Power lines and health: cancer in adults

In the Netherlands, precautionary policy is in place regarding the distance to overhead power lines in order to limit exposure of children to magnetic fields in the environment. This policy is partly based on previous conclusions of the Health Council of the Netherlands that leukaemia may be more prevalent among children who live near overhead power lines. At the State Secretary for Infrastructure and the Environment’s request, the Health Council has now also studied the scientific literature on the risk of leukaemia and other types of cancer in adults.

The available data show that, for most of the types of cancer under investigation, no indication of an increased risk has been found. However, just as was the case for children, leukaemia may occur more frequently in adults who live close to overhead power lines. The Health Council considers this to be an additional argument in support of the existing precautionary policy, and its earlier recommendation to consider expanding this policy to include, for example, underground high-voltage cables and transformer stations.

The Council has also examined exposure to magnetic fields at workplaces such as within electric companies, in which the levels of exposure can be higher than in the home. Research in occupational settings has revealed indications for an increased risk of leukaemia and several other types of cancer. As the specific level of exposure that results in an increased risk of the diseases is unclear, the Health Council recommends keeping levels of occupational exposure to magnetic fields as low as is reasonably possible.

Simultaneously with this report on cancer, the Health Council also published a report on power lines and the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.