Power lines linked to childhood leukaemia

Or is it just wonky stats?

Children living close to overhead power lines might be at an increased risk of developing leukaemia, according to scientists at Oxford University. The researchers stress that they do not have a causal mechanism - there is no known biological reason for the finding - and so the results may be a statistical fluke.

The study looked at more than 29,000 children with cancer, born between 1962 and 1995, of whom 9,700 suffered from leukaemia, and found that those who lived within 200m of high voltage power lines at birth were 70 per cent more likely to suffer from leukaemia than those who lived more than 600m away. Children living between 200m and 600m away from pylons had a 20 per cent higher risk of developing the disease, the researchers found.

However, this could be a case of the statistics leading everyone to irrelevant conclusions, the BBC reports. The research team says that while the statistical trend is definite, the actual cause could be entirely different. There could, for example, be something about the kind of person who lives near pylons, or something else in the local environment, and the researchers plan to investigate further.

In the meantime, Professor John Toy, medical director at Cancer Research UK, says that there is no cause for panic. "The triggers that cause childhood leukaemia are most likely a random course of events over which a parent has no control," he told the BBC.

But campaigners at the charity Children with Leukaemia say that there is now a clear case for government action. They are calling for planning controls to stop houses and schools being built too close to high voltage power lines.

The research was carried out by the Childhood Cancer Research Group at Oxford University and Dr John Swanson, a scientific adviser at National Grid Transco. It was published in the British Medical Journal. ®

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