The EMF Biological Research Trust

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Stakeholder Advisory Group on ELF EMFs (SAGE)
First Interim Assessment

Statement on behalf of the EMF Biological Research Trust

May 2007

The SAGE report, published on-line on 27 April at http://www.rkpartnership.co.uk/sage/ has identified several potential ways in which Government could respond to the premise that exposure to environmental power-frequency electromagnetic fields is detrimental to human health. In deciding which, if any, of these ways to adopt, the Government will also need to take account of the large body of scientific evidence in this area. *

This Trust funds basic laboratory research into the possible biological effects of power-frequency electromagnetic fields. It is neither a member of, nor was it consulted by, SAGE. The Trust promotes research of high scientific quality, employing state-of-the-art technologies in a variety of UK academic laboratories. Its research programme since 1994 has led to some 30 publications in the peer-reviewed scientific literature and includes, for example, investigations of whether a novel mechanism, by which strong magnetic fields are known to perturb the amount of free radicals, might apply also to weak fields and thereby induce biological effects.

Best scientific practice requires positive experimental results to be independently replicated. In accordance with this principle, the Trust has funded projects aimed at replicating experiments claimed by others to show biological responses. These proved negative in almost all cases.

The SAGE report identified two contrasting scientific viewpoints, which were designated for convenience as ‘WHO/HPA’ and ‘California’, respectively. The WHO/HPA viewpoint embraces an epidemiological (statistical) association that suggests a doubled risk of childhood leukaemia in homes where the average strength of power-frequency magnetic fields is more than 0.4 microtesla. However, this epidemiological association between magnetic fields and childhood leukaemia is not necessarily one of cause and effect; alternative explanations cannot be excluded. With respect to the California viewpoint, in the Trust's judgment, there is no credible epidemiological evidence in support of power-frequency magnetic fields having any other detrimental health effects.

The Trust emphasizes that it is important to take account of scientific research conducted in laboratories in addition to the epidemiological work. The Trust's view is that, at the present time, there is no persuasive experimental evidence that the weak magnetic fields in homes due to power lines can induce biological effects, nor any proven biophysical mechanism by which such effects could be mediated. Given the Trust's viewpoint, we are doubtful that any ‘precautionary measure’ is warranted at this time. In any case, support for any ‘precautionary measure’. should depend critically upon two criteria: a cost proportionate to the perceived risk and an outcome which can be measured. The SAGE option of restricting the building of new homes and schools within 60 metres of power lines fails to meet either criterion. In the Trust's view, if precautionary measures are indeed adopted, then they should be only low-cost or no-cost.

Dr Michael Crumpton CBE FRS
Chairman, The EMF Biological Research Trust
Tel: 01923 854 675

* The Government's response was published on-line on 16 October 2009 at http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_107124.