NHMRC Public Consultations

Skip Navigation and go to Content
Visit NHMRC website

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

ID: 
28
This submission reflects the views of
Organisation Name: 
Friends of the Earth Australia
Please identify the best term to describe the Organisation: 
Non-government organisation
Personal Details
Questions
Q1. Is the draft Information Paper presented and written in a manner that is easy to understand?: 

Yes 2 Renewables welcomes the release of the Draft Information Paper, and appreciates being given this opportunity to provide feedback and submit additional evidence for consideration.

It’s appreciated that the Information Paper is designed to be accessible to a diverse readership, from government departments and health professionals, through to members of the general community seeking reliable information regarding wind farms and health effects. While there has already been seen some ‘alternative interpretations’ of the contents of this Draft Information Paper, we believe this is not due to omissions or shortcomings with the Paper itself, and is more likely a result of other factors such as pre-conceptions or self-interests.

Consequently – whilst it’s challenging to produce a single paper that will meet the needs of all potential readers - we do find the content well presented, easy to understand and written in an unambiguous manner.

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

The Draft Information Paper is found to be well constructed, logical and methodical, and provides information in a format we find suited to the content and its intended readership.

Yes 2 Renewables believes there may be particular interest in the full list of evidence that was initially selected, the detail about the processes used to refine the selection, and the inclusion/exclusion criteria that reduced it to the articles and documents finally shortlisted.

While the Draft Information Paper provides a very acceptable overview of these processes, including an effective diagrammatic representation at Figure 1, we found it helpful to also read ‘Systematic review of the human health effects of wind farms’ (listed as the first reference in this Draft Paper). We make the suggestion that, because Ref 1 appears integral to the evidence review and interpretation and provides an extended insight into the processes used, a direct electronic link to it might be included within the Information Paper. 

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?: 

Yes 2 Renewables submits the following items for consideration, and includes an overview of each reference cited, along with some of the key findings.

3. a) 'The influence of negative oriented personality traits on the effects of wind turbine noise', Personality and Individual Differences. Taylor J, Eastwick C, Wilson R, Lawrence C. Volume 54, Issue 3, February 2013 Pages 338-343, ISSN 0191-8869 

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886912004783

OVERVIEW

Concern about invisible environmental agents from new technologies, such as radiation, radio-waves and odours have been shown to act as a trigger for reports of ill health.

However, recently, it has been suggested that wind turbines – an archetypal green technology, are a new culprit in explanations of medically unexplained non-specific symptoms (NSS): the so-called Wind Turbine Syndrome ( Pierpont, 2009).

The current study assesses the effect of negative orientated personality (NOP) traits (Neuroticism, Negative Affectivity and Frustration Intolerance) on the relationship between both actual and perceived noise on NSS. All households near ten small and micro wind turbines in two UK cities completed measures of perceived turbine noise, Neuroticism, Negative Affectivity, Frustration Intolerance, attitude to wind turbines, and NSS (response N = 138).

Actual turbine noise level for each household was also calculated.

KEY FINDINGS

There was no evidence for the effect of calculated actual noise on NSS. The relationship between perceived noise and NSS was only found for individuals high in NOP traits the key role of individual differences in the link between perceived (but not actual) environmental characteristics and symptom reporting. This is the first study to show this effect in relation to a so called ‘green technology’.

Perceived noise from wind turbines is associated with increased symptoms but this effect only occurred for those high in negative orientated personality traits.

Actual noise from turbines was not related to symptom reporting. 

 

3. b) 'Noise levels and noise perception from small and micro wind turbines'. Taylor J, Eastwick C, Lawrence C, Wilson R. Renewable Energy, Volume 55, July 2013, Pages 120-127, ISSN 0960-1481

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960148112007665

OVERVIEW

This paper presents findings from interdisciplinary research linking noise measurements from small wind installations with an investigation into the effect of individual personality traits and noise perception. 

A survey distributed to households living close to one of 12 micro or small turbine sites, coupled with environmental noise measurements was analysed. 

KEY FINDINGS

The survey showed that the most commonly perceived noises are ‘swooshing’ and ‘humming’, the presence of which may be inferred from the measured frequency spectra. 

Exploration of survey results showed individuals with a more negative attitude to wind turbines perceive more noise from a turbine located close to their dwelling and those perceiving more noise report increased levels of general symptoms.

Individuals' personality also affected attitudes to wind turbines, noise perception from small and micro turbines and symptom reporting.

Trait neuroticism and frustration intolerance best explain symptom reporting variance.

Attitude to wind turbines has a significant effect on noise perception.

Noise perception has a significant effect on symptom reporting.

 

 

3. c) Chapman S, St. George A, Waller K, Cakic V. 'The Pattern of Complaints about Australian Wind Farms Does Not Match the Establishment and Distribution of Turbines: Support for the Psychogenic, ‘Communicated Disease’ Hypothesis', PLOS One, October 16th 2013

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0076584

OVERVIEW

Tested are four hypotheses relevant to psychogenic explanations of the variable timing and distribution of health and noise complaints about wind farms in Australia.

Records of complaints about noise or health from residents living near 51 Australian wind farms were obtained from all wind farm companies, and corroborated with complaints in submissions to three government public enquiries and news media records and court affidavits. These are expressed as proportions of estimated populations residing within 5 kilometres of wind farms. 

KEY FINDINGS

64.7 per cent of Australian wind farms have never been subject to noise or health complaints. These 33 farms have an estimated 21,633 residents within 5 kilometres and have operated complaint-free for a cumulative 267 years.

Only 129 individuals across Australia (1 in 254 residents) appear to have ever complained, with 94 (73 per cent) being residents near 6 wind farms targeted by anti wind farm groups.

The large majority 116/129 (90 per cent) of complainants made their first complaint after 2009 when anti wind farm groups began to add health concerns to their wider opposition. In the preceding years, health or noise complaints were rare despite large and small-turbine wind farms having operated for many years.

The reported historical and geographical variations in complaints are consistent with psychogenic hypotheses that expressed health problems are “communicated diseases” with nocebo effects likely to play an important role in the aetiology of complaints.

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

Planning authorities, courts and tribunals continue to make sound decisions to approve the construction of wind farms on the basis of existing evidence, some of which has become available since the last capture of evidence by the NHMRC.

In 2013 the VCAT hearing regarding the Cherry Tree Wind Farm adjourned for some six months for the specific purpose of allowing time for parties to submit evidence of health impacts. This case is designated by VCAT as a ‘Red Dot Decision’ which identifies it as one of significance:

 

4. a) Cherry Tree Farm Pty Ltd v Mitchell SC (Includes Summary) (Red Dot) [2013] VCAT 1939 (26 November 2013) Updated 16 January 2014

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2013/1939.html           

This particular decision deals with the issue of the alleged connection between wind turbines and adverse health impacts on nearby residents.

The Tribunal found that there is no compelling evidence, and indeed no expert evidence at all that was capable of being tested, that would justify the Tribunal adopting a view that is opposed to the clearly stated opinions of the public health authorities.

The published views of statutory authorities charged with the protection of public health must be respected and departed from only if these is compelling evidence that so requires.

Furthermore, the Tribunal accepted the statements of the health authorities that the 2 km buffer required by clause 52.32 of the planning scheme itself incorporates the precautionary principle, and indeed there is no other basis for the adoption of that distance. 

The health authorities referred to in this decision include the NHMRC, the Victorian Department of Health and NSW Health. The following Victorian Department of Health review details a number of findings, including many relating to infrasound:

 

4. b) Victorian Department of Health, Wind Farms, Sound and Health – Technical Information, April 2013

http://docs.health.vic.gov.au/docs/doc/Wind-farms-sound-and-health:-Technical-information

KEY FINDINGS

Infrasound can cause sleep disturbance but, like sounds in any other frequency range, it will only have this effect at an audible level.

Infrasound from wind farms is at levels well below the hearing threshold  and evidence does not support claims that inaudible sounds can have direct physiological effects.

There are many sources of infrasound in the environment and it is even produced by the human body at much greater levels than infrasound from external sources such as wind farms.

Humans have been exposed to high levels of infrasound throughout our evolution, with no apparent effects and any damaging effects are from noise at a level much higher than those near wind farms.

The summary of the Dept of Health concludes that there is no evidence that sound which is at inaudible levels can have a physiological effect on the human body. This is the case for sound at any frequency, including infrasound.

 

4. c) NSW Planning Assessment Commission Determination Report, Bondangora Wind Farm Project, Wellington LGA, 30th August 2013

https://majorprojects.affinitylive.com/public/9682310d9bdf38e784da420aab541c33/Planning%20Assessment%20Commission%20Report.pdf

Note: if the a/m direct link is inoperative, report can be retrieved from the following page:

http://www.pac.nsw.gov.au/Projects/tabid/77/ctl/viewreview/mid/462/pac/321/view/readonly/myctl/rev/Default.aspx

KEY FINDINGS

The Commission has accepted the advice of NSW Health, noting that it is consistent with that of other health authorities, such as the Victorian Department of Health, and is satisfied that the proposal does not represent a health risk to the local community.

The Commission is satisfied that the conditions will provide adequate protection against sleep disturbance. 

The Commission, via NSW Health, expresses support of the statement by the NHMRC that there are no direct pathological effects from wind farms and that any potential impacts on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines.

The Commission’s final determination states: The Commission is satisfied the wind turbines will not impact on human health.

 

4. d) Environment Protection Authority SA, Waterloo Wind Farm Environmental Noise Study, November 2013

http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/xstd_files/Noise/Report/Waterloo_wind_farm_report.pdf

OVERVIEW

EPA undertook noise and weather monitoring at 6 locations at distances of 1.3 to 7.6 km and a range of directions from the Waterloo Wind Farm. Noise levels were monitored both indoors and outdoors at selected residences, and residents completed noise diaries recording when they believed they heard the turbines and describing the type of sound they were hearing. These diaries were cross referenced to acoustical data, weather parameters and audio records.

KEY FINDINGS

In many cases, the EPA was unable to attribute events described in noise diaries to the turbines; at times reported events (residents believing they were hearing turbine noise) coincided with shutdowns of the plant, when no turbines were operating.

Noise events that could be attributed to the wind farm were periodically audible at four locations, but at very low levels, which did not dominate the noise environment; however, no attributable events were found at the two remaining houses.

Background noise resulting from local winds and other noise sources, was shown to contribute to increases in low frequency noise that were comparable with, or higher than contributions from the wind farm.

Where detectable, noise levels from the wind farm were found to comply with criteria in the EPA Wind Farm Environmental Noise Guidelines.

--

There has continued to be heightened interest in the matter of wind farms and health, with a number of bodies producing position statements regarding wind turbines, noise and health impacts:

 

4. e) Association of Australian Acoustical Consultants Position Statement on Wind Farms

http://www.aaac.org.au/au/aaac/downloads.aspx

Investigations conclude that infrasound levels adjacent to wind farms are below the threshold of perception and below currently accepted limits set for infrasound.

Some wind turbines may produce tones that are audible at residences under specific wind conditions. Objective assessment of the annoyance of tonality is well developed and its consideration is included in the assessment of wind farm noise in most  Australian jurisdictions.

AAAC members should continue to primarily rely on the view of government bodies in relation to the health effects of wind farms.

 

4. f) Australian Medical Association Position Statement on Wind Farms and Health – 2014

https://ama.com.au/position-statement/wind-farms-and-health-2014

The available Australian and international evidence does not support the view that the infrasound or low frequency sound generated by wind farms, as they are currently regulated in Australia, causes adverse health effects on populations residing in their vicinity. The infrasound and low frequency sound generated by modern wind farms in Australia is well below the level where known health effects occur, and there is no accepted physiological mechanism where sub-audible infrasound could cause health effects.

Individuals residing in the vicinity of wind farms who do experience adverse health or well-being, may do so as a consequence of their heightened anxiety or negative perceptions regarding wind farm developments in their area. Individuals who experience heightened anxiety or diminished health and well-being in the context of local wind farms should seek medical advice.

The reporting of ‘health scares’ and misinformation regarding wind farm developments may contribute to heightened anxiety and community division, and over-rigorous regulation of these developments by state governments. 

--

The following study targets just one of the diseases alleged to be caused by wind turbines, and whether there is evidence available that supports that association. 

 

4. g) Chapman S, St. George A, How the factoid of wind turbines causing "vibroacoustic disease" came to be "irrefutably demonstrated."  Aust NZJ Public Health (2013)

http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstream/2123/9106/2/ANZJPH%282013%29-VAD.pdf

OVERVIEW

In recent years, claims have proliferated in cyberspace that wind turbines cause a large variety of symptoms and diseases. One of these, “vibroacoustic disease” (VAD) is frequently mentioned. Seventeen reviews of the evidence for wind turbines causing harm have concluded the evidence to be poor yet regulatory authorities are now referencing health concerns as part of the rationale for set-back guidelines from residences, greatly reducing siting opportunities. The aim of this study is to examine the quality of the evidence on how VAD came to be associated with wind turbine exposure by wind farm opponents.

KEY FINDINGS

Google returned 24,700 hits for VAD and wind turbines.

Thirty five research papers on VAD were found, none reporting any association between VAD and wind turbines. Of the 35 papers, 34 had a first author from a single Portuguese research group.

Seventy four per cent of citations to these papers were self-citations by the group. Median self-citation rates in science are around 7 per cent.

Two unpublished case reports presented at conferences were found asserting that VAD was “irrefutably demonstrated” to be caused by wind turbines. The quality of these reports was abject.

VAD has received virtually no scientific recognition beyond the group who coined and promoted the concept. There is no evidence of even rudimentary quality that vibroacoustic disease is associated with or caused by wind turbines.

The claim that wind turbines cause VAD is a factoid that has gone “viral” in cyberspace and may be contributing to nocebo effects among those living near turbines.

--

The following two items include critiques of one of the studies shortlisted for inclusion in the NHMRC review at Reference 13 (Nissenbaum M, Aramini J, Hanning C. Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health. Noise Health. 2012;14(60):237–43).   

 

4. h) Ollson CA, Knopper LD, McCallum LC, Whitfield-Aslund ML. Letter to Editor: Are the findings of "Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health" supported?. Noise Health [serial online] 2013 [cited 2014 Apr 6];15:148-50.

 

http://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?2013/15/63/148/110302 

This reference raises many points of significance, including:

The title of the paper "Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health" is not supported given the nature of the data presented. No evidence with respect to sound level (noise) and its effect on sleep and health has been statistically presented in this paper and the authors could have more appropriately focused the title with respect to the distance, which is the variable that they actually investigated.

Although, there was a statistically significant difference between the mean PSQI scores in the near (7.8) and far group (6.0), it is important to remember that both of these average scores are greater than 5, which would qualify both groups as "poor sleepers." When one examines the reported "% of PSQI score >5" no statistical difference between the near and far groups was found (P = 0.0745).

When completing the ESS test those living near turbines had significantly different scores than those in the far group (7.8 vs. 5.7); however, given that the threshold of sleepiness is a value of 10, on average neither group should be considered sleepy.

The conclusion that the reduced MCS score in some residents living near wind turbines is related to noise emissions is hypothetical and not support by the data. In the paper, neither sleep nor physical effects were related to noise levels, and no attempt was made to relate MCS score to sleep.

 

4. i) Barnard M. Letter to Editor: Issues of wind turbine noise. Noise Health [serial online] 2013 [cited 2014 Mar 27];15:150-2.

http://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?2013/15/63/150/110305

As well as addressing many concerns similar to those referenced by the Ollsen et al letter, this raises further potential problems with the Nissenbaum study including:

Use of the loaded term 'industrial wind turbine' is not appropriate. This is not an accepted term in literature - 'wind turbine', 'utility-scale wind turbine,' or 'wind turbine generator (WTG)' must be used instead.

All three authors - Michael Nissenbaum, Christopher Hanning and Jeff Aramini - have a history of anti-wind activity including involvement in the lobby group, The Society for Wind Vigilance. This does not necessarily invalidate their study, but must be disclosed given the potential for investigator bias.

One of the authors (Nissenbaum) has been active in investigating the Mars Hill and Vinalhaven wind farms previously. This is not disclosed, and therefore, it is possible that previous contact with the investigators and other anti-wind activists has primed the responses of participants (inducing a nocebo effect), or biased the sample. Analogous studies looking at electromagnetic radiation (EMR) rather than noise have shown that concern about EMR, rather than the EMR itself, can affect sleep quality, Danker-Hopfe et al., 2010.

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?: 

We submit nil mechanistic evidence.

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? : 

6. a) Crichton F, Dodd G, Schmid G, Gamble G, Petrie K J. 'Can Expectations Produce Symptoms From Infrasound Associated With Wind Turbines?' 11th March 2013

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23477573

OVERVIEW

The development of new wind farms in many parts of the world has been thwarted by public concern that subaudible sound (infrasound) generated by wind turbines causes adverse health effects. Although the scientific evidence does not support a direct pathophysiological link between infrasound and health complaints, there is a body of lay information suggesting a link between infrasound exposure and health effects.

This study tested the potential for such information to create symptom expectations, thereby providing a possible pathway for symptom reporting. Method: A sham-controlled double-blind provocation study, in which participants were exposed to 10 min of infrasound and 10 min of sham infrasound, was conducted. Fifty-four participants were randomized to high- or low-expectancy groups and presented audiovisual information, integrating material from the Internet, designed to invoke either high or low expectations that exposure to infrasound causes specified symptoms.

KEY FINDINGS

High-expectancy participants reported significant increases, from pre-exposure assessment, in the number and intensity of symptoms experienced during exposure to both infrasound and sham infrasound. 

There were no symptomatic changes in the low-expectancy group. 

It was concluded that healthy volunteers, when given information about the expected physiological effect of infrasound, reported symptoms that aligned with that information, during exposure to both infrasound and sham infrasound. Symptom expectations were created by viewing information readily available on the Internet, indicating the potential for symptom expectations to be created outside of the laboratory, in real world settings.

Results suggest psychological expectations could explain the link between wind turbine exposure and health complaints.

 

6. b) Crichton, Fiona; Dodd, George; Schmid, Gian; Gamble, Greg; Cundy, Tim; Petrie, Keith J. The Power of Positive and Negative Expectations to Influence Reported Symptoms and Mood During Exposure to Wind Farm Sound. Health Psychology, Nov 25 , 2013.

http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2013-40810-001/

OVERVIEW

As scientific reviews have failed to identify a plausible link between wind turbine sound and health effects, psychological expectations have been proposed as an explanation for health complaints.

Building on recent work showing negative expectations can create symptoms from wind turbines, this study investigated whether positive expectations can produce the opposite effect, in terms of a reduction in symptoms and improvements in reported health.

60 participants were randomized to either positive or negative expectation groups and subsequently exposed to audible wind farm sound and infrasound. Prior to exposure, negative expectation participants watched a DVD incorporating TV footage about health effects said to be caused by infrasound produced by wind turbines. In contrast, positive expectation participants viewed a DVD that outlined the possible therapeutic effects of infrasound exposure.

KEY FINDINGS

During exposure to audible windfarm sound and infrasound, symptoms and mood were strongly influenced by the type of expectations.

Negative expectation participants experienced a significant increase in symptoms and a significant deterioration in mood, while positive expectation participants reported a significant decrease in symptoms and a significant improvement in mood.

The study demonstrates that expectations can influence symptom and mood reports in both positive and negative directions. The results suggest that if expectations about infrasound are framed in more neutral or benign ways, then it is likely reports of symptoms or negative effects could be nullified.

--

In closing, Yes 2 Renewables again thanks the NHMRC for this opportunity to provide feedback and submit additional evidence for consideration, and we look forward to the publication of the final version of the Information Paper: Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health.

Page reviewed: 11 February, 2015