Expert blasts claim of no link between overhead powerlines and leukaemia

Claims that the latest research shows there is no link between high voltage overhead powerlines and childhood leukaemia have been blasted as dishonest by a leading expert in the field.

The British Journal of Cancer is to publish a study today which claims “overhead power lines don’t raise leukaemia risk in children”.

However, Alasdair Philips, a member of the British government’s SAGE committee considering safety and high voltage cables, said the spin being put on the findings appeared to be an attempt to “clear the power lines of any responsibility for cancer”.

The study, headed by Kathryn Bunch from the Childhood Cancer Research Group at Oxford University, found no link between children born since the 1990s whose mother lived within a kilometre of overhead powerlines, and leukaemia.

But Mr Philips said this study could not be compared with previous research as it covered children living at a much greater distance from the powerlines and included those of lower as well as higher voltage. Previous studies considered children living much closer — from within 60m from cables, all of which were in the more powerful range of 275kV and 400kV. “This dilutes the evidence,” he said.

“There are many studies from all over the world that show the link.”

For instance, the 2005 Draper report found a 70% rise in childhood leukaemia for those living within 200m of 275kV and 400kV lines while there was a doubling of cases among those living within 60m, he said. As a result of the studies, SAGE recommended underground power lines where possible and no buildings within 60m of existing powerlines.

With the change of government this was ignored on the basis that it would restrict development, and the extra one to 50 cases of childhood leukaemia on top of the existing 500 would not justify restrictions on a cost benefit analysis, he said.

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, which owns the journal said: “This study is reassuring for anxious parents, as it indicates that overhead powerlines don’t cause leukaemia or other cancers in children.”

Ms Bunch said she did not want to suggest that their study disproved Draper’s findings but that the increased risk found within 600m is evident for the ’60s and ’70s but is not found in the ’90s and ’00s.

“Considering risk for those living between 600m and 1,000m from overhead power lines does not affect the risk estimates for those resident closer to the power lines, it merely enables us to see whether the putative increased risks extends beyond 600m — the results showed no increased risk beyond 600m for lines of any voltage.”

Eirgrid said it does not want to put pylons inside a 50m radius of a house. But, if it has to, it will compensate those affected.

Leukaemia accounts for about one third of cancers diagnosed in children with an average of around 112 a year in Ireland — slightly higher than the EU average.

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