Investigation of the sources of residential power frequency magnetic field exposure in the UK Childhood Cancer Study

J Radiol Prot. 2007 Mar;27(1):41-58. doi: 10.1088/0952-4746/27/1/002. Epub 2007 Mar 6.


There is an unexplained association between exposure to the magnetic fields arising from the supply and use of electricity, and increase in risk of childhood leukaemia. The UK Childhood Cancer Study (UKCCS) provides a large and unique source of information on residential magnetic field exposure in the UK. The purpose of this supplementary study was to investigate a sample of UKCCS homes in order to identify the particular sources that contribute to elevated time-averaged exposure. In all, 196 homes have been investigated, 102 with exposures estimated on the basis of the original study to be above 0.2 microT, and 21 higher than 0.4 microT, a threshold above which a raised risk has been observed. First, surveys were carried out outside the property boundaries of all 196 study homes, and then, where informed consent had been obtained, assessments were conducted inside the properties of 19 homes. The study found that low-voltage (LV) sources associated with the final electricity supply accounted together for 77% of exposures above 0.2 microT, and 57% of those above 0.4 microT. Most of these exposures were linked to net currents in circuits inside and/or around the home. High-voltage (HV) sources, including the HV overhead power lines that are the focus of public concern, accounted for 23% of the exposures above 0.2 microT, and 43% of those above 0.4 microT. Public health interest has focused on the consideration of precautionary measures that would reduce exposure to power frequency magnetic fields. Our study provides a basis for considering the options for exposure mitigation in the UK. For instance, in elevated-exposure homes where net currents are higher than usual, if it is possible to reduce the net currents, then the exposure could be reduced for a sizeable proportion of these homes. Further investigations would be necessary to determine whether this is feasible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Electric Power Supplies
  • Electric Wiring
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Magnetics / adverse effects
  • Public Health