Is there reason to be concerned about living in a home/apartment that is directly facing a power line?

A google search (general and google scholar) seems to suggest that there is minimal risk but I have also come across some information indicating "mixed evidence"

1) brief summary: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/electromagnetic-fields-fact-sheet)

2) example: 4th response at: https://www.mamapedia.com/article/power-lines-wooden-poles-in-the-back-of-house

For instance, some have argued that power lines very close to the living space have the potential to have a greater impact on the "ambient field" than larger towers that are usually located further away from homes. Is there any scientific merit to this argument?

In sum, is it a bad idea to get an apartment unit that directly overlooks a power line (like an arm's length away from the window), strictly from a health-related point of view? If so, who are at greatest risk for what types of health problems? (childhood leukemia, birth defects, etc)

EDIT: There is a clear lack of research looking at dose-response relationship between EMF exposure and a range of health outcomes. My question has more to do with how much ELF magnetic field exposure one might get living in so close proximity to a wooden pole. Surely, this will likely vary across circumstances. It's hard to find this type of information on the web, esp given such limited research that tends to focus narrowly on specific set of outcomes. There are paid services advertise to measure EMF in private homes but I have to wonder if such service is worth the cost and indeed reliable.


1 Answer 1


This has been on peoples' minds for decades and the answer is still not clear.

TL;DR at the bottom.

Research done in the past has not always been of the best quality and so conclusions that might have been made which suggest harm, are probably wrong. For example: a UK study in 2005 suggested increased rates of cancer in association with distance from power-lines (closer = worse) BUT the association continued even further than the distance the power lines could have any effect. That means that the suspicion that it could be the electromagnetics of the power line can't be related, because even after it dropped off there was still something apparently going on.

Title: Do power line - generated electromagnetic fields have any association with certain disorders? Source: JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association [0098-7484] Ross, Randy yr:1988 vol:259 iss:8 pg:1131 SINCE THE MID-1960s, scientists have debated whether low-level electromagnetic fields generated by power lines represent a health hazard. Recent studies suggesting possible links between electromagnetic exposure and cancer have drawn renewed attention to this controversy.

For years, researchers have hypothesized links between electromagnetic fields and a variety of disorders ranging from malignant melanoma to mental illness. British investigators have suggested a link between electromagnetic exposure and suicide, while a Russian study indicated cardiovascular changes in electrical workers.

At least one literature review, by a London utility company scientist, discounted these and other associations (JR Soc Med 1982;75:933-941). But epidemiologic and other studies have continued.

A study looking at some particularly rapidly developing cells taken from mice in China in 2015 suggested that the cells might not live as long, but no signs of cancer. This was in MICE, not humans, and in cells taken from the body and therefore not around their normal external defence and healing mechanisms. What that means is that this study is of uncertain value.

Title: Effects of Long-Term 50Hz Power-Line Frequency Electromagnetic Field on Cell Behavior in Balb/c 3T3 Cells Source: PLoS ONE [1932-6203] An, Guang-Zhou yr:2015 vol:10 iss:2 pg:e0117672 -e0117672 Abstract Power-line frequency electromagnetic field (PF-EMF) was reported as a human carcinogen by some epidemiological research, but the conclusion is lack of robust experiment evidence. To identify the effects of long-term PF-EMF exposure on cell behavior, Balb/c 3T3 cells in exponential growth phase were exposed or sham-exposed to 50 Hertz (Hz) PF-EMF at 2.3 mT for 2 hours (h) one day, 5 days every week. After 11 weeks exposure, cells were collected instantly. Cell morphology was observed under invert microscope and Giemsa staining, cell viability was detected by 3-(4, 5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2, 5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay, cell cycle and apoptosis was examined by flow cytometry, the protein level of Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen (PCNA) and CyclinD1 was detected by western blot, cell transformation was examined by soft agar clone assay and plate clone forming test, and cell migration ability was observed by scratch adhesion test. It was found that after PF-EMF exposure, cell morphology, apoptosis, cell migration ability and cell transformation didn’t change. However, compared with sham group, cell viability obviously decreased and cell cycle distribution also changed after 11 weeks PF-EMF exposure. Meanwhile, the protein level of PCNA and CyclinD1 significantly decreased after PF-EMF exposure. These data suggested that although long-term 50Hz PF-EMF exposure under this experimental condition had no effects on apoptosis, cell migration ability and cell transformation, it could affect cell proliferation and cell cycle by down-regulation the expression of PCNA and CyclinD1 protein.

A recent study (2014) in Denmark looking at actual humans (specifically whether kids developed leukaemia closer to power lines) found no association between distance from power lines and rates of developing cancer - and this was from much stronger power lines than the street-based ones you're talking about. This one is a significant paper for 3 reasons: 1) it looked at actual people. 2) children are in theory MORE susceptible to radiation-based tumours (ie EM radiation) and 3) leukaemia is a typical type of cancer seen in response to radiation.

Title: Distance from residence to power line and risk of childhood leukemia: a population-based case–control study in Denmark Source: Cancer causes and control : An International Journal of Studies of Cancer in Human Populations [0957-5243] Pedersen yr:2014 vol:25 iss:2 pg:171 -177 Abstract Purpose Epidemiological studies have found an association between exposure to extremely low-frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MF) and childhood leukemia. In 2005, a large British study showed an association between proximity of residence to high-voltage power lines and the risk of childhood leukemia. The association extended beyond distances at which the ‘power line’-induced magnetic fields exceed background levels, suggesting that the association was not explained by the magnetic field, but might be due to chance, bias, or other risk factors associated with proximity to power lines. Our aim was to conduct a comparable study in an independent setting (Denmark).

Methods We included 1,698 cases aged <15, diagnosed with leukemia during 1968–2006, from the Danish Cancer Registry and 3,396 controls randomly selected from the Danish childhood population and individually matched by gender and year of birth. We used geographical information systems to determine the distance between residence at birth and the nearest 132–400 kV overhead power line.

Results Odds ratios (ORs) were 0.76 [95 % confidence interval (CI) 0.40–1.45] for children who lived 0–199 m from the nearest power line and 0.92 (95 % CI 0.67–1.25) for those who lived 200–599 m away when compared with children who lived ≥600 m away. When restricting the analysis to 220 and 400 kV overhead power lines, the OR for children who lived 200–599 m from a power line was 1.76 (95 % CI 0.82–3.77) compared to children who lived ≥600 m away. However, chance is a likely explanation for this finding as the result was not significant, numbers were small, and there were no indications of an higher risk closer to the lines since no cases were observed within 200 m of these.

Conclusions We found no higher risk of leukemia for children living 0–199 m or for children living 200–599 m of a 132–400 kV overhead power line. A slightly elevated OR for children living between 200 and 599 m of a 220–400 kV overhead power line is likely to be a chance finding.

So... what does that mean when it comes to living close to power lines?

  1. prior thought has been that it's bad, but this has been with shonky research.
  2. Chinese mice cells taken from the body don't show signs of cancer, but maybe don't last as long
  3. actual humans (children in Denmark) don't seem to show any signs of developing leukaemia
  4. public opinion is still divided, even though the research seems to be pretty sound.

TL;DR My suggestion? Getting the apartment isn't any risk (cancer-wise) to yourself. You might find it harder to get rid of if anyone else feels the same trepidation you do!

  • Thank you. My take away is that limited available research & evidence makes the question inconclusive. That also seems to be the stance of this post: cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/… (ELF magnetic field as "possibly carcinogenic to humans"). Edited the question to be a bit more specific
    – ksroogl
    Jun 27, 2018 at 13:40
  • @ksroogl Sounds like a fair take-away. In relation to your thoughts for in-home measurement; I'm not sure it's worth it (cost-wise) to get it measured, but maybe if you have found some companies that do it, you could ask them about what readings they typically find in dwellings. Still not sure what you'd do with that information, because we don't know that it means anything... but you must make up your own mind! best of luck! :-)
    – Vinciture
    Jun 28, 2018 at 16:17

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