Image: © Hollandse Hoogte

Power lines and health: neurodegenerative diseases

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 various neurodegenerative diseases, namely Alzheimer's disease, ALS, Parkinson's disease and MS.

The available data show no indications of an increased risk of these neurodegenerative diseases in people living near overhead power lines. Therefore, the Health Council does not see any reason to further expand the existing precautionary policy beyond the earlier recommended expansion of this policy to include, for example, underground power 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 ALS and Alzheimer's disease. As the specific level of exposure that results in an increased disease risk 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 neurodegenerative diseases, the Health Council also published an advisory report on power lines and the risk of cancer in adults.