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Childhood Cancer and EMF Exposure

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The rapid development of technology, especially in the area of communications, can bring social and economic benefits to society. However, the effect of some of these developments is largely unknown. Some widely adopted trends in the past which started out seemingly harmless and even touted as beneficial to health, have been revealed to have serious health implications that may not be founded until years later. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time that even cigarettes were recommended by doctors as good for health.

Although research in the area of EMF and effects on health are sparse, concerns regarding “the potential vulnerability of children to radio frequency (RF) fields have been raised because of the potentially greater susceptibility of their developing nervous systems; in addition, their brain tissue is more conductive, RF penetration is greater relative to head size, and they will have a longer lifetime of exposure than adults.” 1 Also, limited as it may be, data collected so far already shows an increased risk of leukemia and other cancers in children exposed to EMFs.

The World Health Organization (WHO), International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)’s classification of radiofrequency EMFs as a Group 2B carcinogen in 2011 is widely known and made ripples in the health industry. However, what is not widely known is that even back in 2002, WHO/IARC classified extremely low-frequency electric and magnetic fields (ELF) as “possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on consistent statistical associations of high level residential magnetic fields with a doubling of risk of childhood leukaemia.” 2

Studies of childhood leukemia have supported WHO/IARC’s stance. A Swedish study of magnetic fields generated by high-voltage power lines found an increase in risk of childhood leukemia of 2.7 at 0.2 microtesla and 3.8 at 0.3 microtesla. 3 Research available seems to indicate a dose-response between the association of childhood leukemia and electromagnetic radiation exposure. This means that as the total amount of exposure a child has to EMF increases, either due to exposure level or length of time, so does the risk of leukemia. In a case-control study of over 300 children regarding high voltage power lines and risk for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), it was found that the “odds of ALL decreased 0.61 for every 600 meters from the nearest power line.” 4 In another study conducted in England and Wales, it was found that “compared with those who lived > 600 m from a line at birth, children who lived within 200 m had a relative risk of leukaemia of 1.69,” and “those born between 200 and 600 m had a relative risk of 1.23. 5

Studies of how EMF radiation may affect the risk of other types of cancer in children yield equally disturbing results. In a study of childhood tumors in Stockholm county, Sweden, visible 200-kv overhead powerlines were “found twice as frequently among [tumor] cases as among controls,” and outside each dwelling, there were “visible electrical constructions (6-200-kV high-voltage wires, substations, transformers, electric railroads, and subways) within 150 m of the dwelling.” 6 A case-control study of childhood cancer and exposure to 60-Hz magnetic fields found “a modest association with cancer indidence.” The study used a cutoff score of 2.0 milligauss in calculating the odds ratio (OR) of cancer, and found “an odds ratio of 1.4 (95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.6-2.9) for total cancers” with “larger odds ratios (ORs) for leukemias (OR = 1.9), lymphomas (OR = 2.2), and soft tissue sarcomas (OR = 3.3).” 7

Many children today own a cell phone. With the heightened popularity of texting, many people including children are sleeping with their cell phones in their bedrooms, either beneath a pillow or directly next to their head on a nightstand. This is troubling considering data from an Israeli study of brain tumors that shows an increased risk of between 47% and 356% of brain tumor for children ranging from under 5 years to over 10 years of age. The study indicated a latency time between first exposure and brain tumor diagnosis of around 30 years, and found that the brain tumor risk increases as the age of the exposed child decreases. 8

Unfortunately, “international guidance on occupational and public exposure to EMFs” is largely “based on avoiding risks to health that are well understood and for which there is good scientific evidence.” 9 What then do we do about risks that may not yet be revealed, or are not well understood?

Our history shows that early research is often regarded as quackery or disregarded altogether. Take cigarettes or transfats. Although early research indicated that cigarettes and transfats may have serious detrimental health effects, it was not until the research became overwhelming and the evidence tremendous that guidelines and warnings were put in place. The same can be said of EMF research, which is spotty and regarded by some as controversial and treated much like early research on cigarettes and transfats.

In the face of mounting research, the potential for EMFs to affect our children demands that precautionary measures be adopted. The World Health Organization EMF project is creating a framework to develop guidelines and policy around the “precautionary principle, a recommendation to consider action to avoid a possible harm even if it is not certain to occur” in order “to address the issue of possible health effects of electric and magnetic fields (EMF) in the face of scientific uncertainty.” 10 The framework gives some good suggestions on how governments may develop policy around EMF and explores existing regulations in various countries and state/local governments, as well as factors and tradeoffs to consider when creating guidance and adopting a policy.

In the home environment, everyone may benefit from also adopting a “precautionary principle” by taking steps to mitigate or replace sources of EMF around the home. Those with children may wish to take some precautionary steps to reduce EMFs as much as possible in the home. Check out our mitigation section for everyday ways to reduce your EMF exposure.

If history is any indicator, it is always wise to take precautions with any new technology.

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Sources and References

  1. The Sensitivity of Children to Electromagnetic FieldsKheifets, Repacholi, Saunders, and Deventer, Pediatrics Vol. 116 No. 2 August 1, 2005, pp. e303 -e313
  2. IARC FINDS LIMITED EVIDENCE THAT RESIDENTIAL MAGNETIC FIELDS INCREASE RISK OF CHILDHOOD LEUKAEMIAIARC Press Release No 136, June 27 2001, WHO/IARC
  3. Magnetic Fields and Cancer in Children Residing Near Swedish High-voltage Power LinesMaria Feychting and Michael Alhbom, Am. J. Epidemiol. (1993) 138 (7): 467-481.
  4. Living near overhead high voltage transmission power lines as a risk factor for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a case-control study.Sohrabi MR, Tarjoman T, Abadi A, Yavari P., Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2010;11(2):423-7.
  5. Childhood cancer in relation to distance from high voltage power lines in England and Wales: a case-control studyBMJ 2005;330:1290
  6. 50-Hz electromagnetic environment and the incidence of childhood tumors in Stockholm countyLennart Tomenius M.D., Bioelectromagnetics, Volume 7, Issue 2, pages 191–207, 1986
  7. Case-control study of childhood cancer and exposure to 60-Hz magnetic fields.Savitz et al, Am J Epidemiol. 1988 Jul;128(1):21-38.
  8. Long-Term Follow-up for Brain Tumor Development after Childhood Exposure to Ionizing Radiation for Tinea CapitisSiegal Sadetzki, Angela Chetrit, Laurence Freedman, Marilyn Stovall, Baruch Modan, and Ilya Novikov (2005) Long-Term Follow-up for Brain Tumor Development after Childhood Exposure to Ionizing Radiation for Tinea Capitis. Radiation Research: April 2005, Vol. 163, No. 4, pp. 424-432.
  9. The Sensitivity of Children to Electromagnetic FieldsKheifets, Repacholi, Saunders, and Deventer, Pediatrics Vol. 116 No. 2 August 1, 2005, pp. e303 -e313
  10. THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE AND EMFDr. Leeka I Kheifets, World Health Organization

About Sara

My passion is helping others. My goal is to uncover the challenges and dangers of modern electronics and wireless technology for those who are ready to see them. In my own life I strive to work, play, eat and live more simply and naturally.

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