Power Lines and Cancer FAQ

The Power Lines and Cancer FAQ,
by John Moulder.

In the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, Russ Hobbie and I wrote

An excellent discussion of the all aspects of the problem [whether radiofrequency and power-line electromagnetic fields cause cancer] is available at a frequently updated website, Powerlines and Cancer FAQ [Moulder (Web)].

Then we quoted from the website extensively

Moulder (Web, question 20A) says…

The reference was to

Moulder, J. E. (Web). Power Lines and Cancer: Frequently Asked Questions, www.mcw.edu/gcrc/cop/powerlines-cancer-FAQ/toc.html.

In the 5th edition of IPMB, the story became

John Moulder, the author of a web site about power lines and cancer that unfortunately no longer exists, said…

Yet, I wonder… Nothing disappears from the internet. After a few minutes of googling, I found the entire website saved as a pdf, available at large.stanford.edu/publications/crime/references/moulder/moulder.pdf or https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1126/ML112660019.pdf. You can also download it from the IPMB website, or just click here. It begins with a brief summary.

Questions and answers on the connection between power lines, electrical occupations and cancer; includes discussion of the biophysics of interactions, summaries of the laboratory and human studies, information on standards, and a bibliography.

The question-and-answer format includes cross-references to other questions (e.g., “Q12” or “Q27J”). References are listed in the bibliography (e.g., “B12”). Below, I reproduce the first question.

1) Is there a concern about power lines and cancer?

The concern about power lines and cancer comes largely from studies of people living near power lines (see Q12) and people working in “electrical” occupations (see Q15). Some of these studies appear to show a weak association between exposure to power-frequency magnetic fields and the incidence of some cancers. However

  • the more recent epidemiological studies show little evidence that either power lines or “electrical occupations” are associated with an increase in cancer (see Q19);
  • laboratory studies have shown little evidence of a link between power-frequency fields and cancer (see Q16);
  • an extensive series of studies have shown that life-time exposure of animals to power-frequency magnetic fields does not cause cancer (see Q16B);
  • a connection between power line fields and cancer is physically implausible (see Q18).

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (2001):

“In the absence of evidence from cellular or animal studies, and given the methodological uncertainties and in many cases inconsistencies of the existing epidemiologic literature, there is no chronic disease for which an etiological [causal] relation to [power-frequency fields] can be regarded as established.” (See B12)

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (2001):

“There is limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of extremely low-frequency magnetic fields in relation to childhood leukaemia…. There is inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of extremely low-frequency magnetic fields in relation to all other cancers [and] there is inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of extremely low-frequency electric fields.” (see Q27J)

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (2002):

“The overall scientific evidence for human health risk from [exposure to power-frequency fields] is weak. No consistent pattern of biological effects from exposure to [power-frequency fields] has emerged from laboratory studies with animals or with cells. However, epidemiological studies… had shown a fairly consistent pattern that associated potential [exposure to power-frequency fields] with a small increased risk of leukemia in children and chronic lymphocytic leukemia in adults… For both childhood and adult leukemias interpretation of the epidemiological findings has been difficult due to the absence of supporting laboratory evidence or a scientific explanation linking [exposure to power-frequency fields] with leukemia.” (see Q27G).

The U.K. National Radiological Protection Board (2004):

“The epidemiological evidence indicates that exposure to power-frequency magnetic fields above 0.4 microT [4 milliG] is associated with a small absolute raised risk of leukaemia in children… However, the epidemiological evidence is not strong enough to justify a firm conclusion that [power-frequency magnetic] fields cause leukemia in children. There is little evidence to suggest… that cancer risks of other types, in children and adults, might arise from exposure to [power-frequency magnetic] fields… The results of epidemiological studies, taken individually or as collectively reviewed by expert groups, cannot be used as a basis for derivation of quantitative restrictions on exposure to [power-frequency magnetic] fields.” (see Q27H)

Overall, most scientists consider that the evidence that power line fields cause or contribute to cancer is weak to nonexistent.

The document answers 35 questions, which together provide a detailed analysis of the controversy through 2006. How I wish the FAQ was up-to-date. The final question is

35) Who wrote this FAQ?

This FAQ document originated in the early 1990’s as a USENET FAQ in sci.med.physics. The USENET FAQ was maintained by Dr. John Moulder, Professor of Radiation Oncology, Radiology and Pharmacology/Toxicology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Moulder has taught, lectured and written on the biological effects of non-ionizing radiation and electromagnetic fields since the late 1970’s.

The USENET FAQ was converted to html in 1997 by Bob Mueller and Dennis Taylor of the General Clinical Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The FAQ was expanded and updated to serve as a teaching aid at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The web server and web management was provided by the General Clinical Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The development and maintenance of this document was not supported by any person, agency, group or corporation outside the Medical College of Wisconsin.

In August 2005, Dr. Moulder became Director of the NIH-funded Medical College of Wisconsin Center for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiological Terrorism. This new job does not leave him the time required to keep these FAQs up-to-date. When the FAQs had become more than two years out-of-date they were discontinued. There is no version more up-to-date that this PDF version….

Parts of this FAQ were derived from the following peer-reviewed publications:

  • JE Moulder: Une approache biomédicale: le point de vue d’un chercheur en cancérologie. In: J Lambrozo, I Le Bis (Eds), Champs Électriques et Magnétique de Très Basse Fréquency: Electricité de France, 1998.
  • JE Moulder: The controversy over powerlines and cancer, III Jornadas sobre Líneas Eléctricas y Medio Ambiente, Red Eléctrica de España, Madrid, 2000, pp. 159–168.

Dr. Moulder maintained similar “FAQ” documents on “Mobile (Cell) Phone Base Antennas and Human Health” and “Static EM Fields and Cancer”.

I discovered a version of the static fields FAQ at https://stason.org/TULARC/health/static-fields-cancer/index.html. I have not found the cell phone FAQ; maybe things can disappear from the internet after all. If you find it, let me know (roth@oakland.edu). I like the Power Line FAQ’s poetic closing lines.

Public controversy about electricity and health will continue

until:

future research shows conclusively that the fields are hazardous,

or

until the public learns that science cannot guarantee absolute safety,

or

until the public and media gets bored by the subject.

Neither of the first two outcomes are particularly likely,

But the third may happen.

Originally published at hobbieroth.blogspot.com on April 5, 2019.

Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.