Residential exposure to magnetic fields and acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children

N Engl J Med. 1997 Jul 3;337(1):1-7. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199707033370101.


Background: Previous studies found associations between childhood leukemia and surrogate indicators of exposure to magnetic fields (the power-line classification since known as "wire coding"), but not between childhood leukemia and measurements of 60-Hz residential magnetic fields.

Methods: We enrolled 638 children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) who were under 15 years of age and were registered with the Children's Cancer Group and 620 controls in a study of residential exposure to magnetic fields generated by nearby power lines. In the subjects' current and former homes, data collectors measured magnetic fields for 24 hours in the child's bedroom and for 30 seconds in three or four other rooms and outside the front door. A computer algorithm assigned wire-code categories; based on the distance and configuration of nearby power lines, to the subjects' main residences (for 416 case patients and 416 controls) and to those where the family had lived during the mother's pregnancy with the subject (for 230 case patients and 230 controls).

Results: The risk of childhood ALL was not linked to summary time-weighted average residential magnetic-field levels, categorized according to a priori criteria. The odds ratio for ALL was 1.24 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.86 to 1.79) at exposures of 0.200 mu T or greater as compared with less than 0.065 mu T. The risk of ALL was not increased among children whose main residences were in the highest wire-code category (odds ratio as compared with the lowest category, 0.88; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.48 to 1.63). Furthermore, the risk was not significantly associated with either residential magnetic-field levels or the wire codes of the homes mothers resided in when pregnant with the subjects.

Conclusions: Our results provide little evidence that living in homes characterized by high measured time-weighted average magnetic-field levels or by the highest wire-code category increases the risk of ALL in children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / epidemiology
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / etiology*
  • Risk