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NHMRC Draft Information Paper: Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health submission

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Q1. Is the draft Information Paper presented and written in a manner that is easy to understand?: 

The Draft Information Paper begins with a clear statement, to give a summary of evidence if wind farms cause health effects, but the paper badly fails to develop that premise.  Instead of being based on all relevant evidence, the paper shows that it deliberately excludes the vast majority of the evidence gathered – from 2850 references identified by the reviewers, and a further 506 identified by the public, only 7 papers were chosen as suitable.  Criteria that exclude all but 0.2% of the evidence cannot claim that all relevant evidence was considered. Dismissing the fact that much of the evidence shows an association between wind turbines and adverse health effects, while then concluding the noise is similar to noise from many other natural or man-made sources is not accurate and cloaks the truth.

Q2. Does the draft Information Paper clearly outline how the evidence was reviewed and interpreted by NHMRC?: 

The Draft Information Paper shows the conditions of noise, shadow flicker, and electromagnetic radiation were used in the review, but also make it clear that the criteria for each of these were insufficient to address all health effects in the interpretation. Noise was assessed only in terms of level, but not based on the quality of the sound. It is inappropriate to consider noise as a time x intensity (dose) exposure only, as that excludes the quality of the noise. Cyclically varying noise from wind turbines is more bothersome than level noise. Loud noise at night is worse than level noise all day, yet wind turbines produce the loudest noise at night, when people try to rest.  There is no consideration that visual stimuli act to enhance noise stimuli, and do not simply act independently. (If something bothers you and you are reminded of that regularly it is more bothersome.)

Q3. Is there additional evidence on any health or health-related effects specifically related to distance from wind turbines or exposure to emissions from wind turbines?: 

Here, the assessment of noise in the Draft Information Paper in the form of intensity (dB) only is insufficient. The review should have considered not only those papers that dealt with the human exposure, but should also have looked at papers (many) that look into the differences that are created near wind power developments. Generally, when a system (even a human one) that formerly worked well has problems, a good clue is to look at what has changed, and there is a lot of research into the aspects of amplitude modulation of the sound, the cyclical nature of the sound, and the roughness of the sound from wind turbines. It is not just amplitude (for which distance is a poor surrogate, as it is only relevent in the case of a single wind turbine, but often people are impacted by far more than one turbine.

Q4. Is there additional evidence on the likely level of exposure to emissions produced by wind farms at nearby residences? : 

This criterion completely misses the point that it is not the “sound level” that makes it most noticeable and annoying, but the cyclical quality of the sound. To paraphrase Dr. Brigitte Schulte-Fortkamp, former Vice Chair of the Acoustical Society of America, and an engineering acoustics researcher from the Technical University of Berlin, “Assessment of sound by level alone is like assessing soup by temperature alone. One you will sup and say ‘pleasing’ while the other you will spit out and declare ‘awful’. The quality of the sound is very important like the flavour of the soup, not just the level of the sound or the temperature of the soup.”

Q5. Is there additional evidence on whether it is plausible that noise, shadow flicker and electromagnetic radiation (of the type and at the levels produced by wind farms) might affect healthy functioning of the human body?: 

There are many considerations beyond level of noise, shadow flicker and electromagnetic radiation to consider. Medical research is full of examples of individuals having different sensitivities to stimuli. It is not a simple manner of an LD50 (a dose at which 50% suffer death) to show that a dose of “x” is a problem. LD50 results may vary widely due to genetic characteristics, or other sensitivities. Some indivuals love peanut butter, to others it is fatal. Some sufferers of Lyme disease are very sensitive to light or sound stimuli, far more so than the general population. Snake bites may paralyze a mouse (or even a human) but a mongoose is resistant. Some humans are bothered far more than others by sound. Research must go beyond a simple value of “ X dBA” to be effective. The determined “associations” may offer clues to develop protection that need investigation. This needs to be done as followup.

Q6. Is there additional evidence of health and health-related effects observed from other sources producing noise, shadow flicker and electromagnetic radiation of the type and at the levels produced by wind farms? : 

It is important to recognize the special characteristic of the sound from wind turbines. Often papers will describe it as less than the sound from lake waves, or even a gentle conversation, but research has been done to show that the “infrasound” from wind turbines is very different than the “infrasound” from lake waves for example, even if of similar intensity. 13 papers were presented at the Wind Turbine Noise Conference in Demver in 2013 on the subject of Amplitude Modulation, that should be considered. Even cyclical sound from sources such as a helicopter are different as they are generally not present when a person is attempting to gain restorative rest, or they fly over and are gone quickly while wind turbines persist much of the night.

Page reviewed: 11 February, 2015