Power lines do not contribute to brain cancer

A new study of the health effects of electromagnetic fields has concluded that they present no increased risk of developing a brain tumour, even with high exposure.

Researchers from the Institute of Occupational Health at the UK’s University of Birmingham assessed causes of death among just under 84,000 workers employed in generating or transmitting electricity in England and Wales between 1973 and 1997, using new techniques to assess levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields, and to calculate cumulative lifetime exposure, and that received for the last five years of the study. The death rates for brain cancer and for all causes among industry workers were compared with national death statistics to see if there was any excess risk.

The results showed that death rates from brain cancer were very close to those that would have been expected for the general population and there was no increased risk of death as a result of lifetime exposure or within the most recent five years. Interestingly, the most recent exposure seemed to protect against death from all other causes, but socioeconomic factors were important for increasing the risk of premature death. The authors therefore conclude that there is no discernible increased risk of death from brain cancer among workers in the electricity industry.

The findings contradict research by Michigan State University in the US, which concluded that electromagnetic fields have the potential to promote tumours (see related story.

The full study appears in the current issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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