Are the Stray 60-Hz Electromagnetic Fields Associated with the Distribution and Use of Electric Power a Significant Cause of Cancer?
The putative causal relation between ambient low-frequency (50 or 60 Hz) electromagnetic fields (necessarily present in living and working environments because of our ever increasing use of electrical devices) and cancer, especially leukemia, can be tested on the large scale by examining historical data on the growth of the generation and consumption of electric power since 1900 and corresponding data on cancer death and incidence rates. The United States per capita generation and residential consumption of electric power have grown roughly exponentially since 1900; total per capita generation has increased by a factor of 10 since 1940, and per capita residential consumption has increased by a factor of 20 in the same period. The ubiquitous stray fields from power distribution lines and internal and external wiring in buildings have grown in the same proportions. In contrast to the explosive increase in the generation and use of electricity, the age-adjusted cancer death rate for the population as a whole shows only a slight rise since 1900. When respiratory cancers (largely caused by tobacco use) are subtracted, the remaining death rate has actually fallen since 1940. That the death rate may have fallen because of better diagnosis and treatment, despite a rising incidence rate, is not substantiated, especially for leukemia, including childhood leukemia, where the incidence rate has been constant or declining slightly for the past 25 yr. The absence of any appreciable change in the national cancer incidence rates during a period in which residential use of electric power has increased dramatically shows that the associated stray 50- or 60-Hz electromagnetic fields pose no significant hazard to the average individual.