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EPA Report To Link Cancer and Electromagnetic Fields

December 13, 1990

Undated (AP) _ An Environmental Protection Agency report linking electromagnetic fields to leukemia and brain cancer in children will be released next week after being held up by the White House science adviser, the EPA said Thursday.

Some EPA scientists said the White House was wrong to delay the report. But the White House science adviser’s office told the agency it was concerned the report would alarm the public, EPA officials said.

Similar reservations were expressed by Assistant Secretary of Health James Mason, the EPA officials said.

″They were concerned not about the accuracy of the report,″ said Robert McGaughy, who supervised the report’s preparation. ″They were concerned about how people would react to the news. There is a concern that people will take too seriously the suggestions that there may be some connection with cancer.″

Neither White House science adviser D. Allan Bromley nor Mason were available for interviews Thursday, their offices said.

The report looked at all kinds of electromagnetic fields, from those produced by high-power electrical transmission lines to those produced by household appliances.

Virtually everyone is exposed to such fields every day.

Epidemiological, or statistical, studies have linked residential exposures to childhood cancer and occupational exposures to cancer in adults, said David Savitz of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the author of one of the most important of those studies.

Laboratory studies have suggested that living cells can respond to electromagnetic fields, and researchers have hypotheses as to why the fields might theoretically cause cancer, he said.

″There are credible scientific suggestions of adverse health effects from these exposures, but the overall body of evidence is not conclusive,″ said Savitz.

The EPA report is a review of all existing studies on electromagnetic fields and cancer. A draft prepared last summer concluded that the studies ″show a consistent pattern of response which suggests, but does not prove, a causal link″ between household power distribution systems and certain cancers in children.

The children’s cancers were leukemia, brain cancer and lymphoma, the report said.

The draft has been revised once, but ″our current conclusions are very similar,″ McGaughy said.

David Bayliss, one of the authors, said he was frustrated by the delay in releasing the report. He said it had been scheduled to go out Nov. 27.

″What is the use of having an Environmental Protection Agency if you’re going to withhold information from the public?″ Bayliss said. ″I thought the EPA was for letting people know about health problems, or possible health problems.″

McGaughy said the report was delayed because of questions raised by Bromley, and that Mason later expressed some of the same objections.

McGaughy said the questions were raised by Bromley at a meeting McGaughy and other EPA officials attended in Bromley’s office on Nov. 26, the day before the scheduled release.

The meeting with Mason took place Dec. 6, McGaughy said.

Erich Bretthauer, the EPA’s assistant administrator for research and development, said it was natural for Bromley and Mason to be involved, because an interagency federal committee that they oversee is also studying electromagnetic fields and health hazards.

″It is an important area. Many people have concerns about it, including Dr. Bromley’s office and Dr. Mason’s office,″ Bretthauer said. The report will be released next week, he said.

Bretthauer said Bromley and Mason disagreed with the EPA over the nuances of the epidemiological studies considered in the report. ″I don’t think they see the data the way we do,″ Bretthauer said. When asked to clarify the disagreements, he said, ″I’m going to refer you to them.″

In an earlier version, prepared last spring, the agency tentatively proposed classifying electromagnetic fields as a ″class B1″ carcinogen, meaning that they are a probable source of human cancer.

″But when it went through the peer review inside the agency, that recommendation was taken out - some say with malice, and some say without,″ said David Janes, the EPA administrator who commissioned the study. He is now retired from the EPA.

Janes said he thought the EPA report would have a great impact, because of the nature of the risk. ″I think it will create a lot of apprehension among folks, especially since this is one of those ‘you can’t see it, feel it or taste it.’ And an individual’s exposure is not under an individual’s control.″