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Wire Industry, September 2000, page 554

IEE says power lines 'have no adverse health effects'

More than 20 years of research has failed to provide robust evidence

There is no discernible hazard from the low frequency fields emitted by overhead power lines, according to a working party of the institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), chaired by Professor Anthony Barber of the Department of Medical Physics at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, England.

Despite the recurring furore of press and academic speculation on the subject around the world, the IEE group concluded that more than 20 years of research has failed to provide robust evidence of adverse health effects from low frequency exposure, suggesting that they must be either small or non-existent.

Animal studies have revealed no correlation between exposure to 50/60 Hz fields and various cancers, while just a few human studies reported short-term subtle effects on the nervous system which, the working party felt, required further study and replication before any concerns could be expressed.

The UK Study on Childhood Leukemia and other Childhood Cancers was looked at and was found to show no risks from domestic exposure. The members of the working party therefore felt that, as this study represents the largest of its type ever conducted in the world, its findings must be considered of particular significance.

Animal, human and epidemiological study results, such as those mentioned, are also supported by measurements, which have indicated that the fields induced in the body by 50 Hz sources are extremely small when compared with those already occurring naturally across cell membranes, and overall the data has led the working party to the conclusion that, in the UK, future calls for research into this subject should be "weighed carefully against other public health priorities".

When it comes to the possible effects of exposure to mobile phones, the working party concluded that further research into radio frequency exposure should be carried out and urged a precautionary approach to mobile phone use, such as the use of extension ear pieces.

The IEE originally set up a working party to study these issues in November 1992 but, in January 1998, the terms of reference of the study were extended to also cover frequencies of up to 300 GHz to reflect public concern over the possible health effects of mobile communications systems.

The working party used refereed full papers as its source material and looked at a total of 711 papers in 1998 and 1999, 77% of which covered 50/60 Hz power generation and distribution.

The Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), Savoy Place, London, WC2R 0BL, England, (Fax: +44 20 7240 7735)