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Dr Gerald Draper and staff at Oxford University Childhood Cancer Research Group
Fear of frying: Draper & colleagues

Health dangers from the power grid have been further underlined after UK Government experts hinted yesterday that homes should not be built near overhead power lines because of possible links with childhood leukaemia.

They are likely to recommend a change in planning guidelines so that new homes cannot be built either within 230ft of power lines or in a location that exposes inhabitants to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) of a certain strength.

Off-Grid reported on this issue last September when another UK government office acknowledged that adults can suffer health effects from power lines (http://www.www.off-grid.net/index.php?p=468).

A report by Dr Gerald Draper, of the Oxford childhood cancer research group, published two years ago, suggested that children under 15 living near high-voltage power cables may have double the risk of getting leukaemia. The seven-year study was commissioned by the UK Department of Health.

However, while the research found a statistical association, it did not establish a causal link and other scientists were sceptical of the findings.

However several local councils in Scotland have delayed planning permssion for a set of huge power lines across a National Park. They are awaiting further information from the UK Health Department.

Two reports containing recommendations on the proximity of power lines to both new and existing houses, as well as advice on electrical wiring in the home, will now be presented in June.

They are being drawn up by the Stakeholder Advisory Group on Extremely Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields (Sage), an advisory group set up by ministers in October 2004, following the publication of Dr Draper’s research.

The group includes representatives of the Department of Health, the National Grid, the Health Protection Agency, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

Academics from Bristol University and Nottingham Trent are also members, as well as a number of campaigners from groups committed to highlighting what they believe are the potential dangers of EMFs.

Alasdair Philips, of the consumer group Powerwatch and a member of Sage, said that a large majority of those drawing up the reports was in favour of recommending precautionary advice.

“The link between childhood leukaemia and power lines is accepted pretty much worldwide.

“There is almost certainly going to be some precautionary guidance coming out of the report in June.

“There is a lot of agreement that we need to offer more precautionary advice on the siting of new house – 90 per cent of the advisory group agree with this line.

“I think it is highly likely we will see a recommendation that we change the way we wire our houses. There is no real opposition to that.”

Representatives of the National Grid and Ofgen, the industry regulator, are understood to favour a recommendation that new homes should not be built within a specific distance – likely to be 230ft – of power lines.

Others in the group, including Mr Philips, are pushing for the ban to be based on homes being exposed to a certain level of strength of EMFs.

While initial advice will be to do with restrictions on the building of new homes, Sage members will include in their supporting material an analysis of the costs of knocking down and replacing homes thought to be exposed to potential harmful field strengths.

Starting this summer two more sub groups of Sage, looking at electricity distribution and electric transport, will begin drawing up reports.

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