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No Cancer Risk from Power Lines, Says the New York Times Big Score for Industry Scientists

Louis Slesin
Written by Louis Slesin

Louis Slesin, Editor of the esteemed Microwave News, reports on the disinformation campaign about the dangers of electromagnetic fields.

Reprinted courtesy Microwave News – http://microwavenews.com/

Still worried about power lines and cancer? That’s so retro, says the New York Times. You’re just stuck in the 1980’s.

This is what the “newspaper of record” wants you to know about the risk of childhood leukemia from power lines: A “fairly broad consensus among researchers holds that no significant threat to public health has materialized.”

The full message is told in a new 7+ minute video, produced by the Times’ RetroReport, which boasts a staff of 13 journalists and 10 contributors, led by Kyra Darnton. The video even credits a fact checker. What’s missing is the common sense to do some digging when reporting on a controversial issue. If Darnton’s crew had done its homework, they would have realized that their view is based on two industry-friendly researchers, David Savitz and John Moulder.

Savitz, now VP for research at Brown University, has come a long way since he first reported that power lines are linked to childhood leukemia back in 1986. Power line EMFs have been very, very good for Savitz’s career. He parlayed that study into a multimillion contract from the electric power industry to study cancer risks among electric utility workers. He found a link to brain tumors. A couple of years later, he paid the industry back by renouncing his own work and that of many others. Now he’s done it again with his original power line study in the new Times video.

As for Moulder, everybody in the EMF community knows that he has pocketed bundles of money testifying for companies denying that power lines or cell phones present any risk. We long ago detailed Moulder’s work for industry. Those who make the effort to read the scientific literature can see that a number of different groups have pooled the results of the many epidemiological studies on EMFs and childhood cancer and each has reaffirmed the link —as both Savitz and Moulder are well aware. (Here are details on the two best known meta-analyses.) The pooled analyses prompted the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to classify power line EMFs as a possible human carcinogen back in 2001. The advice still stands. Indeed, the evidence is stronger today than it was back then.

The video also cites a National Academy of Sciences report: This too was mishandled. At the time, in 1996, the New York Times stated that the Academy found “no conclusive and consistent evidence” linking EMFs to cancer. (When you see language like that you know the fix is in: How often does evidence meet such a strict burden of proof?) Left unsaid was that the Academy confirmed that children living near power lines had higher rates of leukemia. Savitz knows this too, he was the vice chair of the Academy panel.

Why have we made no progress in understanding the power line risk? There’s a simple answer: No money for follow-up studies —even when promising leads were in hand. We wrote about one such lost opportunity earlier this year.

In July, a tobacco scientist writing in Forbes magazine took the Times to task for “reviving baseless fears” about power lines and cancer in what was little more than a look back at a 1989 feature. Now, it seems, the Times agrees with the industry denialists: Its own science editors were having a dumb retro moment last summer.

About the author

Louis Slesin

Louis Slesin

Louis Slesin PhD is the founder and editor of Microwave News which he started in 1980. He holds a PhD in environmental policy from MIT. For over 30 years, Microwave News has been reporting on the potential health and environmental impacts of electromagnetic fields and radiation. Microwave News is independent and is not aligned with any industry or government agency. Fortune Magazine called Microwave News “The most authoritative journal on ELF [EM] fields and health.” Time Magazine stated that Microwave news was “Meticulously researched and thoroughly documented.” Today, the journal relies on contributions from its readers. Visit Microwave News at: http://www.microwavenews.com/

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2 Comments

  • Such a splendid informative article is only possible from a man luke you. It is realy new to me to know that there is a link between power lines and leukaemia. Sir hope to hear from you again if anything comes new inthis matter.

  • We are all indebted to Dr. Louis Slesin who has worked tirelessly for 35 years to expose the dangers of EMF from power lines, radar and now cell phones, opposing the well financed propaganda of the electrical power companies and other vested interests. His journal Microwave news, is the authoritative source for the real facts on these matters. Thank you Dr. Louis Slesin.