Being exposed to electromagnetic fields at work is linked to a higher risk of developing motor neurone disease (MND), research suggests.
Experts at Utrecht University in the Netherlands found a link between exposure to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – the most common type of MND.
ALS causes death within years
ALS causes weakness and wasting in the limbs. People tend to live for just 2 to 5 years from first experiencing symptoms.
In the UK, there are currently more than 5,000 people living with MND.
In the new study, Professor Roel Vermeulen examined data for 58,000 men and 6,573 women aged 55 to 69, who were followed for 17 years. Some 76 men and 60 women died of ALS during the study.
Those whose jobs had exposed them were more than twice as likely to develop ALS as those who had never been exposed through their work, the study suggested.
Furthermore, those in the top 30% of cumulative exposure (duration multiplied by intensity) were nearly twice as likely to develop the disease.
The researchers stressed the study was observational.
Prof Vermeulen said: “Jobs with relatively higher extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields levels are for example electric line installer, repairers and cable jointer, welders, sewing-machine operators and aircraft pilots.
“These are essentially jobs where workers are placed in close proximity to appliances that use a lot of electricity.”
He said the effect of the environment “appears substantial”, adding: “The present study adds evidence to previous studies that have suggested that extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields is related to ALS risk.”
Brian Dickie, director of research development at the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA), said: “The results suggest that exposure to high levels of extremely low frequency magnetic fields is associated with an increased risk of developing MND.
“However, this only becomes apparent when relatively large numbers of people are studied, indicating that any such effect is a very subtle one. It does not mean that exposure causes MND.”
Source: New Scientist
Date Published: April 10, 2017
Author: Jonathan Brown