Power lines And Cancer
Clusters Part 4
Home Radiation Protection
The EPA Raises Questions
Concerns about so-called non-ionizing radiation began to
mount in 1979, when a study of cancer rates among Colorado
school children determined that those who lived near power
lines had two or three times as much chance to develop
cancer. The link seemed so improbable that power companies
eagerly paid to have the study replicated. To their
surprise, the subsequent scientific inquiry supported the
original findings, which have since been buttressed by a
variety of additional studies and reports of increased
cancer rates among workers employed in the electric
One such study, conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer
Research Center in Seattle, WA. confirmed that telephone
linemen, electricians and electric-power workmen are
developing breast cancer at six times the expected rate.
But it was the Environmental Protection Agency's scientific
review that has had an explosive impact, lending the most
credence to those who have been warning of EMF health
The report -- a 367-page document entitled "Evaluation of
the Potential Carcinogenicity of Electromagnetic Fields" --
came to light in 1990, when someone in the agency leaked a
draft version of it to Louis Slesin, editor of an
influential newsletter called Microwave News.
Chief among the conclusions was one specifying that power
line electromagnetic fields should be classified as a
"probable human carcinogen." William Farland, then-director
of the EPA's Office of Health and Environmental Assessment
ordered this conclusion deleted from the report.
Then the Associated Press reported that the Bush
administration tried to delay release of the EPA's findings.
Robert E. McGaughy, the project manager and chief author of
the report, was quoted as saying that the White House "was
concerned not about the accuracy of the report...[but] about
how people would react to the news and how it would affect
the electric power industry."
Ultimately, after two major TV networks and newspapers
throughout the country exposed the Bush administration's
efforts at censorship, the report was released. It contained
a disclaimer that asserted "the controversial and uncertain
nature of the scientific findings of this report" and
declared that it should not be construed as "representing
Agency policy or position."
The Medical Connection
Just how EMFs affect humans is still not entirely known.
In the case of cancer, most specialists theorize that a
malignant tumor forms in at least two stages. In the first,
referred to as "initiation," an outside agent damages the
cell's genetic material. Because EMFs are not strong enough
to break molecular and chemical bonds, scientists are
concentrating on the second stage of cancer, a series of
steps called "promotion." Researchers are tying to pinpoint
ways in which EMFs might cause cells to grow and multiply
Some studies suggest that EMFs may promote cancer by
interfering with the transmission of calcium across the cell
membrane, a flow that governs such processes as muscle
contraction, egg fertilization, cell division, and growth.
EMFs may also disturb a cell's ability to process hormone,
enzyme, and other biological signals that regulate normal
EMFs are known to affect nerve impulses. Melatonin, a
regulatory hormone secreted by the pineal gland near the
brain, ordinarily stimulates immune responses and may
suppress tumor growth. Reduced melatonin production has been
linked to breast and prostate cancer. Melatonin secretion in
turn is controlled by norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter in
the brain. Receptors for its relative, the hormone
epinephrine, are disturbed by EMFs.
Some doctors stated that their observations led them to
believe that it was possible that magnetic fields stimulate
the rate of cancer cell growth, or act as a cancer promoter.
A San Antonio researcher discovered human cancer cells
exposed to 60 Hz fields (the frequency of a high-voltage
line) grew as much as 24 times as fast as unexposed cells
and showed greatly increased resistance to destruction by
the cells of the body's defense system.
Female breast cancer has reached epidemic proportions, with
one in ten American women developing it and one in four
dying. Alarmingly, of women who develop the disease, 55%
have no known risk factors. Breast cancer mortality rates
are five times lower in Asia and Africa than in
industrialized North America and northern Europe regions
where EMFs are omnipresent.
Electric Companies On the Spot
A contention of the electric utility industry in the United
States had been that the pathologies referred to in most of
the studies might actually have been induced by exposure to
pesticides, chemicals or other toxic agents in the
For a time they contended that if power-line magnetic fields
really did cause cancer, the fivefold increase in electrical
usage during the past 30 years would have been expected to
have produced an epidemic of childhood leukemia. The utility
industry stopped making this statement in June of 1991,
after the National Cancer Institute disclosed that a study
it had made showed that in recent years there had been
unexplained increases of nearly 11% in childhood leukemia,
and of more than 30% in childhood brain cancer.
A study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine
reported a steep increase in brain-cancer rates over the
past dozen years among the general population.
People working with computer monitors are developing primary
brain tumors at nearly five times the expected rate.
Still, as Dr. Becker observes, "Companies wont admit that
EMFs are risky, because they will become liable. And the
government wont, because it is the largest user of the
electromagnetic spectrum, especially for military
communications. Our whole economy depends on them now."
Not surprisingly, as people begin to focus on the problem of
EMFs, property values near power lines and electric
substations have been plummeting, and numerous lawsuits have
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