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Up to 2% of childhood leukaemia in Europe may be caused by exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Up to 2% of childhood leukaemia in Europe may be caused by exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields

1.5-2% of childhood leukaemia cases in Europe are potentially attributable to exposure to the extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF MF) associated with 50Hz alternating current (AC) electricity. Such are the results of a study carried out by Dr. James Grellier and Prof. Elisabeth Cardis of the Radiation Programme at CREAL, a member of the ISGlobal Alliance, under the auspices of the European Health Risk Assessment Network on Electromagnetic Fields Exposure (EFHRAN) project which was funded by the European Commission.

The study, published in the journal Environment International, quantified the potential health impacts of current levels of exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields to the general public. Although such exposures are generally low—particularly when compared to exposures in some occupational settings—the entire population experiences some exposure due to the widespread nature of sources of ELF MF, which include everything from overhead power lines and step-down transformers, through household appliances and alarm clocks, to trams and hybrid vehicles.

Epidemiological studies have consistently demonstrated an association between exposure to ELF MF and childhood leukaemia (the most common childhood cancer), which led to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifying ELF MF as a 2B “possibly carcinogenic” agent in 2002. In this new study, risk estimates derived from recent epidemiological studies were used, together with available exposure estimates for the European population, to predict the annual number of cases of childhood leukaemia that would be attributable to ELF exposure in the EU if ELF MF indeed causes cancer. The study found that between 1.5-2% of cases of childhood leukaemia may be caused by exposure to ELF MF in Europe each year, although these estimates were characterised by considerable uncertainty.

In order to reduce the uncertainty in these estimates, the researchers from CREAL, a CERCA Institute research centre, recommend that further work be conducted to understand potential biological mechanisms of action between ELF MF and childhood leukaemia, and that monitoring of residential exposures to ELF MF should be improved in Europe.

Grellier, J., Ravazzani, P., and Cardis, E. "Potential health impacts of residential exposures to extremely low frequency magnetic fields in Europe." Environment International 62 (2014): 55-63.

Photo: James Grellier - derivative of original work by VashiDonsk at en.wikipedia.


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