Childhood Leukemia: Electric and Magnetic Fields as Possible Risk Factors
McCormick, David L.
Valberg, Peter A.
Van Etten, R. A.
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CitationBrain, Joseph D., Robert Kavet, David L. McCormick, Charles Poole, Lewis B. Silverman, Thomas J. Smith, Peter A. Valberg, R. A. Van Etten, and James C. Weaver. 2003. “Childhood Leukemia: Electric and Magnetic Fields as Possible Risk Factors.” Environmental Health Perspectives 111 (7) (February 25): 962–970. doi:10.1289/ehp.6020.
AbstractNumerous epidemiologic studies have reported associations between measures of power-line electric or magnetic fields (EMFs) and childhood leukemia. The basis for such associations remains unexplained. In children, acute lymphoblastic leukemia represents approximately three-quarters of all U.S. leukemia types. Some risk factors for childhood leukemia have been established, and others are suspected. Pathogenesis, as investigated in animal models, is consistent with the multistep model of acute leukemia development. Studies of carcinogenicity in animals, however, are overwhelmingly negative and do not support the hypothesis that EMF exposure is a significant risk factor for hematopoietic neoplasia. We may fail to observe effects from EMFs because, from a mechanistic perspective, the effects of EMFs on biology are very weak. Cells and organs function despite many sources of chemical "noise" (e.g., stochastic, temperature, concentration, mechanical, and electrical noise), which exceed the induced EMF "signal" by a large factor. However, the inability to detect EMF effects in bioassay systems may be caused by the choice made for "EMF exposure." "Contact currents" or "contact voltages" have been proposed as a novel exposure metric, because their magnitude is related to measured power-line magnetic fields. A contact current occurs when a person touches two conductive surfaces at different voltages. Modeled analyses support contact currents as a plausible metric because of correlations with residential magnetic fields and opportunity for exposure. The possible role of contact currents as an explanatory variable in the reported associations between EMFs and childhood leukemia will need to be clarified by further measurements, biophysical analyses, bioassay studies, and epidemiology.
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