Studies of Swedish railway employees have indicated that railroad engine drivers have an increased cancer morbidity and incidence of chronic lymphatic leukemia. The drivers are exposed to relatively high magnetic fields (MF), ranging from a few to over a hundred microT. Although the possible genotoxic potential of MF is unclear, some earlier studies have indicated that occupational exposure to MF may increase chromosome aberrations in blood lymphocytes. Since an increased level of chromosomal aberrations has been suggested to predict elevated cancer risk, we performed a cytogenetic analysis on cultured (48 h) peripheral lymphocytes of Swedish train engine drivers. A pilot study of 18 engine drivers indicated a significant difference in the frequency of cells with chromosomal aberrations (gaps included or excluded) in comparison with seven concurrent referents (train dispatchers) and a control group of 16 office workers. The engine drivers had about four times higher frequency of cells with chromosome-type aberrations (excluding gaps) than the office workers (P < 0.01) and the dispatchers (P < 0.05). Seventy-eight percent of the engine drivers showed at least one cell per 100 with chromosome-type aberrations compared with 29% among the dispatchers and 31% among the office workers. In a follow-up study, another 30 engine drivers showed an increase (P < 0.05) in the frequency of cells with chromosome-type aberrations (gaps excluded) as compared with 30 referent policemen. Sixty percent of the engine drivers had one or more cells (per 100 cells) with chromosome-type aberrations compared with 30% among the policemen. In conclusion, the results of the two studies support the hypothesis that exposure to MF at mean intensities of 2-15 microT can induce chromosomal damage.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.