More wind turbine research raises eyebrows

A government pledge for further research into wind turbine syndrome has one academic questioning the true motives.

Another storm has hit in the protracted saga of so-called ‘wind turbine syndrome’.

It’s the news that the Abbott Government is pressing on with plans to commission independent research into the effects of wind farms on human health.

Many senior doctors and researchers say the research is not needed: there is no robust evidence that wind turbines threaten human beings.

We don’t need any more effort to discover there is nothing there.

Dr Michael Vagg, a clinical senior lecturer at Deakin University’s school of medicine, took to the web to describe the plan as “probably the most futile bit of spending yet announced in the term of the Abbott administration and is exactly the sort of tomfoolery you might expect of a Cabinet which has no room for science”.

“Why?” he wrote on the Conversation website.

“Because there is no controversy about the so-called wind turbine syndrome. It doesn’t exist as a thing.

“Wind turbines have no health effects on the surrounding populations. That’s not just my personal opinion. It’s the overwhelming scientific consensus. The book is closed, the story is written, the circus has folded its tents and moved on.”

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Many critics of wind turbine syndrome — a term coined in 2009 by a paediatrician, Professor Nina Pierpont, also the wife of a US anti-wind farm activist — will point you to the conclusions of Australia’s best-known and most auspicious medical research agency — the NHMRC.

Back in 2010, the NHMRC conducted a rapid review of the evidence on the links between the turbines and ill health.

It ran to just 11 pages but went into some detail about the claims of how the low-frequency sounds emitted by the turbines are causing debilitating health problems, including hypertension, insomnia, anxiety, headaches and even heart problems.

It concluded: “The health effects of many forms of renewable energy generation, such as wind farms, have not been assessed to the same extent as those from traditional sources ... [But] this review of the available evidence, including journal articles, surveys, literature reviews and government reports, supports the statement that: There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms and that any potential impact on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines.”

Seems fair enough. But the NHMRC has not left it there. After more brainstorming, it is now on the verge of releasing its follow-up — a much talked-about draft position statement and information paper.

“All relevant ministers and government departments” will be briefed on the draft before its public release, such is its potential significance, an NHMRC spokesperson says.

The draft will then be open for public submissions and, after 45 days, the position statement and information paper will be finalised by the NHMRC.

While the world awaits, the government is pressing ahead to fill any possible vacuum in the research literature. Prime Minster Tony Abbott has said that he understands people’s concerns about wind farms, which “are sprouting like mushrooms all over the fields of our country”.

His plan to commission more independent research was outlined last year in the Coalition’s resources and energy policy.

It claims research is needed because we lack “reliable and demonstrably independent evidence” that allows “vested interests on either side of the debate to promulgate questionable information to support their respective cases”.

This has been welcomed by one of the most outspoken and controversial organisations in the whole debate — the Waubra Foundation.

Headed by Sarah Laurie, a former rural GP, the foundation is either fighting for the future health of communities living under the shadowy spectre of wind turbines (according to supporters) or is a front organisation for mining interests (say the critics).

Dr Laurie told Australian Doctor: “What we would like to see is the full spectrum acoustic monitoring inside and outside people’s homes, together with concurrent physiological monitoring of sleep (EEG), blood pressure, heart rate and sequential cortisol measurements, in order to determine what frequencies are inducing the physiological responses which so many residents are reporting.”

She claimed: “So far that has never been done anywhere in the world with respect to wind turbine noise and it will certainly settle this ongoing rubbish about the symptoms being induced by ‘scaremongering’ rather than sound frequencies.”

Dr Vagg is sceptical, coming up with his own conspiracy theory — suggesting the government may not be motivated by its self-proclaimed enthusiasm for disinterested, robust, scientific inquiry.

In his The Conversation article, he says: “It would potentially suit the Abbott Government politically to keep this ‘manufactroversy’ going. The conservative side of politics in this country has a well-documented preference for fossil fuel production, largely based on economic arguments ... Using fringe science to advance political ends is nothing new.”

The NHMRC draft position statement is due later this month. But if you are waiting for this debate to blow over some time soon, don’t hold your breath.