- Overhead power lines and household electrical appliances
increase the risk of developing cancer, according to the findings of an
eight-year study into the effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
- The £4.5 million study, the largest held into the
effects of EMFs on health, suggests that hundreds of thousands of Britons,
particularly children, are at risk from life-threatening illnesses linked
to the emissions. Pregnant women are also at greater risk of miscarrying.
- Its findings will be seized on by campaigners who argue
that EMFs from overhead power lines and mobile phone masts are responsible
for cancer and leukaemia "clusters" across Britain.
- The National Radiological Protection Board, the Government
watchdog on radiation, reported last year that its studies into the effect
of EMFs had been inconclusive.
- The latest study was commissioned by the California Public
Utilities Commission, which is expected to publish the full report in the
next few months. Scientists reviewed scores of previous studies from all
over the world, including Britain, and carried out new research in the
San Francisco area.
- The researchers told The Telegraph that they believe
that EMFs increase the risks of life-threatening illnesses including childhood
leukaemia, adult brain cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative
disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
- Dr Raymond Neutra of the California Department of Health
Services, who led the research, said: "In Britain, hundreds of thousands
of homes are exposed to levels [of EMFs] that mean they could be at risk."
- Dr Vincent DelPizzo, a senior member of the research
team, said: "People have a right to be warned but whether a major
effort to reduce EMFs is appropriate must still be decided."
- The first suspected link between overhead power lines
and cancer was made in America in 1979. Some reports, however, have dismissed
a connection, while others have said that evidence is inconclusive. Until
now, those considering long and costly legal action have been advised that
it would probably fail because of lack of proof.
- John Scott, the Conservative MSP for Ayr who led an unsuccessful
campaign to stop the erection of more than 200 pylons in South Ayrshire,
said yesterday: "The implications of this [study] could be enormous
for the power-generating companies."
- If the report bolsters demands for the burying of all
power cables, the cost will run into billions of pounds. A spokesman for
the Electricity Association said: "If the Government ever decreed
that power lines had to be placed underground then the costs would be passed
straight on to the consumer."
- Every mile of underground cabling costs nearly £16
million to install, whereas overhead cables cost about £800,000 over
the same distance.
- The power companies could face a string of lawsuits from
families who claim to have been affected by EMFs, as could manufacturers
of domestic appliances.
- Martyn Day, a solicitor representing a dozen families
who are considering legal action against power companies they claim were
negligent, said: "The evidence has been accumulating over the past
23 years and this sounds a very significant piece of additional information."
- Among those who claim to have been affected are Ray and
Denise Studholme, who believe that their son Simon would still be alive
if he had not been subjected to a strong electromagnetic field in his bedroom.
- As Simon slept, his head was less than 3ft from an electricity
meter and a burglar alarm in a hall cupboard. According to the family,
tests after their son's death revealed that the two appliances gave off
an EMF more than six times the recommended safe limit.
- Simon was diagnosed with leukaemia in November 1990,
nearly two years after the family moved to their three-bedroom home near
Bolton, Greater Manchester. He died in September 1992, aged 13.
- The family hopes to use the study's findings to resume
a test case against Norweb, their electricity supplier. They dropped a
civil case five years ago after losing their right to legal aid.
- "We faced an uphill battle all the way to win compensation,"
said Mr Studholme, 54, who has retired from his job as a financial adviser
because of his poor health.
- "If I had known about the electromagnetic fields
Simon would not have been sleeping there. Within six months of moving here
he used to get up in the morning complaining of headaches and feeling light-headed,"
said Mr Studholme.
- In America up to five per cent of homes have EMF levels
considered potentially dangerous. It is estimated that the same percentage
of homes in Britain could be at risk, either because of nearby power lines,
internal wiring or electrical equipment.
- Dr Michael Clark, the scientific spokesman for the National
Radiological Protection Board, said yesterday that the board welcomed new
research into the effect of EMFs but would not comment on the findings
from California until it had studied the full report.
- Roger Coghill, who runs an independent science laboratory
in Pontypool, Gwent, and who has studied the effect of EMFs on people's
health for more than a decade, said that he was impressed by the latest
- "This is a huge, well-conducted study and people
must pay attention to its results. Some power companies have deliberately
suppressed research in this field. But in the end the truth will out and
here it is.
- "We are all on the same side: we all want electricity
but none of us wants brain tumours."
- Exactly how cancer could be caused by such exposure remains
a mystery, however. The strength of the magnetic fields falls away rapidly
from overhead power lines - just a few dozen yards from a pylon registers
well below the natural magnetic field level of the Earth. Studies of living
cells and animals exposed to such weak fields have hitherto failed to reveal
any changes normally linked to cancer.