Resource Documents: Australia (60 items)
Documents presented here are not the product of nor are they necessarily endorsed by National Wind Watch. These resource documents are provided to assist anyone wishing to research the issue of industrial wind power and the impacts of its development. The information should be evaluated by each reader to come to their own conclusions about the many areas of debate.
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Author: Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal
Cherry Tree Wind Farm, applicant; Trawool Valley–Whiteheads Creek Landscape Guardians and others, respondents:
The application for review is adjourned to a date to be fixed not later than 4 October 2013.
The parties are given leave to adduce further evidence which correlates the incidence of health impacts alleged to be caused by wind turbines with the distance the person impacted lives from the wind turbine. …
A major focus of the respondents’ cases was on the alleged effect of wind turbines upon the health and wellbeing of people residing close to wind farms.
The Guidelines state (at p. 30):
Responsible authorities must assess the impact of a wind energy facility on landscape values, flora and fauna, human wellbeing and amenity in a systematic manner.
There is evidence before the Tribunal that a number of people living close to wind farms suffer deleterious health effects. The evidence is both direct and anecdotal. There is a uniformity of description of these effects across a number of wind farms, both in south east Australia and North America. Residents complain of suffering sleep disturbance, feelings of anxiety upon awakening, headaches, pressure at the base of the neck and in the head and ears, nausea and loss of balance.
In some cases the impacts have been of such gravity that residents have been forced to abandon their homes.
On the basis of this evidence it is clear that some residents who live in close proximity to a wind farm experience the symptoms described, and that the experience is not simply imagined.
What is less clear is whether there is a causal link between sound pressure emissions from a wind farm and the health effects complained of.
Those opposing the wind farm say that the association is of itself evidence of a causal link particularly given that the symptoms disappear when residents move away from the wind farm for a period, and reappear when they return. On the other hand there is a body of acoustic and medical evidence that there is no physiological basis for a causal connection, and that the explanation must be psychological, a phenomenon described as the “nocebo effect”.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has been described as the leading public health authority in Australia. In July 2010 it published Wind Turbines and Health – A Rapid Review of the Evidence. That publication was tendered in evidence (Exhibit A40) The publication concludes:
The 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.
The publication has been the subject of some criticism, and as its name suggests was a “rapid review”. Indeed, in its public statement reference no. NEW0048 the Council said, somewhat more circumspectly, that “there is currently insufficient published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects” and that “relevant authorities should take a precautionary approach”. The Tribunal has been informed that the Council is presently revisiting the subject and will shortly publish a revised or updated review.
In June 2010 there was Senate Inquiry into the Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms. The Inquiry relevantly concluded that:
2.44 The Committee considers that the noise standards adopted by the states and territories for the planning and operation of rural wind farms should include appropriate measures to calculate the impact of low frequency noise and vibrations indoors at impacted dwellings.
2.58 The Committee recommends that the responsible authorities should ensure that complaints are dealt with expeditiously and that the complaints processes should involve an independent arbitrator. State and local government agencies responsible for ensuring compliance with planning permissions should be adequately resourced for this activity.
2.69 The Committee recommends that further consideration be given to the development of policy on separation criteria between residences and wind farm facilities.
2.101 The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government initiate as a matter of priority thorough, adequately resourced epidemiological and laboratory studies of the possible effects of wind farms on human health. This research must engage across industry and community, and include an advisory process representing the range of interests and concerns.
2.102 The Committee recommends that the NHMRC review of research should continue, with regular publication.
2.103 The Committee recommends that the National Acoustics Laboratories conduct a study and assessment of noise impacts of wind farms, including the impacts of infrasound.
3.99 The Committee recommends that the draft National Wind Farm Development Guidelines be redrafted to include discussion of any adverse health effects and comments made by NHMRC regarding the revision of its 2010 public statement.
The respondents have been unable to refer the Tribunal to any judgment or decision of an environmental court or tribunal which has found that there is a causal link between emissions from a wind farm and adverse health effects on nearby residents. The most that has been said is that further research may be warranted.
The NZ Standard states at section 5.5.2:
Claims have been made that low frequency sound and vibration from wind turbines have caused illness and other physiological effects among a very few people worldwide living near wind farms. The paucity of evidence does not justify at this stage any attempt to set a precautionary limit more stringent than those recommended in 5.2 and 5.3.
This “paucity of evidence” underlies the one thing about which there is agreement among the experts, both in the evidence given to the Tribunal and in the scientific literature, which is that there is a need for further research and studies.
- Dr Laurie said in her statement:
I resolved to do what I could to ensure such research [about the adverse health effects of chronic exposure to this sound and vibration energy from wind turbines] was urgently conducted, in order to ensure that future planning decisions for the siting of wind developments were better informed by science.
- Mr Stephen Cooper, an acoustic expert who gave evidence on behalf of the Landscape Guardians, said that further investigation and research into the question was needed.
- Dr Black, an expert in public health with much experience in the investigation of noise from infrastructure projects, who gave evidence on behalf of the permit applicant, said that further studies would be worthwhile and that the current literature about wind farms around the world was “pretty flaky”. He would support a study to demonstrate that compliance with the NZ Standard is sufficient to protect against sleep disturbance.
The recommendation of the Senate Inquiry set out above basically adds to this chorus rather than providing any concrete answers.
The Tribunal considers that the issue of health and wellbeing raises two distinct questions. The first question is whether there is a causal link between sound pressure emissions from wind turbines and adverse health effects on nearby residents. The link may be physiological or psychological. However, given that the respondents expressly disavow that the impact is psychological and that the so-called “nocebo effect” lacks any empirical basis, the inquiry in this case must be as to whether there is a physiological cause. In this regard Mr Cooper hypothesised that wind turbines may emit a particular low frequency “signature” that gives rise to the problem.
One difficulty facing the satisfactory resolution of this question is that there appears to be no overlap of expertise between the acousticians and the health experts. The acousticians can measure the noise but are unable to say what effect it has on human health. The health experts can identify the health issues but are unable to connect those issues with particular levels of noise or sound pressure. It is this that creates the need for interdisciplinary studies.
If the first question produces an affirmative answer, the second and equally important question is what is the incidence of health problems amongst the nearby residential population, and how does that incidence vary or attenuate with distance from the wind turbines. Obviously the problem must be given greater weight by decision makers if 50 per cent of the population surrounding a wind farm is affected rather than 5 per cent.
Both the proponent and the opponents of the wind farm have referred to extensive scientific literature, but none of the authors of that literature with the exception of Dr Black and Mr Cooper gave evidence to the Tribunal. In consequence none of the scientific literature has been able to be tested. In particular there has been no correlation of any probative value between the health impacts attributed to wind farm emissions and the distance from the wind turbines at which the impact is experienced. Many of the impacted persons referred to in the literature have resided closer to turbines than the 2 kilometres prescribed by clause 52.32 of the planning scheme.
In summary the Tribunal has been made acutely conscious of the questions but finds itself in a less than satisfactory evidentiary vacuum regarding the answers.
The Tribunal was informed in the course of the hearing that the Environment Protection Authority of South Australia is about to embark upon a detailed study of the alleged effects of the wind turbines at the Waterloo wind farm in South Australia on surrounding residents. We are told that this study will be carried out in April and May of this year.
It is probable that the study will address the relevant questions. The Tribunal considers that given the uniformity of expert opinion as to the desirability of further studies of this nature, and having regard to the imminence of the EPA study, the prudent course is to defer a final decision in the matter in anticipation that the results of the study may assist the Tribunal to answer the questions posed above. The Tribunal also considers that this course is consistent with the precautionary principle as explained by the Supreme Court in Rozen v Macedon Ranges Shire  VSC 583 and recommended by the NHMRC in its publication NEW 0048.
The Tribunal therefore proposes to adjourn the matter for a period not exceeding six months to enable the EPA study to be carried out and a report prepared. The Tribunal will write to the EPA of South Australia in terms which have been shown to and agreed by the parties advising the EPA of its interest in the matter and asking that it be kept informed. The Tribunal will send a copy of this interim decision to the EPA.
The Tribunal will also write to the NMHRC advising of its interest in any revision or update of its position in relation to the health impacts of wind turbines, and will asked to be kept informed of progress.
Author: Gulden, Wayne
Simon Chapman, a public-health professor in Australia, has long maintained that the health and annoyance issues from wind turbines that people complain about are the result of nocebo. Recently he published a study that purports to conclusively demonstrate that those health complaints are not caused by the wind turbines; rather they are caused by anti-wind activists (presumably like me) instilling these ideas into people by our writings.
In an effort to give his study the fairest shake I could, I haven’t read it yet. Instead, I’m going to put myself in his position and think about what kind of study I’d have to do to and what it would have to show. After that exercise I’ll be looking through his paper to see if it in fact shows the things it needs to show to confirm his assertions.
My Nocebo Thought Study
- I’d start by examining projects and comparing those where there were complaints to those where there were not. I’d see if there was a significant correlation between negative, fear-producing publicity in the area around the complaining projects vs. others. This publicity would have to precede the project.
- I’d check to see if there were any other significant differences between the complaining and non-complaining projects to make sure there’s no other explanation, i.e. different setbacks, bigger turbines etc.
- I’d survey the complainers to see what their attitude was before the project went into operation. If they were favorably disposed towards it and then complained the case for nocebo is greatly weakened.
- Finally, I’d check to see if there was any other plausible cause for the complaint. The most obvious one would be that the noise from the turbines is plausibly bothersome enough to cause the complaints. This would require visits and measurements.
I thought the above up in about an hour, so calling them rigorous would be a stretch. Let’s now read Chapman’s study and see if he meets even these minimal criteria. (Read. Read. Read.)
It’s now 2 days later and I’ve read through the study. This was a typical Chapman exercise. He designed a study whose outcome could safely be predicted to confirm his prior beliefs. He cherry picks the data, ignoring stuff he doesn’t like, and finishes up with unsupported assertions and innuendos. The main value of this study is to demonstrate how “science” can be bent, and how careful we need to read studies written by clever people with agendas. It certainly does nothing to advance our understanding of the very real health issues that are now affecting thousands of people world-wide. Think I’m being harsh? Read on…
The nocebo theory has been around for a number of years. It recognizes that people may well develop health issues because they believe something will harm them, even when there’s no plausible physical way it can. An extreme example is a witch’s curse killing someone. A modern example would be cell phones. Just to be clear, nocebo itself is not particularly controversial. With regard to wind turbines, it would be surprising if some complaints about them were in fact not due to the turbines themselves. On the flip side, industries have used various victim-centered defenses (like nocebo) when in fact their product was harmful. It confuses the regulatory bodies for a while and keeps the gravy train going, hopefully until they can retire.
The trick for anyone studying this issue is to separate real problems from induced ones and find out where the predominance lies. For his part, Chapman maintains that: “18 reviews of the research literature on wind turbines and health published since 2003 have all reached the broad conclusion that the evidence for wind turbines being directly harmful to health is very poor.” And at the same time, the evidence he has created for his nocebo hypothesis shows that: “the reported spatio-temporal variations in complaints are consistent with psychogenic hypotheses that health problems arising are ‘communicated diseases’ with nocebo effects”. Therefore he concludes nocebo effects are: “likely to play an important role in the aetiology of complaints.” So what constitutes “important”? Studies whose value is entirely dependent on the reader’s interpretation of (in this case) the word “important” aren’t really of much value.
More importantly, note where he’s set the bar for accepting his nocebo hypothesis. He hasn’t shown any evidence at all that nocebo is the actual cause. Rather, he insists that since the evidence for direct harm is weak and nocebo plausible, ergo nocebo must win by default. Note the use of the word “direct”, a topic I’ve posted about at some length. He is clever enough not to say wind turbines don’t cause health effects at all, because they do, and it has nothing to do with nocebo – and the evidence for this is substantial. As Nissenbaum (a real doctor, unlike Chapman) relates, assigning a patient’s chest pains to nocebo would be the height of malpractice, even though nocebo-induced chest pains no doubt do occur.
Coincidentally, we each had 4 criteria/hypotheses to guide us through our studies. Mine are above and concentrate on separating the real effects from the induced ones. His are quite different and generally serve to see if Nocebo is a plausible cause in the first place. They are:
- Many wind farms would have no history of complaints.
- A small number of complaining residents.
- Few wind farms would have any history of complaints consistent with claims that turbines cause acute effects.
- Most complaints would date from 2009 or later, when opposition groups began to publicise health and noise effects.
Since I already accept that nocebo is a plausible cause, this study seems to me to be beating a dead horse. But plausibility is not the issue, is it? The real issue is: are most (or essentially all, in his view) of these complaints due to nocebo, or is there some evidence that points to the real effects of wind turbine noise that could explain them? Chapman’s study and conclusions adroitly sidestep that. No conclusions to his hypotheses above could falsify alternative explanations, while mine concentrate on doing so.
Table 1 contains a list of 49 Australian wind “farms” with sizes, dates, opposition activity and complaint history. The core of his study is the almost perfect correlation of complaints and activist activity; 45 out of the 49 agree. His general conclusion is that the opposition activity led to the complaints. But for us to accept that conclusion we must first eliminate all the alternative explanations: for example that the noise led to the complaints which in turn led to the activist activity. That is especially true when the alternative is not only plausible; it is in this case well documented. He mentions 4 specific projects that should have generated complaints but had no opponent activity and thus no complaints, and 5 equivalent projects that had both activity and complaints. To save my time and your sanity, I’ve boiled his table 1 down to the following (thankfully clickable) chart:
The first 4 projects are the ones that didn’t have activity/complaints and the last 5 are the ones that had both. You can see the “complaints” and “opposition activity” columns totally agree, which is the core basis of his conclusions. A secondary result are the dates, with Chapman maintaining that the later dates for the complaint projects supports his conclusions. Chapman generated the “complaints” by doing media and government searches and asking the project operators. He generated the “activity” columns by simply asking the project operators! Asking someone with a direct and substantial financial interest in his results for critical not-easily-verifiable input tells me Chapman wasn’t really serious about getting an honest answer. I have to wonder how this will get by peer review.
The yellowed cells are what I added, using Google Earth to locate each of the projects and counting up the close-in homes. I also took pictures of the projects where a picture was worth the proverbial thousand words. There is obviously a lot of evidence in the above chart to support alternative explanations. The projects are larger (and thus more likely to surround the neighbors), the turbines are larger and there are generally more close-in neighbors. His selection of 5 km to define neighbor is typical of wind proponent behavior – declare the affected area large enough and the unpleasant effects disappear. This is precisely what proponent property value studies do.
To get a sense of how the first 4 “non-complaint” projects are different from the last 5 “complaint” ones, I created pictures of Starfish and Waubra. All of these pictures can be enlarged.
First, Starfish Hill. By the way, other “non-complaint” projects are even more isolated than this one. I show the entire project and the closest concentration of homes, in Cape Jervis. The red line is 3300 m long.
Next below, Waubra. This is just a part of the Waubra project, closest to the town of Waubra, with the remaining turbines spreading out to the west. The red line is 1600 m long. Note the number of turbines on a ridge directly overlooking the town. I didn’t bother counting the close-in houses – there were too many. As an aside, I looked at the “non-complaint” projects first and I recall being quite shocked by the density of the surroundings when I came to Waubra.
Based on my close-in numbers, I noticed some anomalies in my chart, namely Wattle (should have had some complaints but didn’t), Waterloo and Wonthaggi (shouldn’t have had many but did). So I prepared the following pictures to get some insight into why. Of course there may be additional reasons, like payments or poor performance, but I don’t have the ability to research those. But just the pictures are instructive.
First, Wattle. I estimated the cluster had 60 houses in it, which represents a substantial majority of all the close-in houses in Chapman’s 4 non-complaint projects. The other turbines in that project are strung off to the west of the two closest ones shown here. The shorter red line is 1700 m long. I’d guess the turbines are audible in the cluster, but two 1.65′s at 1700 m may not be enough to create complaints.
Waterloo was the site that Wang studied in 2011. Note that Chapman reports 11 complaints. Wang, who surveyed the area, reports 34 (70%+ times 48). The town is 3300 m from the ridge. Note how many turbines there are, arrayed on a ridge overlooking the town. Aside from the distance, this looks pretty much like Waubra.
Finally, Wonthaggi. There’s not so many turbines, but there’s a lot of houses just outside my 2 km red line. According to Chapman the complaints there have been resolved: “Some of these former complainants had had their houses noise tested with the results showing they conformed to the relevant noise standard, some received noise mitigation (eg:double glazing), while others simply stopped complaining.” I have to ask: is this history consistent with nocebo?
Even with my cursory look at the actual projects Chapman cites, it is apparent that there are consistent and substantial physical differences between the complaint-prone and non-complaint-prone projects. I’m pretty sure that if you were shown overhead pictures of the 9 projects you could pick the ones where complaints were registered more often than randomly. If nocebo was in fact the determining factor, as Chapman would have us believe, you couldn’t.
Chapman’s “Scientific Consensus”
In his conclusion he states: “In view of scientific consensus that the evidence for wind turbine noise and infrasound causing health problems is poor…”. And how does he know this? “18 reviews of the research literature on wind turbines and health published since 2003 ([references] 3-20) have all reached the broad conclusion that the evidence for wind turbines being directly harmful to health is very poor.” This is simply a rehash of his 17 reviews (plus one from Massachusetts), about which I posted previously. To sum that posting up, Chapman has misused the conclusions of many of these reviews, some of which misused the results of the actual studies they were reviewing. Ontario’s Hazel Lynn, a pesky real doctor with actual experience with victims, in association with a real epidemiologist, did her own review and concluded that her 18 studies (many were the same ones scooped up by Chapman and his reviews) indicated wind turbines had a “noise-induced” effect on the neighbors. As an aside, none of these reviews, nor any of the studies underlying the reviews, even mentions nocebo.
As an example of how Chapman misuses both the reviews and the studies, let’s look at his first assertion on page 3: “Small minorities of exposed people – typically less than 10% – claim to be annoyed by wind turbines (15).” Reference 15 happens to be Knopper 2011, which in itself is a review, and about which I have serious problems. Regardless of my issues, nowhere in Knopper is 10% mentioned in any form. As close as Knopper comes is: “Results of the Pedersen and Persson Waye studies [13-15] also suggested that the proportion of participants who were fairly annoyed or very annoyed remained quite level through the 29-37 dB(A) range (no more than roughly 5%) but increased at noise levels above 37 dB(A), with peaks at 38 db(A) and 41 dB(A), where up to 30% of people were very annoyed.” I guess if you define “exposed people” carefully enough, his assertion could be correct. But that is by any standard I’m aware of terribly dishonest, and this type of dishonestly permeates Chapman’s writings.
On to the Innuendos
If Chapman stuck to exploring the evidence regarding noise, health, nocebo and so on we’d simply be having a disagreement. Unfortunately he goes way beyond that. It is though he takes the wind turbine issues viscerally, attacking anyone or anything that is inconvenient. Take the very first sentence in this study: “With often florid allegations about health problems arising from wind turbine exposure now widespread in parts of rural Australia and on the internet, nocebo effects potentially confound any future investigation of turbine health impact.” Florid? My my. Scientific terminology at its finest.
He also has a great deal to say about the Landscape Guardians, implying they are merely fronts for fossil fuel interests. Now I don’t know what they might be fronts for, if anything. I’ve been associated with anti-wind activists for going on 6 years now, and I’m not aware of any significant fossil-fuel money. Actually, I’m not aware of any significant money at all, darn it. An inconvenient fact for Chapman is that oil and gas interests are major wind-energy players, the linkages (i.e. Mitchell) all involve oil and gas – not coal. Does Chapman bother to level similar charges against the wind energy industry? Scientific disinterest at its finest.
Finally, Chapman seems to have a special place in his heart for Sarah Laurie. He mentions her 3 times in this study, and I don’t recall anything he’s written about wind turbines where he hasn’t mentioned her. In his “17 reviews” paper she got over a page’s worth. Here his attack was more subtle, linking her to fossil fuel interests via Waubra and the Landscape Guardians. Could this be unrequited love? There’s as much evidence for that as there is for nocebo. Scientific hypothesizing at its finest.
Chapman may still consider himself a scientist, but he certainly looks like an advocate to me.
Wayne has done a remarkable job of wading through the Chapman’s junk science sewer system and specifically on his failures regarding falsifiability. I would like to add just a note about explanatory power (or the lack thereof).
In science, if you have two competing explanations, the one that explains the most facts wins. If you are willing to elevate Chapman’s nocebo drivel to the status of “competing theory”, it is worth asking a few questions about its explanatory power.
For example, can the nocebo effect explain why someone would be awakened from a sound sleep by turbines they cannot hear?
Presumably, someone who is unconscious would not be affected by a conscious frame of mind, such as the belief that turbines are harmful. Is Chapman advancing a Freudian theory?
On the other hand, the biomechanical effect of infrasound and low frequency noise and vibration do furnish an excellent explanation of this phenomenon as Dr. Pierpont has pointed out.
Does Chapman’s theory explain the simple fact that many, many people who become seriously ill once turbines go up, actually had extremely positive views of them before they started spinning?
To provide any scientific, evidential foundation for the nocebo effect, it isn’t enough to show that general public opinions were predominantly negative. Individuals can and do ignore public opinion. Chapman must show genuine evidence that people who became ill had a fear of turbines or believed they would be harmed by them.
Contrary to Chapman’s theory, for instance, most of the people in Falmouth, Massachusetts, became seriously ill despite having overwhelmingly positive views of wind energy–until turbines starting spinning near their homes. Not only is this fact unexplainable by the nocebo hypothesis, it furnishes a powerful counter-example.
As you can guess, such counter-examples are scientific wrecking balls for groundless theories.
Of course, this example is easily and directly explained by the Wind Turbine Syndrome hypothesis. Exposure to wind turbine sound energy makes them ill no matter how they felt about turbines.
Perhaps Chapman should take a lesson from Ludwig Wittgenstein. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
Author: Mitchell, Peter
Thank you for allowing the Waubra Foundation to make a closing statement. I wish to start with acknowledging the remarks made by the Tribunal on Wednesday 6 March 2013 that:
There is clearly an association between wind farms and the symptoms that have been described. The question is whether there is a causal link.
In forming the conclusion of association and in formulating the question about causal link, Tribunal Members observed:
there is some direct evidence and much anecdotal evidence that people living in proximity to wind farms experience deleterious health effects, and those effects are of the same type, being sleep disturbance, increased anxiety, headaches, and pressure at the base of the neck.
In considering evidence, the word ‘anecdotal’ has a history of being used by public health officials and academics to downgrade field work not only when it has been proper to do so, but also when it might be in their interests. In common parlance, anecdotal generally means a short account of an entertaining or interesting incident and really just a story and is nothing beyond that; in medicine it has been variously defined as:
- information that is not based on facts or careful study;
- reports or observations of usually unscientific observers;
- casual observations or indications rather than rigorous or scientific analysis;
- information that has been passed along by word of mouth but not documented scientifically.
Anecdotal evidence can have varying degrees of formality, for instance, in medicine, published anecdotal evidence by a trained observer (doctor) is called a case report.
In the above characterisation of “anecdotal” we contend that the information we have gathered is based on careful study, it was gathered by a scientific observer, is not composed of casual observations; but we do acknowledge our data is not yet been formally documented scientifically. This is a priority if and when resources become available. However we think that the careful, professional, field driven accumulation of multiple adverse events by the Foundation is beyond anecdotal; and in the league of clear evidence of a serious and widespread problem (refer to Dr. Laurie’s Annexure 11, “Properly Interpreting the Epidemiological Evidence about the Health effects of Industrial Wind Turbines on Nearby Residents” by Dr Carl Phillips, 2011). This paper is extremely important in that it confirms both effects and causality.
In two and a half years Dr Laurie has listened to over 100 individuals with problems. We hope the Tribunal Members will consider our collection of data around wind projects as field evidence reported directly to a professional. A useful analogy would be a patient reporting symptoms to a GP, and the GP, after evaluating, and where necessary filtering, the patient’s reporting, then passing the information on as a briefing to a specialist.
Whilst dealing with word use we also think the purely qualitative word “annoyance”, used by acousticians to describe the problems of those being affected by noise ranging from mild irritation through to the most serious impacts, is inadequate and confusing. This word, without a quantitative modifier, and because of its everyday meaning, also tends to minimise the problem. We note that all of the 100 or so individuals that have sought us out were, in our professional opinion, suffering serious impacts.
Also moving from a clear association between the operation of wind turbines and the appearance of health problems in nearby residents to a causal link is perhaps not as difficult as it seems. Dr Laurie took the tribunal through Bradford Hill’s criteria for causation. One can interpret these 9 or so criteria as hurdles to jump to infer causality and as appropriate where there is no simple proof. A quick search of the meaning of causality indicates that it is sufficient if a change in one variable makes a change in
another. So to move from association to causal link, may be as simple as identifying a differing intensity of symptoms with a change in wind speed or direction.
The Foundation has multiple reports from sufferers who can tell by their symptoms, even when they cannot see the turbines, that there has been a change in turbine speed or wind direction; and from others that have long identified a change in wind direction as an indicator of worse or better symptoms.
Residents at Mt. Bryan and Glenthompson can testify that the ultimate change, being a shutdown of turbines at night, reduces symptoms dramatically.
We therefore are confident in stating that there is not just an association, but there is a causal link.
It has taken a herculean effort by Dr Laurie and by farmers prepared to go public with their personal problems, not generally something farmers like doing, to gather this data and to be confident of the causal link between operating turbines and the suffering of neighbours.
I hope it is clear to the Tribunal Members that the Waubra Foundation has not only had its CEO, a very experienced and knowledgeable GP, out in the field; but we have also helped and supported acoustic and psychological work by professionals who have, in our opinion, demonstrated both their superior technical skills and their independence of the wind industry. All of the acousticians have contributed their own time to help get these studies completed. The work by other disciplines has helped greatly in forming our views.
The Waubra Foundation’s Current Position
Aerofoil shapes have been used in many industries for many years, and therefore the principle of diminishing returns will almost certainly apply and ongoing improvements are therefore likely to be at the margin. The existing turbines are quite efficient in converting the kinetic, or movement, energy in the incoming wind which is largely in laminar, or smooth, flow. When the moving air mass encounters the turbine aerofoil, the aerofoil by effectively having to be forced out of the way, extracts kinetic energy from the air mass. This kinetic energy in the air mass is converted to rotational mechanical energy which is in turn converted to electrical energy in the generator with the substantially exhausted air mass exiting the aerofoil at reduced speed and in turbulent flow.
However the side effect of this conversion is that other forms of non-useful energy are produced, including various vibrations principally noise, mainly caused by air mass interaction with leading and trailing edges and tips of the aerofoil and by blade pass of the tower. Another potential source of additional noise and vibrational energy is wake interference between turbines. Vibration of machinery including the tower is another source of energy loss.
Perhaps it would be helpful if I briefly summarise the Foundation’s current position:
- we know wind turbines generate audible, low frequency and infrasound noise and vibration;
- we know and have measured infrasound and low frequency sound inside sufferers’ homes.
- we know health problems (totally new; or old afflictions aggravated) start to appear around wind projects sited in most rural settings with turbines of say 0.6MW or larger, co-incident with the start up of operations;
- we know that the health problems continue to emerge in more people and intensify as time exposure increases;
- we know that increasing turbine blade length and power generating capacity increases both total noise emitted and the percentage of that noise present as low frequency noise and infrasound; which makes problems such as sleep disturbance more likely to occur in more households out to greater distances from the turbine (refer to Dr. Laurie’s Annexure 10, ”Low Frequency Noise from Large Turbines”, Møller and Pedersen, 2011);
- we know that the appearance and intensity of symptoms diminish with distance from turbines, a crude but consistent indicator of a dose response effect in the few studies with systematic data collection;
- we know that similar effects or symptom clusters have been identified in many projects in Australia and overseas, and around other sources of infrasound and low frequency noise;
- we know sleep disturbance followed by sleep deprivation is the commonest problem reported by wind project neighbours, with devastating effects on long-term health and well-being and productivity;
- we know that the symptoms can be extremely serious. We know there is an increased risk of permanent damage to mental and physical health from the clinical cases we have observed;
- we know there is an increased risk of certain life threatening events, including heart attack, stroke and suicide from severe sleep deprivation, which is supported by recent and longstanding current knowledge within the peer reviewed medical literature;
- we know that some 40 families have abandoned their houses or sold to developers in Victoria, NSW and South Australia, because they or their families became so ill whilst living in their homes. We have interviewed well over 100 sufferers, and the pattern of their suffering is identical, even if the specific cluster of symptoms experienced may differ in detail between sufferers;
- we know that if turbines are not operating due to insufficient wind, sufferers start to feel and sleep better;
- we know, from reports at Glenthompson and Mt Bryan, if turbines are shut down at night, peoples’ health and sleep improves;
- we know if sufferers move away almost all the symptoms fade and disappear;
- we know if sufferers move back and the turbines are operating, the symptoms recur;
- we know that neither sleeping pills nor tranquilisers nor earplugs nor double glazing nor house insulation is of help with reducing episodes of sleep disturbance; an indicator of the presence of low frequency noise and infrasound;
- we have formed a professional view that the sufferers are neither hypochondriacs, nor casual of the truth, nor terrified; but are typical farmers; enduring of hardship and injury, uncomplaining and patient. We are certain that they are suffering and describing real symptoms and, in no way, exaggerating their pain.
These conclusions have been the result of nearly three years of field observations, comparing results with other medical and acoustics professionals and researchers around the world, and extensive reading. That work continues.
Contributions of Other Professionals
Others have gone into the field before or contemporaneously with us; Doctors such as Iser, Harry, Mitric-Andjic, McMurtry, Nissenbaum, Pierpont, Reider, Spring, and psychologist Peter Trask. All are health practitioners, four of those listed here are from Victoria, who have reached the same conclusions as the Foundation. Acousticians Ambrose, Rand, Walker, Schomer, Hessler D., Hessler G., Huson, Cooper and Thorne have all identified noise inside sick homes above the current dB(A) standards.
So far we consider the problem has been well defined and causal link has been established. There is good progress being made, albeit with quite inadequate research funding, on critical noise frequencies and levels and on human pathways. Some of these partial and preliminary results are quite difficult for not directly involved professionals to comprehend. We notice this amongst previously unexposed GPs, State Chief Health Officers, State Departments of Health and State Environmental Protection Agencies. Some progress is being made, but the phrase “scaling the walls of casual or sometimes deliberate indifference” still aptly describes our experience.
The Other View
Evidence, or perhaps more correctly, opinions have been offered by Messrs Turnbull and Drs Burgemeister and Black that attempt to show that our conclusions and those of independent acousticians are not plausible from either an acoustic or medical view. We reject those opinions and saw nothing from Turnbull and Black to overturn our research and conclusions. We did note that Burgemeister criticised Cooper for actually only recording microphone noise below 7 hertz, the acoustical equivalent of a schoolboy howler. Cooper of course did no such thing, and he has dealt with that assertion elsewhere.
Canvassing induced fear, the nocebo effect, income envy and general annoyance as significant are, to be complimentary, weak and dissembling arguments and for which there is no evidential support. Some reasons for dismissing the nocebo effect are canvassed in Attachment 1, “Nocebo Nonsense or the Power of Shallow Thinking”, Waubra Foundation, 2012.
So far we have not heard one plausible alternative cause of the identified symptoms.
The Industry’s Task Surely?
Our view is that the situation has now reached the point that it is no longer (and never should have been), the task of citizens to prove the wind industry unsafe and a danger to its neighbours. Whilst it is long overdue, the industry must now act responsibly to the clear proof that the industry is a danger to the health and well being of its neighbours.
The industry has already tried the 4 Ds: deny, dissemble, delay and discredit; practised spin in various forms including partial truths and misleading statements; and used its massive resources to confound or influence politicians, bureaucrats and some professionals. In our view they cannot, in good conscience, continue to deny or belittle the health damage around wind projects.
However if they wish to deny the causal link, then it is time the industry hypothesised a thoroughly plausible possible cause and vigorously research that hypothesis; or if no plausible alternative can be hypothesised, select the remaining option of separating, both new and approved but unbuilt wind towers, from people. The option of remaining staying in the harmful mode is fast disappearing.
If the Members agree, then this hearing is an excellent opportunity to start the industry on that path. (Attachment 2, “How to Apply the Precautionary Principle to Wind Energy Projects“ Waubra Foundation, may be helpful in this regard.)
The universal call from all but the industry itself is for research. Some calls are genuine but when made by governments or politicians often eager to keep the wind industry myths alive, are merely pro forma and need to be challenged. No money has yet been produced by any government or government body to measure the impact of wind turbine noise on humans.
The Foundation both advocates and supports research, but our resources, by any measure other than commitment, are quite limited. The South Australian EPA study if thoroughly executed, and performed by acousticians with the instruments, knowledge and independence, will be most useful for Responsible Authorities and courts and to force the attention of the “don’t want to knows”.
We recognise that it would be of immediate use if we could prove a safe distance and or a decibel limit for dangerous and sleep limiting frequencies inside nearby homes. At
this stage we can only talk of precautionary distances and that precaution has to be of the order of 10km. There are of course multiple operating sites where data is immediately collectable and enough independent professionals to get this work started. All that is needed is funding, robust experiment design, knowledgeable managers and the cooperation of the wind industry.
The Foundation and its advisors have clear views on the initial objectives of a properly funded research program to move our current conclusions the next step.
So on the basis of very strong probabilities and common sense, may we suggest that in relation to noise, health and well being, Members focus on the simple fact that wind turbines cause unacceptable health damage to neighbours. Put simply, Responsible Authorities, and VCAT is now through this Appeal, effectively in that position, face, if nothing else, a Moral Dilemma. (Attachment 3: “Wind Projects, the Moral Dilemma – A Rational Solution”, Waubra Foundation).
What About Waiting for Literature Studies?
Literature studies reflect the past; and the more stringent the hurdles of the study, the less information that is left to assess; and the older the qualifying data is likely to be, simply because the process of peer review and publishing in the right journal takes time. Every literature study has a cut-off date, and important up to the minute information in this rapidly emerging health and well being problem thereby missed.
Nevertheless the recently published literature study by Arra and Lynn is more than helpful in that it is independently supportive of the Foundation’s position.
In contrast to the endless literature searches the Waubra Foundation is, in present time observing and recording a calamitous and deplorable but easily remedied and preventable public health problem. A problem that is spreading rapidly. We know of no disease or condition that waits to be thoroughly researched, peer reviewed and published before it begins to do damage to health.
So until the information and research flows slow, which will only happen when the authorities or the industry make research funds available and those funds are transformed into research results, decision makers should expect little and for the time being, look more to perhaps academically imperfect but real field work.
A Changing Outlook
The picture changes even as the Tribunal has been considering Cherry Tree:
- the Canadian Literature Study 2013 “Association between Wind Turbine Noise and Human Distress” by Doctors Arra and Lynn, previously tendered to Tribunal Members found that all the peer reviewed published studies showed an association between wind turbine noise and human distress; three of the studies showed a dose response relationship, and the study authors strongly recommended further research;
- two proposed South Australian projects have been refused by local planning authorities; one the Stony Gap Project has been refused by the local Development Assessment Panel on noise and health grounds (subsequently appealed by the developer and currently before the ERD Court); and the other, Carmody’s Hill, for which an extension of an existing planning permit has been refused;
- Moonies Hill, a wind development in Western Australia was recently rejected by the Development Assessment Panel, with one of the clearly stated reasons being that there was “no net community benefit”, and it was clear that by ‘community’ the Panel Members were placing a high importance on the immediate neighbours to the project. Questioning from the Panel Members of various witnesses suggested concerns about noise pollution and the effect on neighbours were also a consideration;
- a removal of a turbine for noise/health reasons has been ordered at Falmouth in Massachusetts;
- after the Federal Senate voted 36 : 32 against the proposed Madigan Xenophon Excessive Noise from Wind Turbines Amendment to the Renewable Energy Act in late February, 2013, the Federal Coalition immediately announced they would be introducing a private member’s Bill dealing with this subject of wind turbine noise and health into the lower house. The Bill will call for non compliant projects to have their Renewable Energy Certificates suspended;
- about the time that Dr Gemmell, Chair of the South Australian EPA announced that the EPA was going to undertake field research at the Waterloo project in South Australia, that same body released a joint study with Resonate, an
acoustics company well known to the wind industry – finding, of course, no problem. (Attachment 4 refers to Steven Cooper’s peer review of that study). That study was not well received at a meeting of the NSW chapter of the Australian Acoustical Society last week by a number of acoustical peers including Steven Cooper, who were vocal about the inappropriate use of dBG as a measure for infrasound, and about other aspects of the way the report was written and the conclusions drawn from it, which were not supported by the data.
The Disaster of the NZS 6808:2010 Noise Standard
As Dr Black confirmed, there is no study that shows wind turbines are not the cause of the reported sleep and health problems. Indeed, the Arra and Lynn literature review found that every study showed there was an association between wind turbine noise and what they referred to as “human distress” which included sleep deprivation.
Effectively this can be taken to conclude that NZS6808:1998 is not competent in protecting wind project neighbours; and since the 2010 version still uses 40dB(A) or background plus 5dB(A), whichever is the less, as the guarantor of health, neither will it protect neighbours.
Whilst the other proxy for health and well being of a 2Km setback is somewhat helpful, neither the inadequate dB(A) nor the distance proxies actually work to protect health, well-being and amenity, as the field evidence and population noise impact surveys at Waterloo and Cullerin have shown.
Much as certain acousticians, mostly (but not all) those closely linked to the industry, are convinced that the standard has to, by definition, be adequate, it is difficult to ascertain the origin of the specific medical/health advice or the applicability of that advice in formulating this Standard. Apparently it is largely based, according to Burgemeister, on the very aged UK Standard (ETSU 1997) birthed at a time where little was known about adverse health impacts and wind turbines were much smaller and the WHO recommendation for an inside of dwelling noise level for sleep of 30dB(A). This level is of doubtful application to wind turbine noise in general and quiet locations in particular. We note that Dr Black does not agree with the WHO standard, and that we believe it does not apply well to quiet country environments.
Omitting any consideration of low frequency noise, which is known to be associated with sleep disturbance, is a planning and noise regulatory “blueprint” for an exhausted sick population of neighbours.
Apart from a near 100% failure rate in preventing harm to sleep and health in Victoria from existing wind developments, there are a number of other matters where the application of this standard is inadequate. Surely failure to protect and the certainty of grievous damage is enough for the Tribunal Members to move away from the prior total reliance on this standard as a guarantor of no harm in favour of other available and very strong evidence.
Finally, a general search lead me to a ‘SustainabilityMatters’ document which discusses the revised NZ acoustic standard where one can find the following statement: “NZS 6808:2010 balances sustainable management of natural wind resources with the protection of the community”. Balancing the unbalanceable. Personally I am not comfortable with a NZ Committee, representing many community interests, determining the balance between sustainable development and community health. Perhaps this is at the core of this standard’s problem.
The probability that operating wind turbines are the source of many of the reported health and sleep problems is virtually 100%.
The magnitude, severity and cruelty of the health effects have been established and it is appalling that this quite shocking treatment of citizens in a democratic society has not been addressed by Responsible Authorities.
The continuing use of the NZ6808 noise standard as the sole director of health protection will guarantee that every new wind project will cause substantial and widespread harm.
The Waubra Foundation recommends that the Tribunal Members conclude that the residents have well researched and presented reasons to oppose the project; that the Mitchell Shire Council’s unanimous rejection of the project fairly and properly represented the wishes of the residents; that there is no net community benefit in the project going forward, and indeed quite the reverse, in that the health, well being, amenity and assets of the community, being the immediate neighbours to this wind development, will be seriously damaged by this deplorably sited project.
Peter R. Mitchell, 14 March, 2013
The Waubra Foundation, Banyule, Victoria
Comments on SA EPA and Resonate Acoustics report: “Infrasound Levels Near Windfarms and in Other Environments”
Author: Cooper, Steven
Various wind developers and industry lobby groups both in Australia and around the world have been claiming that the recent report issued by the South Australian EPA and Resonate Acoustics is a scientifically valid document, that has confirmed infrasound associated with wind turbines is a non-event and persons raising such issues are simply scaremongering. A cursory examination of the document as set out below suggests a substantial degree of incompetence or alternatively, that it is a document intended to mislead the community.
The primary function of the document purports to indicate that the use of the dB(G) parameter is appropriate for accurate and complete measurement of infrasound. After selective testing of a number of sites, there is a claim that both rural and residential areas experienced dB(G) levels higher than that associated with wind turbines.
As wind farms are normally placed in rural areas, and similarly so are scattered individual turbines, then there is a fundamental problem with utilising noise criteria issued for suburban environments where such environments do not experience wind farm noise and vibration, and such environments are significantly different to the much quieter background soundscape experienced in rural areas.
The authors claim in Section 2.1 that the dB(G) parameter covers the majority of the infrasound frequency associated with wind turbines, and then immediately provides a graph of the G-Weighting filter obtained from the ISO Standard 7196. …
Between 1 Hz and 20 Hz the filter drops off at 12 dB per octave whilst below 1 Hz and above 20Hz the filter drops off at 24 dB per octave.
At 6.3 Hz, being a typical lower limit of some sound level meters that can provide 1/3 octave band results, the dB(G) filter has a value of 8 dB below the reference level at 10 Hz. Similarly at a frequency of 1 Hz (that is typically near the blade pass frequency of modern day turbines) the filter exhibits a level of 43 dB below the 10 Hz 0 dB reference level.
Using dB level expressed in a linear (un-weighted) format, the frequency spectrum from modern day wind turbines is predominantly elevated in the 0.7 to 6 Hz region. It is therefore apparent to those appropriately trained in acoustics that the dB(G) value does not cover the majority of the infrasound region generated by turbines.
For example, later in the report (Figure 29) there is a 1/3 octave band spectrum chart limited to the frequency range of 0.25 Hz to 20 Hz that is reproduced below.
Examination of the above chart clearly indicates a significant degree of energy in the lower portion of the infrasound band. When it is superimposed with the dB(G) curve (Figure 2), it shows the claim as to the relevance of the dB(G) for infrasound noise from turbines to be incorrect.
The report goes to great lengths to discuss measurements conducted at various locations in office buildings and suburban environments, with suggestions of likely noise levels influencing the infrasound results that appear to be somewhat vague and non-specific. Persons experienced in conducting measurements in such environments will be well aware of the influence of air conditioning controlling the background levels (especially infrasound being associated with airflow). Despite acknowledging one building having air conditioning, with the increase in levels that follows, the time period of office environment, the concept of air conditioning determining the environment at a number of locations appears to have been conveniently overlooked by the authors of the report.
Similarly in terms of infrasound in houses the report is not specific as to the source of the internal noise, or the influence of external noise or weather conditions at the time. …
A significant criticism in relation to the 1/3 octave band measurements, is that whilst conducting a 10 minute Leq assessment, the authors chose to utilise a time response of 10 second averaging, rather than fast response as required by their own documentation for compliance testing. Reliance on the 10 second average appears to be related to the low frequencies of concern without identifying the reduction in measured levels that would follow, when compared to the assessment procedure in their guideline. Clearly the use of a long averaging time reduces the impact of the fluctuations or modulation associated with the emission of low frequency in infrasound noise from turbines. This is important, because it provides a lower measured level that occurs and as such reduces the level that would be identified as the peaks the ear “hears” rather than the “averages”.
It is also noted that the report does not address low-frequency noise which one assumes would also have been obtained during such testing. Low-frequency noise has recently been shown by Professor Con Doolan to be directly associated with specific symptoms under the label of “annoyance” and the severity of those symptoms correlated precisely with the “dose” or SPL of sound energy present in those frequencies at the time. …
The report purports to identify that the natural environment for a house near a wind farm exhibits spectral peaks associated with the blade pass frequency and the first few harmonics even when the turbine is not operating, which seems to defy the laws of physics and measurements that have been conducted at various residential properties by consultants both in Australia and the United States. The fact that the authors of the report are claiming that there are noticeable spectral peaks at the typical blade pass frequency and multiple harmonics, even when the wind farm is shut down, questions the validity of the report. It may be the case that not all turbines were shut down as suggested in the report and that there may well have been turbines within 10km of the measurement site still operating, whose acoustic emissions were affecting these measurements. Measurements of ambient noise in rural areas in the absence of turbines do not experience the spectral peaks at the blade pass frequency and multiple harmonics as suggested in the report. …
As both the EPA representative and the authors attributed to Resonate Acoustics are aware of the communities’ concerns and issues pertaining to modulation, tonality, audibility, sleep disturbance and adverse health impacts, then the conclusions of the report based on inaccurate technical information leads one to question the objectives of the study. It would appear that Resonate Acoustics are regularly employed by the wind industry. Documentation from the community questions both the independence and the conduct of the nominated EPA officer with respect to dealings with the community in relation to other wind farms.
Without the appropriate material as to various operating scenarios of wind farms, wind direction, wind speed, power output of the wind farm and identification of the nature of all turbines so operating, and without any independent verification of the testing and the results (as per the Wisconsin Shirley wind project Cooperative study involving Messrs Hessler, Walker, Rand and Dr Schomer) then little weight can be placed upon the conclusions or the validity of the report as to the facts of infrasound from large industrial wind turbines and their impact on health. On the contrary the contents of the report support the concerns raised by the community as to the conduct of both organisations (the EPA and acousticians who work as consultants to the wind industry) and clearly demonstrates the need for independent monitoring and observations to occur in the forthcoming Waterloo study involving the community and requires both outside and inside measurements.
I consider that as a minimum, the proposed EPA study at Waterloo in South Australia should incorporate full-spectrum measurements similar to that provided in the Wisconsin study with both 1/3 octave and narrowband analysis incorporating simultaneous inside and outside measurements and incorporating on/off testing of the wind farm.
In addition to the provision of all the noise data it is imperative that in conducting a proper and independent test that all of the material in relation to the operating parameters of the wind farm, prevailing weather conditions etc. be available to the review team (also including representatives on behalf of the community) so as to ensure that study is fully independent and not contaminated such as in the case of the recent report issued by the South Australian EPA and Resonate Acoustics.
The Acoustic Group Pty Ltd
Steven E. Cooper
26th February 2013