New reports in Australia and overseas by health authorities have made damming assessments of claims by anti-wind farm campaigners about the potential health impacts of wind turbines.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act – following a request by the pro-wind NGO Friends of the Earth – reveal that the NSW department made a critical assessment of the claims made against wind farms by an apparently linked network of anti-wind groups.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, health officials from the department repeatedly warned ministers that there was no evidence for ”wind turbine syndrome”, a collection of physical and psychological symptoms including sleeplessness, headaches and high blood pressure that some people believe are caused by the noise of spinning blades.
The report was released in the same week as a new study by American health and engineering experts has found no evidence that wind turbines can directly cause wind turbine syndrome. That report, prepared by health and engineering experts in the state of Massachusetts, which is preparing to ramp its wind power capacity from around 40MW to 2GW by 2020, found that people living near turbines may become annoyed by noise, vibrations, or shadow flickering, but concluded there was no evidence that psychological distress or mental health problems were caused by proximity to turbines.
The US study is highly critical of the work of Nina Pierpont, an author frequently cited by anti-wind campaigners in Australia and overseas. The US experts said her studies were not rigorous enough to draw any real conclusions, and found that no other study had so far revealed a link between noise from wind turbines and physical symptoms.
“Limitations to the design employed make it impossible for this work to contribute any evidence to the question of whether there is a causal association between wind turbine exposure and health effects,” the report said. “Given this, the very term “Wind Turbine Syndrome” is misleading as it implies a causal role for wind turbines in the described health symptoms.”
The NSW health officials were similarly damming of Pierpont in their report last year, saying hers study was not a rigorous epidemiological study; had not been properly peer reviewed, nor has it been published in the peer-reviewed literature. “The findings are not scientifically valid, with major methodological flaws stemming from the poor design of the study,” the officials said, according to the SMH.
Unlike Massachusetts, the assessment by health officials in NSW appeared to be largely ignored by the NSW Government, which decided to tighten the rules relating to wind turbines and proposes setbacks of 2kms from homes for wind turbines. “I take the view that the jury is still out on the health impacts from wind farms,” Planning minister Brad Hazzard was quoted as telling the SMH.
Friends of the earth campaigner Cam Walker said the FOI documents suggest the claims of the anti-wind energy group to be of the ‘lowest category of scientific evidence’, and had major methodological flaws. He said it was particularly critical of the Waubra Foundation, a prominent anti wind group with links to the Landscape Guardians.
“The documents from NSW Health cast considerable doubts over the fear-based claims of the Waubra Foundation,” Walker said in a statement on Tuesday.
However, lobbying from anti wind groups in Victoria and NSW have resulted in legislation which wind farm developers say make it all but impossible to go ahead with new projects – putting up to $15 billion of proposed investments under risk. The NSW proposals are only in draft form and are yet to be finalized. In South Australia, which has the highest wind penetration in the world, the conservation Opposition has also flagged new rules to resdtrict wind farm developments should it win power in the next election.
Recent surveys by CSIRO and Pacific Hydro found that the overwhelming majority of respondents supported wind energy.
“Fear about health impacts of any technology plays on legitimate concerns people might hold about anything unfamiliar. Yet, as has been noted by a growing number of medical authorities around the world, there is no credible evidence of any casual link between turbines and ill health,” Walker said.