Wind farms and health claims: blowing smoke

26 February 2014 — Wind farms are okay. The National Health and Medical Research Council says so. It’s found no link to ill health but researchers commenting on the latest report, Australia’s 20th since 2003, say what there could be is a link to is quacks, or cults.

While Australia’s peak body for health and medical research prepared to release its draft statement and information paper this week, the Abbott government was busy pushing forward with yet another review of wind farms and health.

Another waste of money, critics said, understandably, in light of the NHMRC review, which has been underway since 2012.

Simon Chapman, a professor of public health from the University of Sydney, recently voiced his concern that Prime Minister Tony Abbott was being influenced “by little more than a cult” in groups like the anti-wind Waubra Foundation, and that review after review had found no evidence of ill health effects from wind turbines.

“This [NHMRC] review is now the 20th published since 2003 to conclude that the evidence linking wind turbines directly to adverse health effects is poor,” he said. “The anti-wind farm lobby will predictably reject this report.”

See our previous articles:

A 2010 statement from the NHMRC said there was no issue provided appropriate planning rules were in place. A case of try and try again until you get the wrong answer, in this case.

The Clean Energy Council said the statement was another tick of approval for the wind industry.

“The NHMRC draft position statement is in line with advice from the New South Wales and Victorian health departments, which have both stated that noise below the hearing threshold cannot affect people’s health,” CEC policy director Russell Marsh said.

“The draft position from the NHMRC – that there was no reliable or consistent evidence that noise from wind turbines is associated with human health effects – should give peace of mind to those living near operating or proposed wind farms that their health will not be adversely affected.

The NHMRC review considered the existing scientific literature and examined possible impacts of wind farms on human health, including audible and inaudible noise.

Dinesh Kumar, a professor of biosignals at RMIT University, said the study confirmed research he was currently involved in, “that there are no specific health issues that can be identified due to the wind farms which are different from other locations.”

He did note some concerns, however.

“I would however like to mention that based on our earlier work, infrasound has the potential to travel longer distances than mentioned in this text,” Professor Kumar said.

“I would also like to mention that in my opinion, there is a lack of proper definition of the term ‘noise’ in an audio context in general, and this is perhaps the root cause of the argument in the community.

“As most of us would notice, noise is context dependent, but this is largely ignored in all scientific texts. This was included in my report to the EPA in 2013.”