Background to the campaign


As early as 1979, scientific research started to show evidence hinting at an association between ELF EMFs (extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields) and childhood leukaemia.

Over the next 20 years, a number of research institutes published further evidence of the association between childhood leukaemia and powerlines.

This lead to two key papers being published in 2000 by Sander Greenland and Anders Ahlbom. These concluded that power frequency magnetic fields above 0.3 and 0.4 µT respectively, doubled the risk of contracting childhood leukaemia.

In 2002

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified Extremely Low Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields (ELF EMFs) as a class 2b carcinogen - “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

In 2004

The Health Protection Agency recommended that the Government ‘consider the need for further precautionary measures’ to reduce public exposure to EMF. In response to this the SAGE group was set up, at the behest of Government and was one third funded by CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA (now Children with Cancer UK), the Department of Health and the energy industry. 

SAGE aimed to evaluate the science, and through engaging the industry, government, campaigners and academics on both sides of the debate, produce precautionary recommendations.  We have been involved with SAGE since its inception and have contributed to the formation of the body of evidence collated by SAGE in examining the impact of public exposure to EMF.

In 2005

Gerald Draper, John Swanson and Mary Kroll produced a paper known as the “Draper report”, which found a 69% increase in childhood leukaemia for those with a birth address within 200 metres of 275kV and 400 kV power lines, confirming an association with proximity to high voltage power lines.

Also in 2005, an Early Day Motion (EDM) was tabled by Dr. Howard Stoate MP, calling for an immediate moratorium on the construction of new schools and homes in proximity to powers lines and to increase funding for research into the relationship between electric and magnetic fields and causation of childhood leukaemia in order to help protect children's health.  EDM 403 [LINK] was signed by 223 MPs and was one of the most widely supported backbench motions.  http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2005-06/403

In 2006

Alongside the SAGE process, we instigated and provided the secretariat support for a Cross Party Inquiry into Childhood Leukaemia and ELF EMF.  The members of the inquiry were: Dr Howard Stoate MP, Dr Ian Gibson MP, Sandra Gidley MP, Nick Hurd MP and Michael Connarty MP spent a year considering the issue and published their report in Westminster 2007. The main recommendation of the inquiry was the introduction of a moratorium on building of new homes and schools within at least 60m of existing high voltage power lines and vice versa to protect children from an increased risk of leukaemia. 

Its terms of reference were to consider the totality of the scientific evidence, the legal framework in the UK regarding rights and responsibilities for public EMF exposure, and to make recommendations to Government on appropriate precautionary measures. Their findings and conclusions were strong:

  • Introduce a moratorium on the building of new homes and schools within at least 60 metres of existing transmission lines of 275 kV and 400 kV, and a moratorium on new transmission lines within 60 metres of existing homes and schools.
  • Increase the research budget into EMFs and childhood leukaemia particularly with regard to biological mechanisms.
  • Provide more information to the public on the potential risks of EMF exposure.
  • Protect homeowners by allowing them access to information on either the proximity of a property to transmission lines or EMF levels inside a property for sale.
  • Consider EMF exposure as part of the Government's Energy Review and give full consideration to options which could lead to a reduced need for new transmission lines.
  • Introduce new conditions on licences for electricity transmission and distribution to take steps to protect the public from possible adverse health effects caused by EMF exposure.

None of these recommendations has yet been implemented, despite having sufficient documentation to justify them and having full political endorsement from at least one MP from each of the major national political parties.

In 2007

SAGE published its first report which identified a moratorium on the building of new homes and schools near high voltage power lines and vice versa, as the ‘best possible option’ to reduce exposure to the electric and magnetic fields generated by these lines. However, SAGE was unable to recommend this option explicitly to Government as there were substantial costs to the energy industry involved.

To aid in Government decision making, it also assessed further options for reducing public exposure, the most effective of which was stated as follows:

“In summary, the option is to stop building any new buildings for residential use (and some other uses including schools) within specified distances of overhead power lines, and to stop building new overhead power lines within the same specified distances of existing such buildings.” SAGE 1st Interim Assessment, section 5.4, page 48

Also in 2007, the Government referred the SAGE report to the Health Protection Agency for advice. The HPA issued guidance on both the SAGE Report and the Cross Party Inquiry Report in October 2007, recommending that the ‘attention of local authority planning departments and the electricity companies be drawn to the evidence for a possible small increase in childhood leukaemia which may result from the siting of new buildings very close to power lines’.

In 2008

We worked with MPs and Peers for amendments to be made to new legislation on housing, planning and energy to protect children from an increased risk of leukaemia.

With a new Government, increased scientific evidence, and a greater political acceptance of the need to protect our society, health and the environment, we are redoubling our efforts to raise awareness of the link between childhood cancer and EMF.  This activity is particularly timely as the energy industry has announced the biggest planned increase in the construction of new electricity infrastructure in the UK since the 1960s.  We have broadened our focus to form a Quality of Life coalition. 

We campaign to ensure that this basic ‘precautionary principle’ be recognised by Government and planning developers, electricity companies and local Government officials when planning our communities.

As a result of this work we are gaining support for a building moratorium to stop new houses being built near power lines and new power lines being positioned over existing homes and schools.

In 2010

Since the General Election in May 2010,  highlights of the campaign include:

  • Tessa Munt MP’s maiden speech [LINK] focused on the concerns of her residents about plans for inappropriate power lines in her constituency and urged for greater consideration to be given to undergrounding and to their positioning across the country
  • Parliamentary Questions have been tabled by Andrew Percy MP, Justin Tomlinson MP, Stewart Jackson MP and Lord Alton about power lines and energy.
  • Meetings with the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to discuss the campaign and form alliances.
  • Site visit to Swindon to meet with the Council leader to discuss how our concerns can be incorporated in to local planning decisions and to visit sites where pylons have been located near to homes.
  • Freedom of Information request to all PCTs and Cancer Registries to ascertain greater information on possible cancer clusters.
  • The SAGE process has, for the time being, come to a close.  However we continue to work with Government, the industry, campaigners and other stakeholders to influence policy to reduce human exposure to EMFs.

During the passage of the Localism Bill through Parliament we have met with a number of MPs and Peers to gain support for the campaign. We have also made a formal submission to the Localism Bill Committee detailing our specific concerns about planning policy.

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