Reason trumps fear in Australian debate on wind energy and sound

Reason trumps fear in Australian debate on wind energy and sound

A recently released report from Australia’s Senate Committee on Environment and Communications helps to set the record straight on wind energy and sound.

Senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon introduced a bill called the ‘Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment – (Excessive Noise from Wind Farms) Bill 2012′ intended to limit wind energy development because of claims of health effects from wind turbine sound. However, the Senate committee that considered it ultimately rejected it.

Why?   Because their examination of this issue revealed what many already know: the credible peer-reviewed scientific data and various government reports in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. refute the claim that wind farms cause negative health impacts.

For example, in their own independent reviews of available evidence, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council found that sound from wind turbines does not cause negative health impacts.

Furthermore, in the United States, the Massachusetts Departments of Public Health and Environmental Protection recently commissioned a panel of experts with backgrounds in public health, epidemiology, toxicology, neurology and sleep medicine, neuroscience, and mechanical engineering to analyze “the biological plausibility or basis for health effects of turbines (noise, vibration, and flicker).”

The Massachusetts review of existing studies included both peer-reviewed and non-peer reviewed literature.  Among the key findings of the panel were:

– There is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as “Wind Turbine Syndrome”;

– Claims that infrasound from wind turbines directly impacts the vestibular system (inner ear) have not been demonstrated scientifically. Available evidence shows that the infrasound levels near wind turbines cannot impact the vestibular system;

– The strongest epidemiological study suggests that there is not an association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health;

– None of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggests an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, and headache/migraine; and

– Scientific evidence suggests that shadow flicker does not pose a risk for eliciting seizures as a result of photic stimulation.

The Senate committee in Australia received about 165 comments, heard from witnesses and examined the issue carefully. They found that even though there are more than 1,345 turbines operating in Australia, the number of health-related complaints about wind projects (only 40) was small “in proportion to the number of people living near these facilities.”   They added, “The numbers also vary greatly from one facility to the next, for reasons not apparently related to the number of residents in the area.”

Second, when examining the health-related concerns, the committee expressed concern that health complaints were being generated by “the reproduction and dissemination of claims about adverse health impacts–claims not grounded in the peer-reviewed literature currently available.’’

And, the majority of the complaints that expressed concern about health effects were from individuals concerned about future projects, not projects that are actually operational. Specifically, the committee explained that they “received just over 160 submissions, of which a little under 140 supported the bill and/or expressed concern about noise effects. Of these, the majority were from people worried about whether they might experience noise or health effects from proposed wind farms, rather than from people who claimed to have actually experienced annoyance or other adverse effects. The submissions related to a minority of Australia’s wind farm operations.”

Furthermore, regarding the issue of infrasound (a subaudible sound often cited by wind energy opponents), the committee quotes respected scientist Dr. Geoff Leventhall, who explains that, “there is no mystery about infrasound, but it has been falsely used by those opposed to wind turbines in order to alarm others, and also as a distraction, which they know will be difficult and time consuming to work on, whilst at the same time they ask for a moratorium on further constructions until the work is done.”

Finally, the committee examined why, if wind turbines don’t cause health effects, people say they do.  The answer is simple, it’s the “Nocebo” (similar to the better-known placebo) effect. This phenomenon explains that individuals show symptoms because they are worried about suffering symptoms, not because of any real health effects. Using infrasound as an example, the committee reviewed a study that used real and fake infrasound to demonstrate that expectations of health effects lead to reports of health effects.  The committee’s report explained that,

“Late in the inquiry process, the committee was provided with recent research, peer reviewed and accepted for publication by the leading journal Health Psychology, but not yet released. The research comprises a controlled double blind study, in which subjects were exposed to infrasound and sham infrasound. Fifty-four participants were randomised to high or low expectancy groups, and presented audiovisual information, integrating material from the internet, designed to invoke either high or low expectations that exposure to infrasound causes specified symptoms.

"The authors' results and conclusions were:

"High expectancy participants reported significant increases, from preexposure assessment, in the number and intensity of symptoms experienced during exposure to both infrasound and sham infrasound. There were no symptomatic changes in the low expectancy group.

"Conclusion: Healthy volunteers, when given information about the expected physiological effect of infrasound, reported symptoms which aligned with that information, during exposure to both infrasound and sham infrasound. Symptom expectations were created by viewing information readily available on the Internet, indicating the potential for symptom expectations to be created outside of the laboratory, in real world settings. Results suggest psychological expectations could explain the link between wind turbine exposure and health complaints.”

Despite the solid scientific studies from numerous credible sources, scare tactics live on. But in this case, Australia’s Senate Committee on Environment and Communications wasn’t fooled.  The fact remains that the combined benefits of wind energy – no pollution or water usage associated with energy production, zero carbon emissions – all serve to make wind power far more healthy than other more traditional forms of energy production.

Related articles:

Nissenbaum paper on turbine sound recycles claims on wind energy and health already found inadequate by courts and expert panel, November 16, 2012
Negative oriented personality traits and wind turbine sound, November 2, 2012
Quality of research on wind farms published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, September 25, 2012
Wind energy associations: Wind 'one of safest forms of electricity', July 30, 2012
'Say No to Wind Turbines'–and Yes to ?, July 25, 2012
Fact check: On turbine sound, it's Bryce vs. science, July 24, 2012
Fourteen wind energy myths debunked, June 20, 2012
Wind turbines not a threat to human health, another study finds, May 31, 2012
Fact check: Lomborg lacking on wind's economics, emissions reductions, March 23, 2012
Public opinion watch: Ontarians: Wind power one of safest forms of electricity generation, March 6, 2012
Opinion: Wind turbines are good for our health, March 2, 2012
Review of wind turbine sound studies gives debate needed balance, February 28, 2012
Anti-wind-farm ‘astroturfers’ in Australia, February 27, 2012
NBC4's 'iReporter' lacks context on wind turbine sound, February 14, 2012
Fact check: Bryce misleads again on land, sound, resource use, January 31, 2012
Despite science, wind turbine sound sparks discussion in Wisconsin, January 30, 2012
Massachusetts clears wind of health effects after independent experts review evidence, January 20, 2012
Opinion: Dr. W. David Colby: Turbines and health, December 2, 2011
Canadian researchers: No direct link between wind turbines and health, November 29, 2011
Wind power: A quiet solution to climate change, June 27, 2011
Sierra Club Canada 1.1: Time to confront anti-wind fear campaign, June 15, 2011
Environmental Defence (Canada): 'No basis' for health impact claims, June 6, 2011
Sierra Club Canada: Time to confront anti-wind disinformation campaign, June 3, 2011
WINDPOWER report: New study finds minimal low-frequency and infrasound impact from wind turbines, May 25, 2011
Does the sound of money soothe Wind Turbine Syndrome?, April 25, 2011
WHO guidelines on sound are … guidelines, March 28, 2011
Scientists, doctor weigh in on wind and health, November 30, 2010
Wind turbine sound: The neighbors speak, March 18, 2010
Expert panel concludes wind turbine sounds not harmful to human health, December 15, 2009




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