Study: no clear proof electromagnetic fields pose health risk
Questions remain about childhood leukemia
October 31, 1996
Web posted at: 8:05 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After combing through two decades of
research on the health effects of high-voltage power lines, a
panel of scientists reported Thursday that they had found "no
conclusive and consistent evidence" that electric and
magnetic fields cause any human disease.
"The current body of evidence does not show that exposure to
these fields means electromagnetic fields present any human
health hazard," said Dr. Charles F. Stevens, chairman of a
National Research Council committee that spent two years
studying the issue. (298K/8 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Stevens said his panel analyzed about 500 studies conducted
since 1979 that ran the gamut from people to animals, down to
cells in a test tube.
But the committee found no conclusive evidence to link
electromagnetic fields with cancer, reproductive and
developmental abnormalities, learning or behavior.
Even laboratory studies on animals and cell cultures have
failed to find biological damage caused by electrical fields,
Stevens said. Some of the studies used energies thousands of
times stronger than the fields found in the average home.
The committee could not rule out an apparent statistical link
between power lines and childhood leukemia. But Stevens said
members found studies linking the two to be flawed.
"The evidence is not conclusive yet," he said. "So far,
there's no evidence that electromagnetic fields are the
reason for the association ... We really don't know." (213K/10 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
The leukemia link, Stevens said, is based on the assumption
that homes near transmission lines are immersed in stronger
magnetic and electrical energy fields than other homes.
Stevens said later research has shown that such estimates are
inaccurate. Electromagnetic fields in homes near power lines
are actually lower than estimated. Still, some critics said
the panel is being overly cautious about the risk of
childhood leukemia and power lines.
"They say that living next to a high-current power line is a
risk for childhood cancer," said Louis Slesin of Micro Wave
News. "What they aren't willing to say is that it is the
electromagnetic field from those power lines. But they are
also unable to point to any other factor." (298K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Nevertheless, the report called for more research into the
question of childhood leukemia and power lines, as well as
possible ties between electrical fields and breast cancer.
Some consumers unconvinced
Though scientists have been arguing the question of a link
between electricity and disease for about 20 years, some
consumer groups have sued power companies or forced utilities
to move power lines or install shielding.
And however thorough, the latest report is not likely to end
the controversy. The panel did not conclude that exposure to
power lines is safe, only that there is not enough evidence
to prove it will make you sick.
Congress has ordered four government laboratories to conduct
a five-year, $65 million study to test whether
electromagnetic fields harm nerve cells, trigger breast
cancer cells or affect other biological processes. Findings
from that study are expected next year.
CNN Correspondent Jeff Levine and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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