Work conducted by scientists at Bristol University suggesting a link between overhead power lines and ill health, including cancer, appears to be echoed in a new report commissioned by the UK’s National Radiological Protection Board.
Studies by Professor Denis Henshaw and Dr Peter Fews carried out in 1999 indicated that power lines produce ‘corona ions’, which attach themselves to airborne pollutants and give them an electrical charge that makes them more likely to be deposited in the lung when inhaled.
These studies were hotly contested, but a new report from a team led by Sir Richard Doll is said to lend weight to their conclusions.
Professor Henshaw has produced a new assessment of the risks to health of living close to overhead power lines, and has presented the results to the UK Government. It suggests that several thousand cases of illness per year may be associated with living near high-voltage power lines.
Based on the evidence from a large, international body of research papers, Professor Henshaw’s work is said to indicate an increased risk of childhood leukaemia, skin cancer, lung cancer, other illnesses associated with air pollution, as well as suicide and depression.
Professor Henshaw cites current research indicating that magnetic field exposures above 0.3/0.4 micro-Tesla (µT) may double the risk of childhood leukaemia, noting that magnetic field exposures under power lines can exceed 4 µT.
Several types of illness may be linked with electric field effects associated with power lines.
Fourteen extra cases of skin cancer per year may be occurring in those living directly under power lines. Up to 400 metres from power lines, between 250 and 400 cases of lung cancer and three to four thousand cases annually of illnesses associated with air pollution may result from increased lung deposition of inhaled particles of air pollution containing electrically charged corona ions.
‘I’m not saying there’s a proven link and I certainly don’t want to cause unnecessary alarm,’ said Professor Henshaw. ‘At the same time, I do think a full risk assessment of the possible health effects of living near high-voltage power lines, taking account of all possible factors, should be carried out.’