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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?: 

<Contents of email submission uploaded to portal by NHMRC>

 As the submissions input sought on the NHMRC draft information paper on wind farms and human health is constrained by a tightly bound convergent questions block, I have decided to email you instead with some comments on the NHMRC paper and CEO invitation (my comments are also attached as a word document).

 1.  It is apparent immediately that the position of the paper is defensive, and does not seek to declare that wind turbines are safe or harmless to human health.  Rather the position of NHMRC is that:

 There is no reliable or consistent evidence that proximity to wind farms or wind farm noise directly causes health effects.

 One can compare the above statement with an extensive legal hearing in 2011 in Ontario, Canada, which heard evidence from teams of experts arguing for and against claims of adverse health effects from wind turbines (see attached).  The Environmental Review Tribunal (2011) concluded (p. 207): 

 ''This case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents.''

 2.  The NHMRC is often grasping for explanations other than biological ones. 

Thus we have statements such as:

 Finding an association between wind farms and these health-related effects does not mean that wind farms cause these effects. These associations could be due to selection or information bias or to confounding factors.

 Much has been made of the nocebo issue by Simon Chapman, but a critical analysis suggests that evidence for this notion in relation to wind turbines is extremely poor and that it provides an easy cop-out.  Michael Nissenbaum MD, author of one of the NHMRC’s ‘acceptable inclusion’ papers, states on this issue (see his attached letter to Senate committee):

On 'nocebo', if a physician provides the diagnosis of 'nocebo' (a psychologically mediated effect analogous to a 'psychosomatic illness/response'), medical protocols dictate that it be done subsequent to a process of thoroughly excluding the possibility of any pathophysiological pathways that are plausible, more likely, or more important (because of serious downstream implications) to consider.

 The 'nocebo' concept is inapplicable and it would be irresponsible to apply it as an explanation for the chronic sleep disorders which are the result of often unremembered nighttime arousals related to noise (a simple physiological chain of events that is not medically controversial in the least, and which are detectable by validated investigational tools such as used in our study). Its rushed utilization here would be a conjectural, unfair and cruel exercise that would in effect tell people that while what they are feeling may be real, the origin is 'all in their head' rather than in well understood physiological interactions between the sleep mechanism and noise.

 Another example of the tendency of the NHMRC paper to reinforce the nocebo theme is by quoting laboratory studies on infrasound:

 People exposed to infrasound and low-frequency noise in a laboratory (at much higher levels than those to which people living near wind farms are exposed) experience few, if any, effects on body functioning.

 One such study is that by Fiona Crichton et al. in New Zealand.  It has been strongly criticized by experts in audiology e.g. Dr Jerry Punch (critique attached), and acoustics e.g. Dr Malcolm Swinbanks (statement attached), who have a comprehensive knowledge of their fields.  Punch says the Crichton et al. study is a good example of junk science.

 3.  In relation to the kind of noise produced by wind turbines, NHMRC suggests that:

 Noise from wind turbines, including its content of low-frequency noise and infrasound, is similar to noise from many other natural and human-made sources. There is no evidence that health or health-related effects from wind turbine noise would be any different to those from other noise sources at similar levels.

 Yet other sources suggest exactly the reverse.  For example, the Society for Wind Vigilance in a section on annoyance states:

 Peer reviewed scientific articles based on studies of European wind turbine facilities have concluded that wind turbine noise is more annoying than equally loud noise sources such as airport and traffic noise. [2], [3], [4], [5]  Annoyance is predominately attributed to the unique sound characteristics of wind turbine noise. Plausible causes include wind turbine amplitude modulation, audible low frequency noise, temporal variability, and lack of night time abatement.


 Moreover, Professor Alec Salt (see attached) has recently drawn attention to the fact that almost all measurements of wind turbine noise are A-weighted, making the unjustified assumption that hearing is the only way by which infrasound generates physiological effects.  Thus, A-weighting measurements of turbine noise are highly misleading.

 4.  The NHMRC paper’s inclusion criteria are unduly narrow, with the well developed field of qualitative research effectively ignored.  Given that the WHO definition of health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, why aren’t the strong community conflicts generated by the introduction of wind turbines addressed?  Turbines are notorious for dividing communities, neighbours, and families, as shown in recent Australian examples such as Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, and King Island in Tasmania, as well as wind farms already in operation.  This conflict obviously has significant stress and health ramifications, but is apparently not addressed by NHMRC.

 In addition, why are anecdotal reports not given more attention?  How about direct interviews with adversely affected residents, and not just a literature review approach?  Ignoring such evidence, even if not of the gold standard design favoured by NHMRC, only gives an incomplete and inaccurate picture.  Carl Phillips states in his attached paper that:

 There is overwhelming evidence that wind turbines cause serious health problems in nearby residents, usually stress-disorder type diseases, at a nontrivial rate. The bulk of the evidence takes the form of thousands of adverse event reports. There is also a small amount of systematically gathered data. The adverse event reports provide compelling evidence of the seriousness of the problems and of causation in this case because of their volume, the ease of observing exposure and outcome incidence, and case‑crossover data.

 5.  In relation to the need for properly funded research, the following statement from NHMRC is certainly a useful one in that it counters the ad nauseam Simon Chapman references to 17, 18, or 19 “reviews” that are supposed to exonerate wind turbines in relation to adverse health effects.

 The existing body of evidence relating to wind farms and health remains small and mostly of poor quality and further high quality research is needed.

The statement also lines up well with the recommendations of the 2011 Senate inquiry on wind farms, as far as the need for adequate research is concerned.  However, as the Ontario Tribunal of 2011 demonstrates, experts can have very different views about what is occurring, depending on whether they have ties to the wind industry or not.  It is self-evident that the team of medical and other professionals who put the case for people’s health to the Tribunal did not have ties to the wind industry.  Designing independent research is critical, as has been well demonstrated by the biased self‑interests and associated research linked to the pharmaceutical industry.   

 I would appreciate any feedback you have on my comments.


 Murray May


The following attachments were provided with the email submission:

1. Full text paper. Citation details: Phillips C. Properly interpreting the epidemiologic evidence about the health effects of industrial wind turbines on nearby residents. Bull Sci Technol Soc. 2011;31:303.

2. Full text paper. Citation details: Salt AN, Lichtenhan J. How does wind turbine noise affect people? Acoustics Today. 2014;10(1):20–28.

3. Peer review of March 2013 by M.A. Swinbanks regarding publication with the following citation: Crichton F, Dodd G, Schmid G, Gamble G, Petrie KJ. Can expectations produce symptoms from infrasound associated with wind turbines? Health Psychol. 2014;33(4):360–4. Epub 2013/03/13.

4.Peer review (undated) by J. Punch regarding publication with the following citation: Crichton F, Dodd G, Schmid G, Gamble G, Petrie KJ. Can expectations produce symptoms from infrasound associated with wind turbines? Health Psychol. 2014;33(4):360–4. Epub 2013/03/13.

5. Submission of November 2012 by M.A. Nissenbaum to the Senate Community Affairs Committee and the Senate Environment and Communications Committee regarding an inquiry into the renewable energy (wind farm noise) bill.

6. Legal proceedings of July 2011 from the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal. Erickson v. Director, Ministry of the Environment. Environmental Decision Case Nos 10-121, 10-122.



Page reviewed: 11 February, 2015