- New evidence that high voltage power lines cause cancer
by making particles of pollution stick to people's lungs has been uncovered
by a team from Bristol University.
- The team's research shows that car exhaust particles
get an electrical charge from overhead power lines that makes them "sticky"
- giving people living close to the lines two or three times the average
daily dose of potentially damaging pollutants in their lungs.
- David Henshaw of Bristol University said the discovery
is the missing link that shows how power lines can cause cancer clusters
- something the global electricity industry has spent millions of pounds
researching without finding a conclusive answer.
- His work is supported by Dr Alan Preece at the Bristol
Medical School, whose independent research in the west country showed that
people living up to 500 metres downwind of power lines have a 29% greater
chance of contracting lung cancer. This finding matches the area where
"sticky" particles from car exhausts drift downwind of power
- Both men believe that building new houses near power
cables, or allowing new power lines near houses should be stopped until
their research is investigated. A ban already exists in US and Sweden.
- The scientists have been backed by William Hague, the
Tory leader. Northallerton, in his constituency, has an unexplained cancer
cluster next to a power line.
- Work to find a link between power lines and cancer has
been going on for 20 years, but scientists have been studying a different
possible cause - the effect of the magnetic field created by the lines.
- What Prof Henshaw's team found was not a direct effect
on the body, but an indirect mechanical effect, which allowed the build
up of pollutants in the lungs.
- Measurements taken all over the UK and Europe showed
that all power lines were surrounded by a corona of electrically charged
ions. The older and rougher the lines, the greater the corona. Ions from
the corona were carried downwind of the lines, attaching themselves to
up to 15,000 particles per cubic metre of pollution floating past in the
- The ions gave the particles an electrical charge and
made them stick to surfaces. When they got into the capillaries in the
lungs they were attracted to the surface and stuck.
- Prof Henshaw said: "This would not happen if the
lines were buried. We have the technology to do it , it is just more expensive."
- Dr Preece, an epidemiologist in the oncology department
at Bristol will tell Radio 4's Costing the Earth programme today that he
looked at the incidence of cancer in the whole of the south-west of England
to judge the relative risk for those living within 400 metres of power
- "We found an excess, particularly lung cancer, in
that group of people, who had been living within 400 metres of a line at
the time of diagnosis." He said the most surprising element was the
cancers only occurred downwind.
- Dr Preece would not discuss his findings in detail until
they had been reviewed by other scientists but a report to the Bioelectromagnetics
Society in Munich earlier this year said the excess was 29% - and that
had taken into account the effects of smoking.
- Mr Hague said that in his constituency he had eight cases
of childhood leukaemia, liver cancer and other illnesses near a power line.
After meeting Prof Henshaw, he said: "In respect to construction of
new lines, National Grid should look carefully at new evidence before going
ahead with more."
- Dr John Swanson, scientific advisor to the National Grid,
and advisor on electric and magnetic fields for the Electricity Association
said he accepted that Prof Henshaw had shown that power cables affected
airborne particles. "I do not believe he has shown that has a consequence
- "We have never said in a categorical way that power
lines are safe, that simply would not be honest. What we say is that when
you look at the totality of studies you come to the conclusion that the
balance of evidence is that power lines do not have an effect on health."
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