A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

EMF Studies: Industry Funding
Sways Findings

Power Line-Cancer Links Show Consistency, Not Contradictions

September 4, 2019

Industry-funded studies have promoted false doubts about EMF cancer risks and led to the failure of the public health community to reduce exposures, argues David Carpenter in a paper published last week in Environmental Research.

Carpenter, the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany in upstate New York, shows that, over the last 20 years, findings on the link between power line (ELF) EMFs and childhood leukemia have been heavily influenced by their source of funding. Government or independently sponsored studies have “consistently” shown that higher exposures lead to the greater cancer risks, while those supported by electrical utilities “consistently” have not.

These superficial contradictions have led to unwarranted doubt and inaction, according to Carpenter: “The public is confused and many times the press declares that results are ‘inconsistent’ when in fact they are very consistent if one does not consider the results of industry-funded studies.”

He writes: 

“It is remarkable that in the 40 years after [Nancy] Wertheimer and [Ed] Leeper (1979) first reported an association between exposure to magnetic fields from residential power lines and elevated risk of childhood cancer, and the large number of subsequent investigations, that there is still controversy over the question, ‘Does exposure to magnetic fields cause cancer?’”

The main reason for the uncertainty, Carpenter maintains, is that industry studies have weakened the findings of meta-analyses by diluting the “true association” between ELF EMFs and cancer. As a result, the medical and public health communities have failed to advise people to reduce their EMF exposures. He calls the current situation “unacceptable.”

Beyond childhood leukemia, Carpenter points out that individual studies and meta-analyses have shown “strong evidence” that excessive exposure to magnetic fields increases the risks of adult leukemia, male and female breast cancer and brain cancer.

In an interview, Carpenter said that he was “a bit surprised” by the strength of the links between adult cancers and ELF EMFs, where the industry-funded bias is less apparent. This “may be simply because few have paid attention to adult cancers, and therefore the industry has chosen to discredit the whole cancer association by focusing on childhood cancer,” he said.

In the early 1980s, Carpenter led the New York Power Line Project, which sponsored the first replication of the Wertheimer-Leeper study by David Savitz, then at the University of Colorado. (See our report from 1986 when those results were announced —to the surprise of the electric utilities.)

Over a decade ago, a team of Swiss researchers showed a similar bias among studies on the health effects of cell phone radiation.