Power Lines Spark No Extra Risk, Study Says

By Jessica Portner — July 09, 1997 2 min read

A comprehensive new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine last week found that children who live near electric power lines have no greater risk of contracting leukemia than other children.

The extensive, eight-year study, conducted by the National Cancer Institute and a team of scientist from around the country, follows year of contentious debate over whether electric and magnetic fields, which are present around power lines and electrical appliances, can cause cancer in youths.

A well-known study published in 1979 had found that children who died of leukemia were two to three times more likely than other children to have lived within 44 yards of a high-current power line. Other studies of children and adults followed that suggested that high exposure in the home and in the workplace might heighten the risk of cancer and other illnesses.

But the studies, which caused much concern among educators and public-health officials, have been criticized in the scientific community for having methodological flaws that inhibit drawing such strong conclusions.

Relief to Schools

In the NCI study in the July 3 issue of the journal, researchers evaluated 638 children age 15 or younger who had acute lymphoblastic leukemia and 620 healthy children of similar age and race in nine states.

To gauge the children’s exposure, the researcher measured the magnetic fields in the youths’ current and previous residences and tested the homes where their mothers lived while they were pregnant.

The researchers also assessed the extent of electromagnetic exposure in schools, day-care centers, and playgrounds.

While the study does not invalidate all the old findings, “we found no evidence of significantly increased risk of [leukemia] among children” who were exposed to high-voltage power lines”, said Dr. Martha S. Linet, a researcher at the federal NCI and the lead author of the study. More than 1,600 children in the United State’ are expected to be diagnosed this year with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer.

The report was welcomed by educators last week, many of whom have been concerned about the proximity of high-voltage power lines near their schools. “It must be a relief to schools who are close to those power lines,” said June Million, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “It’s one less thing for them to worry about.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 09, 1997 edition of Education Week