HC 1048-III Health CommitteeWritten evidence from CHILDREN with CANCER UK (PH 124)


1.1 CHILDREN with CANCER UK is the leading national charity dedicated to the fight against childhood leukaemia and other childhood cancers. We fund life-saving research into the causes, prevention and treatment of childhood leukaemia and other cancers and we work to protect young lives through essential welfare and campaigning programmes.

1.2 Childhood leukaemia is the most common childhood cancer and accounts for one third of all childhood cancer cases. Around 500 children are diagnosed every year in the UK and, although treatments have improved dramatically in recent years, sadly 100 of these will not survive and the remainder go through several years of gruelling treatment.

1.3 We campaign to protect children at risk of developing leukaemia and other cancers and seek to raise awareness of the association between leukaemia and high voltage overhead power lines. Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMFs) are produced by electrical power wherever electricity is generated, distributed or used. High voltage overhead power lines produce elevated levels of EMFs.

1.4 We ask Government to protect children and young people by preventing them from being exposed to the potentially harmful EMFs associated with high voltage overhead power lines.

2. Our campaign Objectives

2.1 Reports suggest that children living within 200m of high voltage power lines from birth have a 69% increased risk of developing leukaemia in childhood (Draper et al 2005). The statistical association between EMFs and childhood leukaemia is clear, but the causal mechanism is not yet understood. CHILDREN with CANCER UK funds vital research to improve understanding of this and other causes of childhood leukaemia and other cancers.

2.2 Whilst important research is being undertaken to clarify the association between power lines and an increased risk of developing childhood leukaemia, we believe that the precautionary principle should be applied to the development of homes and schools in relation to existing power lines. Further we believe that, as a minimum requirement, new power lines should be sited away from homes and schools.

2.3 We believe that our campaign fits into the wider debate about the quality of the design and sustainability of our communities, the importance of open spaces and the need to take public health issues in to consideration in planning applications.

3. Public Health

Public Health England

3.1 We support the creation of Public Health England and recognise the important role it seeks to play in reducing premature death and illness.

3.2 As set out in the White Paper, “Healthy Lives, Healthy People”, we support ring-fencing of funds for public health and through this, support the Department of Health’s recognition that “prevention is better than cure”.

Role of Local Government in Public Health

3.3 We support the creation of Directors of Public Health as employed by the Local Authority. We agree that they will be important ambassadors of health issues for the local population. We very much hope that this role will enable Directors of Public Health to lead discussion about how the ring-fenced money is spent to improve health in their communities.

3.4 CHILDREN with CANCER UK believes that public health considerations should be observed in all planning applications. However, more broadly, we think that as part of the development of sustainable communities, it is imperative that public health be given full consideration in the planning and development of our communities.

3.5 We support the premise, as advocated by the creation of Public Health England, that “prevention is better than cure” and urge Directors of Public Health to promote the precautionary principle with regard to the location of high voltage overhead power lines in relation to homes and schools.

3.6 We agree with the Marmot Review, that the empowerment of individuals and local communities is an effective way to deliver public health improvements and that this requires participatory decision-making at the local level.

Abolition of the Health Protection Agency

3.7 We are cautiously supportive of the combination of the public health bodies, such as the Health Protection Agency, under the umbrella of Public Health England, and look forward to future clarification and further information. We hope that Public Health England will seek to integrate the expertise, advice and influence of these organisations to improve public health services.

3.8 We look forward in due to course to further information relating to the roles and responsibilities within Public Health England which reflects the work previously undertaken by the Health Protection Agency. In the future we hope that Public Health England will be in a stronger position than the Health Protection Agency has been previously to take a more long-term and strategic view of public health issues.

The Secretary of State

3.9 We look forward to working closely with the Secretary of State throughout the development of the Public Health Responsibility Deal. We support the Secretary of State’s ambition to make it easier for people to make healthy choices in their lives.


3.10 We will believe that an important role for Public Health England will be its collation of public health data. From our experience, it can be difficult to access comprehensive data and in some cases can include considerable variation and inaccuracies.

Marmot Review

3.11 We support the six policy objectives identified in Professor Marmot’s final report. Of particular relevance to CHILDREN with CANCER UK is the commitment to:

Give every child the best start in life.

Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities.

3.12 We agree with Professor Marmot that ‘delivering these policy objectives will require action by central and local government, the NHS, the third and private sectors and community groups. National policies will not work without effective local delivery systems focused on health equity in all policies’. We support this premise and we look forward to working collaboratively to help deliver these objectives.

3.13 By ensuring that public health issues are given consideration in the development of our communities, we believe that the Government can meet these two policy objectives as identified in the Marmot Review. We urge the Government to give real consideration to our concerns and encourage Public Health England to promote the development of considered and sustainable communities in order to improve public health.

3.14 As mentioned previously, we agree with the Marmot Review’s conclusion that the empowerment of individuals and local communities is an effective way to deliver public health improvements and that this requires participatory decision-making at a local level.

4. Evidence

4.1 In 2002 the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO IARC) defined ELF EMFs as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and classified them as a class 2b carcinogen. Whilst the causes of childhood leukaemia are not well understood, with increasing incidence in the 20th century, it’s believed that lifestyle and/or environmental factors may be involved. One such consideration is the Extremely Low Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields (ELF EMF) that are produced by high voltage overhead power lines.

4.2 A UK study (Draper et al 2005) found that children living from a birth address within 200 metres of a high voltage overhead power line had a 69% increased risk of developing leukaemia and those born between 200 and 600 metres had a 23% increase in risk, compared with children born more than 600 metres away. This report, published in the British Medical Journal and funded by the Department of Health, is the largest single study of childhood cancer and power lines. It used the records of almost 30,000 children with cancer in England and Wales.

4.3 The Council of Europe recently called for precaution concerning power lines and the potential dangers of exposure to ELF EMF. They state: “One must respect the precautionary principle and revise the current threshold values; waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof can lead to very high health and economic costs, as was the case in the past with asbestos, leaded petrol and tobacco.” We support this position and urge Government to adopt similar measures.

June 2011

Prepared 28th November 2011