Power Lines

Health written question – answered on 6th November 2001.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made since April of international research on the health effect of living close to overhead transmission lines; and what review he plans of the health effects of pylons on human beings.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

The Department obtains advice on the possible health implications of exposure to electromagnetic fields, including the extremely low frequency fields (ELF) associated with power lines, from the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB).

In June, on behalf of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a working group of scientific experts from 10 countries published its review on the health effects of static and extremely low frequency (ELF) electric and magnetic fields. The IARC working group concluded that ELF magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic to humans based on a statistical association between higher level magnetic field exposure and the risk of childhood leukaemia.

This conclusion of the IARC working group is consistent with that of the NRPB Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR), which issued a report in March 2001. AGNIR stressed, however, that there was insufficient evidence to justify a firm conclusion that magnetic fields cause leukaemia in children. In responding to the advisory group report the board of NRPB considered there was a need to understand better the factors that might result in higher residential exposures to magnetic fields, noting also the recent evidence from the United Kingdom childhood cancer study that suggested the higher levels of magnetic fields are not attributable solely to proximity to power lines. The Government and NRPB are currently planning a study into the factors that result in certain households having higher levels of exposure to power frequency magnetic fields.

The AGNIR is also further considering the possible effects on health of corona ions generated by power lines. A first meeting to consider this issue has taken place and researchers on this topic have been invited to make presentations at future meetings. Information about the work of the advisory group is to be posted on the NRPB website www.nrpb.org.uk. A final report will be published by NRPB.

In July, the California Health Department released a draft report for public comment and this will also be considered by AGNIR.

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