ANTI-PYLON campaigners have been dealt a major blow after an EU report failed to find any evidence of a major health threat to humans from high voltage power lines.
However, it did leave the door open for more research.
The "preliminary opinion" published by a European Commission committee of experts said most studies on extremely low magnetic frequencies – the type emitted by high voltage power cables – "have not found any effects".
It comes at a crucial time in the debate over EirGrid's plans for a €1bn upgrade of its network, which involves hundreds of kilometres of overhead power lines on pylons.
The findings will feed into a Government review on potential health effects announced last week by Environment Minister Phil Hogan.
A series of public meetings focusing on the health implications of EirGrid's upgrade projects are planned for the coming months as the European and local elections loom.
While the report's findings do not support opponents' claims that there are real health risks, they do suggest a need for further research in the area. It said that two experimental studies had identified individuals who were affected by exposure. But the findings of these studies were too unalike for conclusions to be drawn.
Further research would be needed before any weight could be given to these studies, it found. The committee noted new epidemiological studies which were consistent with earlier findings of an increased risk of childhood leukaemia after long-term exposure to magnetic fields.
However, it said there was a lack of experimental support for the findings, as well as shortcomings in the studies. The findings were published by the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks.
The report involved a review of nearly 500 scientific reports and studies on electromagnetic fields, all of which were conducted in the past five years.
EU member states, members of the public and interest groups have now been invited to comment on the findings. A final report, taking into account these submissions, as well as public hearings in March, is expected to be published later this year.
Some experts have previously stated there is a link between high voltage power lines and childhood leukaemia.
Frustratingly, the EU report, while being sceptical of the link, does not make a conclusive finding on this. It does cite a number of studies which found no link, including one in California.
It also cites a German report which found no increased risk of leukaemia in children whose fathers were exposed to extremely low frequency magnetic fields; and an Australian study on childhood lymphocytic leukaemia also found no association between the disease and the exposure of mothers or fathers to such magnetic fields before the child was born.
However, it also found pooled analysis of recent studies which suggested a link. But it concluded that it remained difficult to judge if this was down to an actual link or as a result of methodological shortcomings in the studies.
Interested parties have until April 16 to contribute an opinion if they want to affect the outcome of the final report.