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10/06/2003 - National Grid funded, NRPB executed, study is disgracefully misleading

On 10th June 2003 the British Journal of Cancer published a fairly meaningless study. There is nothing particularly unusual in this, but it was released with grossly misleading, widely circulated, press releases by both Cancer Research UK and the NRPB as a paper to "allay public fears". The BJC is owned by Cancer Research UK and it is scandalous that they issued such a misleading press release about this largely irrelevant study. One has to question the knowledge, ability and bias of the people who peer-reviewed this paper and those who wrote and approved the press release. We have the right to expect better standards of the largest UK cancer charity.

In fact this study is simply not relevant to the issue. We see it as a deliberate attempt to confuse people about this issue, funded by the electricity industry's EMF research charity, using simplistic EMF exposure (linear and not rotating fields) at exposures very different from those implicated by epidemiological research with an increased incidence of childhood leukaemia.

  • Firstly, cells in vitro subjected to one 12 hour exposure are not the same as cells in a living being (human or animal) subject to EMFs over many months.
  • Secondly, most of the epidemiological studies showing positive associations between EMF exposure and childhood leukaemia incidence have shown a relationship with distance to an overhead power-line rather than with measured AC magnetic fields. One likely reason for this is that overhead powerlines produce elliptically polarised fields with the field vector rotating in space. Work on reduction in melatonin levels have shown that rotating fields have a much stronger effect. This paper reports on work with a linearly polarised field in a solenoid and this does not represent the characteristics of the magnetic fields found near power lines.
  • Thirdly, most positive EMF bio-effects have been found to show both frequency and field level 'windows' where effects occur and others where they do not occur. Higher fields often DO NOT mean a greater effect - indeed the subtle effects often go away as cells recognise the insult and induce protection mechanisms such as 'heat shock' protein production. All of the 'positive EMF association' papers have found that the level associated with a doubling in incidence is around 0.4 microtesla. This level is correctly stated in paragraph two of the paper. In order to test this, a range of exposure levels around 0.4 microtesla should have been used; say 0.2, 0.4, 1.0 and 2.0 microtesla. This research used field levels of 230, 470 and 700 microtesla - all about 1000 times too large to test the hypothesis they set out (by their own admission) to investigate.

We see this paper as industry funded PR spin, with the experimental design almost guaranteed to show 'no-effect'.

We wonder how the scientists can claim to have any integrity (maybe they don't?) when they publish stuff like this and, even worse, how the PR people can write such misleading Press Releases. Are they ignorant, incompetent or biased? What sort of "peer group reviewers" do the BJC use? Publishing this sort of irrelevant paper and Press Releasing it as an 'important paper' can only damage their reputation.

[1] P Hone, A Edwards, J Halls, R Cox and D Lloyd. Possible associations between ELF electromagnetic fields, DNA damage response processes and childhood leukaemia. British Journal of Cancer, Volume 88, Number 12, 2003