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NHMRC pours another $3.3m into wind turbine and health research

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Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council has sought to justify the allocation of $3.3 million in funding to two new studies into the effects of wind farms on human health, even after more than 20 reviews – including its own research into the subject – have found no “consistent evidence” of a connection.

The NHMRC has awarded UNSW professor Guy Marks $1.94 million, to study the health impacts of infrasound generated by wind turbines, and another $1.36 million to Flinders University’s Peter Catcheside to investigate whether wind farms disturb sleep, compared with traffic noise.

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In a statement on Tuesday, NHMRC CEO Anne Kelso said the targeted funding was warranted, due to the poor quality of existing research on the subject.

“These grants directly support the Australian government’s commitment to determine any actual or potential effects of wind farms,” Kelso said.

And committed it has been; the anti-wind efforts of the Abbott government have ranged from its support of endless senate inquiries into the impact of wind energy to the PM’s own admission that his government’s whole strategy since the election had been to reduce, or stop, the building of new “visually awful” wind turbines.

But the call for further “targeted” research has been criticised, with NSW and Victorian health officials last year calling for the NHMRC “to make it clear that the total available evidence (parallel and direct) suggest[s] little health risk,” according to emails seen by Fairfax Media.

Simon Chapman, an emeritus professor of public health at the University of Sydney, told Fairfax that at least 25 reviews internationally had found “very little evidence of direct effects” from wind farms.

Effects that did exist could be put down to psycho-social factors, such as pre-existing antipathy to wind farms, resentment by locals who had received no benefit from turbines in their region, and anxiety of perceived health impacts, Professor Chapman said.

“It’s really quite disgraceful – it’s money literally poured down the drain,” he said.

“There is no health or medical agency in the world that would give any rational priority to wind farms and health.

“Potentially hundreds of researchers who had just missed on funding research would be angry as the money is being spent on wind farm research.”

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  • Ken Dyer

    It’s a pity that a similar amount could not be allocated to research about the damage to human health from fossil fuel burning, especifically coal. And while they are at it, consider the wasted heat generated, air pollution, damages from destroyed land and government subsidies. Let’s get real about renewable energy! There is no clear evidence that wind farms affect human health!

  • Vernham

    About time money was spent to look at the health effects of IWT’s. Can Chapman provide categorical evidence that IWT noise/sound/vibration emissions do not harm human health – no he cannot because the research has not been undertaken. In fact the industry, Chapman and others have fought hard to prevent it from being undertaken, to the detriment of peoples health now and into the future.
    If there is nothing to find then nothing will be found, if there is it will be found and Chapman and associates will be able to offer apologies to those they have wrongly ‘diagnosed’ as suffering from some imaginary ailment they call ‘Nocebo”.

    • Ian

      Maybe better to extend the study on the “noise/sound/vibration emissions” of cities, industry, HVAC plant, traffic/ truck routes, and waves breaking on beaches etc.

      Likely they would find turbines would have less negative effects and put things in perspective.

    • Nocebo seems to be more of a problem in Australia than the rest of the world most other parts of the world. May be the study should also analyse why Australians are more sensitive in this regard.

    • Andrew Woodroffe

      Nothing will be found will be the result given the 25 reviews quoted above did not find anything. We now have over 400GW of wind plant installed around the world, if there really were genuine issues, we would know by now.

      What an appalling waste of $3.3million.

      If you are into chasing industry cover ups, may I suggest you look up global warming denying scientists and their links to the fossil fuel industry. Start by reading ‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, dispatches from the front lines’, by Michael Mann.

  • MaxG

    I wish they would investigate the radiation from wireless and mobile phone towers… but then, this would hurt the industry they would like to see prosper.

  • Chris Fraser

    Australia the leader of producing junk science.

  • Pfitzy

    I’ll do it for $1.3 million. Report will be in on Monday – sorry, Tuesday – because of Easter Weekend.

    Thank me later, tax payers. That’s two million smackers I’ve just saved you

  • john

    Perhaps this may be of interest to the readers
    http://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-069X-10-78
    It is going to be difficult to sort out the infrasound from source as trees, grass, surf, traffic, trains, aeroplanes all emit infrasound.
    In the house environment one of the largest is that AC unit on the wall.

  • Les Johnston

    Seeing NHMRC have endless funds to support acoustics research, why not investigate the effects of cruise ship noise on human health? The White Bay cruise ship facility in Sydney causes local residents to be subjected to a 20dB(A) noise problem. This is a real noise problem and requires real action to stop a continuation of noise (and air) impacts on local residents. $3million from the Federal Government might provide a bit more stimulus for the NSW State Government to display some action on the magnitude of this noise problem.
    The difference between wind farm noise and cruise ship noise is significant. One is real and measurable while the other is somewhat speculative. Why not expend NHMRC funds on something that is real?

  • Phil

    Well offshore windfarms (many kilometers) seem to solve all the objections raised by residents affected by on land installations. The waves crashing onshore masks any offshore noise well and truly. I’ve even struggled to hear any aircraft noise on the Gold Coast Australia at Burleigh heads above the wave noise as planes turn to land about 1-2 km offshore

    It just means a larger upfront and ongoing cost. However due the more consistent winds offshore the extra costs may be offset by the larger generation capacity.

    Australia with it’s massive coastline and 95% of the population hugging the coastline should be in the “box seat” to put this in

    I have to admit i personally ruled out an entire regional area to relocate to due the wind farm activity there. Even very low “of an evening B road Highway noise” can travel for 20 kilometers in a rural area if the winds are right. It would be a tragedy for many to relocate so far out and have man made noises and have to keep windows shut at certain times.

    Any comments from industry people out there on the feasibility of Offshore Wind farms ?