The Affect of Electricity on Cancer
Can electricity cause cancer? In a society that literally runs on electric power, the very idea seems preposterous. But for more than a decade, a growing band of scientists and journalists has pointed to studies that seem to link exposure to electromagnetic fields with increased risk of leukemia and other malignancies. The implications are unsettling, to say the least, since everyone comes into contact with such fields, which are generated by everything electrical, from power lines and antennas to personal computers and micro-wave ovens. Because evidence on the subject is inconclusive and often contradictory, it has been hard to decide whether concern about the health effects of electricity is legitimate—or the worst kind of paranoia.
Now the alarmists have gained some qualified support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In the executive summary of a new scientific review, released in draft form late last week, the EPA has put forward what amounts to the most serious government warning to date. The agency tentatively concludes that scientific evidence “suggests a casual link” between extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields—those having very longwave-lengths—and leukemia, lymphoma and brain cancer, While the report falls short of classifying ELF fields as probable carcinogens, it does identify the common 60-hertz magnetic field as “a possible, but not proven, cause of cancer in humans.”
The report is no reason to panic—or even to lost sleep. If there is a cancer risk, it is a small one. The evidence is still so controversial that the draft stirred a great deal of debate within the Bush Administration, and the EPA released it over strong objections from the Pentagon and the Whit House. But now no one can deny that the issue must be taken seriously and that much more research is needed.
At the heart of the debate is a simple and well-understood physical phenomenon: When