’ (2002), concluded that magnetic fields from power lines and other sources are a likely cause of childhood and adult leukemia, adult brain cancers, spontaneous abortions and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), the degenerative disease that afflicts astrophysicist Dr Stephen Hawking.

The EMF Project researchers state that “even a slight additional lifetime risk could be of concern to regulators, who already regulate other environmental concerns that convey even lower risks.”

So why do scientists persist in remaining ambivalent over the research-based evidence, and why are governments, regulatory bodies and power suppliers refusing to act when they must certainly be aware that overhead power lines represent a reasonable health risk?

Before we answer these questions, let’s look at some of the studies published since 2000, the watershed year that heralded the beginning of all the research that began to draw compelling links between EMFs and their effects on the human immune system.

Power lines and leukemia
The possibility that power lines cause childhood leukemia has attracted more research than any other health concern associated with EMFs.

One of the strongest associations was established by what is now referred to as the ‘Draper report’, a case-control study that discovered that children under the age of 15 years who lived within 100 metres of power lines were nearly twice as l i kely to develop leukemia compared with children who lived further away (BMJ, 2005; 330: 1290–4).

The team of researchers, led by Gerald Draper and based at the University of Oxford, included a representative from the National Grid Transco plc as scientific advisor. They arrived at their conclusions after examining the profiles of 29,081 children who developed cancer between 1962 and 1995 in England and Wales.

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