A proposed explanation for thunderstorm asthma and leukemia risk near high-voltage power lines: a supported hypothesis

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Thunderstorm asthma and increased childhood leukemia risk near high-voltage power lines (HVPL) are occurrences whose mechanism of effect is not fully understood. This paper proposes and discusses a key similarity: both thunderstorms and HVPL generate a high enough electrical field in the environment to ionize nearby air and air-borne particles. I argue that the repeatedly demonstrated acute asthma response to pollen-laden air during thunderstorms is largely due to ionization of air-borne allergens, which adhere more readily and in greater quantity in the lungs than non-ionized particles. If these bind to mucous or phagocytic cells, it would enhance immune response. A rapid temperature drop and high ozone also seem to be drivers of thunderstorm asthma. This causal nexus provides strong support for the parallel situation of prolonged exposure to ionized particles near HVPL and an increased rate of childhood leukemia. Here, it is proposed that upwind carcinogens are ionized when passing HVPL and then residential and business areas. Published evidence for most steps are presented, but have not previously been published as a coherent whole, nor has it been suggested that the inhaled ionized micro-particle explanation for acute asthma may also explain development of childhood leukemia over time. The demonstrated series of events leading to increased deposition and retention of ionized particles in airways provides support for explaining both adverse health outcomes: acute thunderstorm asthma and increased risk of childhood leukemia near HVPL. Further support for this explanation of both outcomes is provided by effects of on-going proximity to highways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-65
Number of pages9
JournalElectromagnetic Biology and Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • childhood leukemia
  • ELF
  • ionized particles
  • lightning
  • pollen
  • power lines
  • Thunderstorm asthma

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