Azara Blog: Correlation found between childhood leukaemia and high voltage lines

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Date published: 2005/06/03

The BBC says:

Living too close to overhead power lines appears to increase the risk of childhood leukaemia, researchers say.

A major study found children who had lived within 200 metres of high voltage lines at birth had a 70% higher risk of leukaemia than those 600m or more away.

But the Oxford University team stressed that there are no accepted biological reasons for the results and that they may, therefore, be chance.

Alternatively, it may be down to the environments where pylons are located.

And they said it did not resolve the debate about whether it is unsafe to live next to power lines.

Around 1% of homes in the UK are estimated to be within 200 metres of high voltage National Grid power lines.

The researchers said their findings showed living in such close proximity to power lines at birth could account for five extra cases of childhood leukaemia in a total of around 400 that occur in a year - a total of 1%.
The latest study was carried out 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.

It 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.

The researchers measured the distance from children's home addresses at birth from the nearest high voltage power line.
Overall, youngsters living within 200 metres of the lines were about 70% more likely to develop leukaemia, and those living between 200 and 600 metres away about 20% more likely to develop leukaemia than those who lived beyond 600 metres from high voltage pylons.

Although the trend was definite, the researchers said they could not reasonably explain why it occurred.

For this reason, they caution that it might be down to factors other than the pylons themselves, such as the type of people who live near pylons or the general environment where pylons are located, which they plan to investigate.

Eddie O'Gorman, chairman of the UK charity Children with Leukaemia, said: "There is now a clear case for immediate government action.

"Planning controls must be introduced to stop houses and schools being built close to high voltage overhead power lines."

For once the BBC has a reasoned article about a health matter, probably because the researchers themselves obviously felt the need to stress caution. And the point is that there is a difference between correlation and causation. The researchers themselves point to other possible relevant factors, i.e. "the type of people who live near pylons or the general environment where pylons are located". For example, people who live near pylons are almost certainly poorer than people who do not (since pylons are considered ugly and industrial, so the housing is undesirable). And poorer people are generally less healthy in all regards, not just leukaemia. The comment from the spokesperson for Children with Leukaemia is dreadful and shows a complete disregard for the comments made by the researchers.

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