High voltage power lines have been definitely linked to cancer for the first time. A new study, by the English scientist Richard Doll, who discovered the link between smoking and lung cancer in the 1960s, shows that children living near power lines run a small but significant increased risk of leukemia. Researchers have long suspected there was a connection, but haven’t been able to prove it until now.

Professor Colin Blakemore, a member of the research team, says, “It’s important to acknowledge that there is a link and we need to do more research on it. Putting power lines underground would be a possibility. The cost would be enormous if we did this to existing power lines, but it is something that we may have to take into account for future development and especially new housing.”

Denis Henshaw, professor of radiation effects at Bristol University in England, says that power lines produce electrically charged ions that attach themselves to air polluntants such as car exhaust fumes and are then inhaled.

The first study of the link between electromagnetic fields and cancer was published in the U.S. in 1979 by Nancy Wertheimer, who studied leukemia cases around Denver. An English study in 1990 by Dr. Stephen Perry linked electromagnetic fields to increased rates of suicide and depression.

Martin Day, a lawyer who represented leukemia victims in unsuccessful lawsuits in the mid-1990s, says, “This is probably the most significant step forward for 10 years. I was forced to back off, pack away the files and put them into archives, but this may well mean I will start to dust them off once more.”

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