The first study about the relationship between electrical (“power frequency”) electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and cancer was by Wertheimer & Leeper (1979). Their finding that childhood leukaemia increased 2 to 3 fold in children living near high power electrical transmission power lines sounded the alarm bells in medical and scientific circles. Since then, several studies had been concentrating on the effect of EMF on children and adults and the risk of leukaemia and other types of cancers from exposure to EMF.
A recent study investigated leukaemia in individuals that live near high-voltage power lines and concluded that the risk for leukaemia was higher (Lowenthal et al., 2007). The study established that exposure to electrical EMFs from high-voltage power lines during childhood enhanced the risk of adult leukaemia and concluded that prolonged residence close to high voltage power lines, especially early in life, (before 15 years over 3 times more likely, before 5 years nearly 5 times more likely) may increase the risk of developing illnesses such as leukaemia and lymphoma.
Two earlier studies were conducted in 1993 on the effect of electrical EMFs on children and the risk of leukaemia in them. The first study showed that the risk of children under 5 contracting leukaemia was 2.7 times more when the electrical EMFs were more than 2mG and the risk increased to 3.8 times more when the electrical EMFs rose to more than 3mG (Feychting & Ahlbom, 1993). The second study revealed that the risk in children developing leukaemia, brain tumours and lymphomas climbed to 5 times more when the electrical EMFs increased to a level of 4mG (Olsen, 1993).
A meta-analysis of 9 international studies on electrical EMFs and the risk of childhood leukaemia due to such exposure mentioned that EMFs above 4mG doubled the risk in children (Ahlbom et al., 2000). Another set of meta-analysis also confirmed the increasing risk when the electrical EMFs levels increased (Greenland et al., 2000; Wartenberg, 2001).
Children recovering from leukaemia had very poor survival rates if they encountered EMF exposure above 1mG up to 3mG (Greenland et al., 2000). After the studies of Ahlbom and Greenland were published, in 2001, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified electrical EMFs as possible human carcinogens.
The doubling of the risk in children for leukaemia was confirmed by another large-scale study in the United Kingdom, when the effect of 275 kV and 400 kV power lines up to 600 meters distance was researched (Draper, G., 2005). Another study also emphasised that the risk rose to 3 times when children were exposed to electrical EMFs of 4mG or more (Kabuto, 2006).
In the United Kingdom, the Public Health Minister set up in 2004 a separate group consisting of government bodies, lobby groups and electricity distribution networks and named the group as Stakeholder Advisory Group on EMFs (SAGE). In 2007, SAGE presented an interim assessment, stating that there was enough evidence to support the relationship between power lines and childhood leukaemia. SAGE made a precautionary recommendation that new power lines should be underground wherever possible and permission to build new residential buildings within 60 m distance of existing power lines should not be granted.
Epidemiological investigations have revealed that electrical EMFs exposure reduces the production of melatonin, leading to changes in several biological systems in our body that are influenced by melatonin. The changes include increased estrogens production and resultant deleterious interactions with DNA, along with decreased antioxidant, antiproliferative, immune response and DNA repair capabilities. Thus, the lower melatonin production can lead to increased breast cancer risk. A study on women aged below 50 years focused on exposure of electrical EMFs of more than 1mG, which is a very low EMF field found in most households as well as normal work environments (Feychting, 1998). The study confirmed that such women faced a seven-fold increased risk in the development of estrogens receptor-positive breast cancer.
If individuals had long-term exposure of more than 2mG of electrical EMFs, the risk rose by 3 times (Forssen et al., 2000). The breast cancer cells witnessed significant disruption in the antiosetrogenic effect of melatonin (Girgert et al., 2010). Elderly women were found to have significantly increased risk of breast cancer when exposed to EMF emanating from household electrical appliances, such as personal computers, air conditioners, television sets, etc., compared to elderly women with lesser exposure (Beniashvili, 2005). Many other epidemiological studies in the last 2 decades had also suggested that strong evidence exists about the relationship between electrical EMFs and breast cancers, though scientists are yet to accept this relationship conclusively. Whether scientists accept this controversy or not, there is no reason why we should not take adequate preventative action against exposure to EMF.
Reducing ELF exposure is particularly important for people who have breast cancer. The recovery environment should have low ELF levels given the evidence for poorer survival rates for childhood leukaemia patients in ELF fields over 2mG or 3mG. Preventative action for those who may be at higher risk for breast cancer is also warranted.
With the increased risks of developing breast cancer, electrical EMFs exposure should be reduced particularly for those who live for prolonged periods in higher EMF environments.
A study revealed that the risk for a form of skin cancer, the development of malignant melanoma, was two times for men and nearly 3 times for women when they were exposed to EMF of more than 2mG (Tynes, 2003).
These are just some of the cancer issues to discuss. It may be reasonable to make the assumption that all cancers and other diseases might be related to or worsened by exposures to EMFs.
There have been various studies by Marino et al. (1976), Battelle Pacific Northwest Labs (1985) and Rommereim et al. (1987, 1990) that shows exposure to electrical EMFs can have effects on health and well-being of succeeding generations. Precautions need to be taken with respect to electrical EMFs exposure as their adverse effects may not be seen immediately and indeed, for many years to come. A study on paternal occupation exposure to electrical EMFs revealed significantly elevated risk of leukaemia and other types of cancers in children born to parents exposed to such EMFs, particularly in boys within the age of 6 years (Pearce et al., 2007).
In total, the scientific evidence for disease associated with electrical EMFs exposure is sufficiently strong for childhood and adult cancers that preventive steps are appropriate, even if not all reports have shown exactly the same positive relationship.
Most homes and workplaces will have electrical EMF radiation hot spots that can easily exceed the exposure levels known to impact on you and your family’s health eg. near electrical devices, power meter boxes, wiring behind walls etc. EMF Safe recommends all homes and workplaces be tested for all electrical and wireless EMF radiation exposures. Often simple changes can be made to reduce or avoid elevated exposures when they are found. EMF Safe rents EMF Detection Kits nationwide that are excellent for this purpose and come with easy to follow instructions including safety reference levels.
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