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World’s largest wind farm study finds sleep disturbances aren’t related to turbine noise

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The Conversation

The Canadian study found turbines produce a maximum of forty six decibels, around the same as a dishwasher. Shutterstock/SUWIT NGAOKAEW

The Canadian study found turbines produce a maximum of forty six decibels, around the same as a dishwasher. Shutterstock/SUWIT NGAOKAEW

During the Abbott government, the often recalcitrant Senate cross bench was thrown a big, juicy bone plainly intended to sweeten their disposition toward government bills which needed their support to pass. The anti- wind farm Senators were outraged with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) 2015 report on wind farms which found no strong evidence of health effects from turbine exposure. There have been 25 reviews with similar findings published since 2003. The government may have promised these Senators the gift of the office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner which by February 2015 had received just 42 complaints about 12 wind farms, seven of which have not even been built.

In August 2015, the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines published its report. The Committee was chaired by Senator John Madigan, an open opponent of wind farms, and consisted of eight members. Six of these had form in savagely criticising wind farms. The content of their final report was therefore utterly predictable, with Labor’s Senator Anne Urquhart’s minority dissenting report shining like a beacon of respect for evidence.

There was no greater display of the naked demonising agenda of the Madigan-aligned group’s anti wind farm show trial than the total absence in their report of any mention of the world’s largest and most important study of the question of whether living near wind farms was harmful to health.

Health Canada’s Wind Turbine Noise and Health study published its preliminary findings on October 30, 2014. Senator Urquhart’s minority report noted that many submissions to the inquiry recognised the great contribution of the Health Canada “Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study” to the body of knowledge on the potential impacts of wind farms on human health. But the 181-page report made no mention of the study.

The study data were collected between May and September 2013 from adults aged 18 to 79 (606 males, 632 females), randomly selected from each household. They lived between 0.25 and 11.22km from wind turbines in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Prince Edward Island.

In March, the Health Canada study group published its full findings in a series of open-access papers in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, the world’s most cited acoustical research journal, and in Sleep, a leading journal in sleep research. Here is a summary of some of its chief findings.

Do wind turbines increase the prevalence of health problems and sleep disturbance?

The researchers assessed self-reported sleep quality over the past 30 days using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and a wrist monitor to record the total sleep time, and the rate of awakening bouts and how long these last, for a total of 3,772 nights.

Averaged over a year, the measured sound of the turbines reached a maximum of 46 dB(A) with an average of 35.6. Forty six decibels is around the sound of a dishwasher operating in a kitchen.

Since January 2012, I have collected and catalogued a remarkable 247 different symptoms and diseases wind farm opponents claim are caused or exacerbated by wind turbines in humans and animals.

But the Health Canada study found that:

Self-reported health effects (e.g., migraines, tinnitus, dizziness, etc.), sleep disturbance, sleep disorders, quality of life, and perceived stress were not related to wind turbine noise levels.

Both self-reported and objectively measured sleep outcomes consistently revealed no apparent pattern or statistically significant relationship to wind turbine noise levels.

But, unsurprisingly, sleep was affected by whether residents had other health conditions (including sleep disorders), their caffeine consumption, and whether they were personally annoyed by blinking lights on the wind turbines.

Sleeping problems affect around 29% of all communities, regardless of whether they are near wind farms or not.

Do wind turbines cause measurable stress?

The researchers used a recognised scale to measure self-reported stress (the perceived stress scale – PSS) as well as recording hair cortisol concentrations, resting blood pressure, and heart rate.

However, the majority (77%–89%) of the variance in the perceived stress scale (PSS) scores was unaccounted for by differences in these objective measures. And wind turbine noise exposure had no apparent influence on any of them.

Again, the study concluded that the findings did not support an association between exposure to wind turbines and elevated self-reported or objectively defined measures of stress.

Do wind turbines annoy people?

Expressions such as being “hot and bothered” are well understood. When people are annoyed by something in their life, this can lead to the onset of symptoms. Being annoyed is not health problem in itself, but chronic annoyance can have health consequences.

The Health Canada study reported:

Visual and auditory perception of wind turbines as reported by respondents increased significantly with increasing wind turbine noise levels as did high annoyance toward several wind turbine features, including the following: noise, blinking lights, shadow flicker, visual impacts, and vibrations … Beyond annoyance, results do not support an association between exposure to wind turbine noise up to 46 dBA and the evaluated health-related endpoints.

The prevalence of residents reporting that they were very or extremely annoyed by wind turbine noise increased from 2.1% to 13.7% when sound pressure levels were below 30 dB compared to when the noise was between 40–46 dB.

So in summary, those who found the turbines annoying, tended to be those who lived nearer to them.

What factors predict who gets annoyed?

Even for the most annoying features, more than 86% of residents were not very or extremely annoyed by them.

There is much variation among our families, friends working environments in the way people react to noise. A 2014 review of symptoms related to modern technology (including wind turbines) found those who were more anxious, worried, concerned, or annoyed by a source that they believed to be a health risk more commonly reported symptoms than those without such beliefs.

In this Health Canada study, while proximity to the turbines was statistically significantly associated with annoyance, the relationship was weak. It was better explained by factors such as holding negative views about the visual impact of the turbines (not liking the look of them), being able to the see aircraft warning blinking lights, the perception of vibrations when the turbines were turning and high concern about physical safety. These are all perceptual variables that bothered some but not most.

Less than 10% of the participants derived personal benefit from the turbines (such as income from hosting the turbines). Deriving personal benefit had a statistically significant, although modest relationship to not being annoyed. The authors concluded:

these findings would support initiatives that facilitate direct or indirect personal benefit among participants living within a community in close proximity to wind power projects.

This suggests that strategies such as community sharing of rental incomes, offers of free electricity or home improvement and amenity payments may reduce annoyance.

If a Labor government is elected in July, the future of the ill-conceived Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner is likely to be vulnerable, as it may well be with the expected departure of several wind farm-obsessed cross bench senators in the double dissolution, should the Coalition be returned.

State governments are increasingly removing wind farm planning barriers and the availability now of the Health Canada health report should drive another large stake through the forces determined to slow the growth of wind energy in Australia.

Source: The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.The Conversation  

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  • George Papadopoulos

    Old news, same rubbish…

  • DevMac

    What about dogs that bark at night, or car alarms that go off, or neighbours parties, or an airport, or a main road, or emergency vehicle sirens or police helicopters? The thing that makes the demonisation of wind turbines an obvious negative reaction to green energy is that it’s detractors don’t seem to judge it on an even playing field.

    CSG “fracking” and large scale coal mines are promoted by the Government whilst at the same time it spends money on investigating the potential negative health effects of wind farms. Just because a technology is in use (coal) doesn’t mean it’s a proven healthy option. In the case of coal we’re using technology that’s been around before anyone had any concern about health effects at all, and the few reports that I’ve read about appear to say that the burning of coal is pretty bad for the health of humanity as a whole.

    Enough investigation has been done to clear wind farms of the numerous crimes against humanity of which it’s been accused. Enough to highlight that those still tilting at them must have their opinions backed by bank accounts that may shrink as wind energy expands.

    • David Hall

      WELL SAID!

    • Barri Mundee

      But for a tiny number of contrarians I think its a case of “follow the money” when it comes to the campaign against wind, despite all the evidence that wind turbines do not deserve to be demonised.

      Fossil fuel interests are undoubtedly backing this campaign to delay the inevitable uptake of renewables. Its a battle for hearts and minds.

    • Mike Shurtleff

      Yep. Powerful incumbent fossil interests standing forthrightly behind a few nutballs.

  • Vox

    I always recon that stand-alone assessments are not particularly useful.
    Much better to do a comparative analysis between the health effects of a wind farm (from construction to decommissioning) to that of a coal-fired power plant (including the mining and transport of coal, and the flow-on health effects of these).

    I believe the stark differences would quickly come to light: one has the effect of mildly annoying a few people, while the other results in significant premature deaths and a myriad of health conditions linked to polluted air.

  • Shane

    Good news then ,,, trustpower’s mick head can now give me a written garentee that my health shan’t be comprised and the value of my property either, , although last time l asked for it l was told “O no we couldn’t do that”
    He also said ” I’m not going to lie to you they are noisy” that got him in a bit of strife with his boss l heard,
    Its also good news for sydney , they can now be built along the coast down towards Wollongong… or the blue mountains at the back of penrith, , and dont give me it wouldn’t be suitable, , there wouldn’t be better locations. Why not? Obvious hey,,,
    I was always taught as a kid , dont do to others that of which you wouldn’t want done to yourself,

    • Alan S

      They’re built everywhere there’s reliable wind and that includes the ACT. Did you read what Joe Hockey said about those at Lake George?

      • Shane

        Please,, what part of nsw / vic doesn’t, , the only diff is the coast will get afternoon onshore winds where inland and here more so it drops to dead calm.. and that being at peak demand l might add .. you bought up the act,, they want renawables more than all, why not build them within their borders? And dont give me there isnt any suitable sites , they have some of the best..

    • Mike Shurtleff

      “by February 2015 had received just 42 complaints about 12 wind farms, seven of which have not even been built”
      A maximum of 46 dB …the worst case …and you’re complaining …really!
      I live in Washington State in USA. Farmers in Eastern Washington love their wind turbines. They get paid rent for the land use, same as for cell towers. Very nice extra source of income for them and no, the noise is not a problem for them.
      Yes, they will mar your view in a pristine remote area, same as the Wind Turbines in Holland, a major tourist attraction. Not as bad as power lines which you’ve had now for so long that you don’t even notice that ugly junk.

      You don’t need any health guaranty when they simply do not cause health problems.

    • Mike Shurtleff

      Man up weenie boy! Promote more Solar PV + Batteries which can be located out of site in remote valleys. Get involved in a more constructive way and help site those turbines in better places where will effect property values less. Don’t stand in front of progress toward lower cost, cleaner, sustainable energy. Nobody ever contributed to a better life for all by blocking progress toward improved solutions.

      • Shane

        One thing you wouldn’t do is call that to my face or you would be broken jaw boy..
        Lower cost ,, ? Hardly , sa, germany , dearest energy in the world ×2,
        germany ,denmark both have ended subsidies to wind adding just not cost effective.
        700 tonnes of concrete, worst product on the environment to produce, blades that are impossible to recycle , on machines lasting 10- 15 years at best,, google the gare family and see how they feel about their 20 turbines, , progress you say ? Only in the eyes of the left..
        I have 10kw solar and stand alone off grid and been in the middle of watching our community turn on each other ( given its only a few hosts, ) for 8 years ,,
        Before you go with the envying neighbor we told them to get off the property. .
        Dont tell us to put up with them when cities wont,,.

        • Mike Shurtleff

          Just call’in it like I see it. Foolish fear. Your threat is lame.
          Germany has poor Solar PV and Wind resources compared to Australia.
          “700 tonnes of concrete” Really? You’re going to compare that to pollution effects of mining and burning coal, particularly brown coal? Lame.
          “blades that are impossible to recycle” So bury’em and you have carbon sequestration. It’s not like they might pollute the water like ash from burning coal does. Lame.
          “machines lasting 10- 15 years at best” False. Over twice that. Fact in USA is they get replaced by Wind Turbines that produce twice the energy before they’re ready to retire …and that was the old tech.
          You are ignorant and afraid. Foolish.
          I suggested some more positive approaches and you ignored. Rage on. It won’t help your cause. Positive alternatives can sometimes bring apposing parties together and change direction. …and no life is not always fair. Grow up and get over it.
          I do see the negatives, but they beat the heck out of burning coal.

          Promote more Solar PV + Batteries which can be located out of site in remote valleys. Get involved in a more constructive way and help site those turbines in better places where will effect property values less. Don’t stand in front of progress. I for one will push you out of the way, even if it means a broken jaw. I am not afraid of such nonsense. Grew up with it. …on the other hand, if I can help make Solar PV and/or Wind an even better solution for all involved, then I’m in.

          “progress you say ? Only in the eyes of the left.”
          No, clearly lower cost, cleaner, and sustainable for the future, energy is just progress, period. Turn down the testosterone and hate long enough to consider that. It’s what can be done to make it better, not what can be done to stop a better solution than coal. The latter is simply not going to fly. Get over yourself and grow up.

  • Alan S

    Ironically on of the most vocal anti-wind senators is Bob Day who made his fortune in the house building industry. Given his complaints about noisy wind turbines, I assume his construction sites are as quiet as libraries.
    Anyone putting their hand up for Urban Noise Commissioner after they’ve lost their seat in July?

  • Mike Shurtleff

    Oh snap!
    What a surprise!
    How many more studies must be done to prove this point?