Intended for healthcare professionals


Childhood cancer in relation to distance from high voltage power lines in England and Wales: a case-control study

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 02 June 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:1290

Not so plausible causal origin

Professor Henshaw suggests that the higher incidence of childhood
leukaemia near power lines could be due to two independent phenomena
namely suppression of nocturnal pineal melatonin and corona ion emission.
Doesn’t it seem rather unlikely that to explain the distribution of
leukaemia patients there needs to be invoked two unrelated biological
mechanisms which by chance lead to the same uncommon disease whilst not
affecting other childhood cancers?

A report of the independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation
(AGNIR) which investigated the possible effects of corona ions or electric
fields on intake of radioactive particles or other airborne pollutants
stated that the main health hazards of airborne particulate pollutants are
cardiorespiratory disease and lung cancer. The report concluded:

“However, it seems unlikely that corona ions would have more than a
small effect on the long-term health risks associated with particular air
pollutants, even in individuals who are most affected. In public health
terms, the proportionate impact will be even lower because only a small
fraction of the general population live or work close to sources of corona

AGNIR is also considering the interaction between melatonin and
electromagnetic fields and the report is currently in its final draft.

Given that neither of the suggested mechanisms has yet been shown to
be of significance to human health, and that Professor Henshaw’s construct
relies on both of them, this hypothesis is not a strong candidate to
explain the Draper findings.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

14 June 2005
Les A Coulton
Senior Research Scientist
University of Sheffield Medical School, Beech Hill Rd. Sheffield, S102RX