Powerlines and childhood cancer

Does exposure to the magnetic fields from powerlines and other electrical sources increase the risk of childhood cancer?

The answer is YES, according to a recent study from Korea.

The study, by G Seomun and team from Korea University, is the first to systematically review the evidence for this connection.

The authors identified 30 studies on magnetic fields and different types of childhood cancer—including leukemia, lymphoma and brain tumours—that included over 186,000 children from 15 countries. They extracted the data from these studies and analysed it.

‘Statistically significant associations were observed between exposure to ELF-MF [extremely low frequency magnetic fields] and childhood leukemia.’ They found:

  • children exposed to 2 mG had 26% more chance of leukemia

  • children exposed to 3 mG had 22% more chance of developing leukemia

  • children exposed to 4 mG had 72% more chance of developing leukemia

  • children exposed to 4 mG had over double the risk of childhood cancer.

These levels are much lower than those allowed by the limits of the International Commission on NonIonizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), to which Australia adheres, which allow the general public to be exposed to magnetic fields of 2000 mG.

The study also found a dose-response effect. In other words, the higher the exposure, the greater the risk of childhood cancer, which strengthens the connection.

The authors say, ‘this study presents the epidemiological evidence of childhood cancer risk on exposure to ELF-MFs, which implies that we can confirm the risk of childhood leukemia among pediatric cancers followed exposure to ELF-MFs, which is associated with a higher risk than what was previously known.’

These findings have important implications for public policy on magnetic fields, the authors wrote.

Seomun G, Lee J, Park J (2021) Exposure to extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and childhood cancer: A systematic review and metaanalysis. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0251628

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