Contact voltage measured in residences: implications to the association between magnetic fields and childhood leukemia

Bioelectromagnetics. 2002 Sep;23(6):464-74. doi: 10.1002/bem.10038.


We measured magnetic fields and two sources of contact current in 36 homes in Pittsfield, MA. The first source, V(P-W), is the voltage due to current in the grounding wire, which extends from the service panel neutral to the water service line. This voltage can cause contact current to flow upon simultaneous contact with a metallic part of the water system, such as the faucet, and the frame of an appliance, which is connected to the panel neutral through the equipment-grounding conductor. The second is V(W-E), the voltage between the water pipe and earth, attributable to ground currents in the water system and magnetic induction from nearby power lines. In homes with conductive water systems and drains, V(W-E) can produce a voltage between the faucet and drain, which may produce contact current into an individual contacting the faucet while immersed in a bathtub. V(P-W) was not strongly correlated to the magnetic field (both log transformed) (r = 0.28; P < 0.1). On the other hand, V(W-E) was correlated to the residential magnetic field (both log transformed) (r = 0.54; P < 0.001), with the highest voltages occurring in homes near high voltage transmission lines, most likely due to magnetic induction on the grounding system. This correlation, combined with both frequent exposure opportunity for bathing children and substantial dose to bone marrow resulting from contact, lead us to suggest that contact current due to V(W-E) could explain the association between high residential magnetic fields and childhood leukemia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / etiology*
  • Magnetics / adverse effects*
  • Massachusetts
  • Risk Factors
  • Sanitary Engineering