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Response to NSW Planning Department Draft Guidelines for Wind Developments  

Author:  | Australia, Health, Human rights, Noise, Regulations

SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES

On the basis of current limited knowledge, these proposed draft guidelines will inevitably result in serious and predictable harm, to the health of current and future rural residents in New South Wales, from the harmful effects of sound and vibration energy generated by industrial wind turbines.

The New South Wales Department of Health’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of an emerging serious global public health problem with exposure to operating wind turbines, is a gross dereliction of their responsibilities to protect the health of rural citizens who will inevitably be adversely impacted by these developments.

Rural residents are already significantly disadvantaged with respect to decreased access to health care and related services, and suffer a greater illness burden as a result. The additional burden of ill health, which these turbines will directly cause rural citizens, is entirely preventable, if wind turbines are located appropriately. This is clearly a planning issue.

To proceed with the proposed setbacks outlined in the draft guidelines is deliberately ignoring the warnings of a growing number of clinicians and acousticians internationally, based on limited but compelling empirical data and adverse event reports, from both residents and their treating doctors. Acousticians such as Professor Phillip Dickinson, from New Zealand, who is well aware of the problems experienced there, has suggested that a 5-10km setback would prevent many of the problems, concurring with our advice.

Urgent independent collaborative multidisciplinary acoustics and clinical research is required to investigate the problems, in order to determine what a safe turbine setback distance is, given a multitude of different variables. The planning requirements need to take into account the “worst case” scenarios for noise impacts, because this is what people will be living with.

The effects of audible and inaudible sound and vibration energy are resulting in frequent sleep disturbance for residents up to 10km away from thirty seven 3MW turbines in South Australia at TRU energy’s Waterloo Wind Development. As 3MW turbines and larger are planned for multiple sites in NSW, it is inevitable that these adverse effects will be felt out to this distance and beyond. In France, at 4,000 feet above sea level, there are credible reports of people characteristically affected at distances of 12-14km away as the crow flies, from six 2MW turbines. This is of major concern, and highlights the knowledge vacuum we are operating in, and the need for urgent clinical and acoustic data collection globally.

There is a complete lack of knowledge nationally and internationally about the actual dose of sound energy at different frequencies being experienced by people inside their homes and workplaces, and no knowledge of what constitutes a “safe” dose with cumulative exposure. Consistently, people’s health relentlessly deteriorates with ongoing exposure, if they are affected.

Siting turbines too close to institutions such as schools, jails, hospitals and nursing homes, with vulnerable and powerless groups, will result in serious harm to those living, and working in those establishments. This will be the inevitable outcome from many of the currently planned and unsafely sited wind developments in NSW, particularly those with larger turbines, placed on hills.

Rural residents in New South Wales are currently being damaged by the sound and vibration pollution emissions from existing wind developments at Capital, Woodlawn, Crookwell, and Cullerin. NSW Department of Health deny the problem exists, because there is “insufficient credible peer reviewed published evidence” but refuse to investigate the reports of serious health problems occurring in rural residents for themselves, apart from one or two phone calls which have not resulted in follow-up, according to the residents.

Nor has there been any proper independent and comprehensive acoustic assessment of the full range of acoustic pollution to which residents are exposed, inside their homes, and in their workplaces, despite numerous complaints being made. Preliminary acoustic data of this type collected by an independent acoustician at residences impacted adversely by Infigen’s Capital and Woodlawn Wind Developments and funded by concerned rural residents suggests that there are indeed problems relating to the infrasound and low frequency sound energy measured inside resident’s homes where those residents are becoming ill.

The current NSW audit of wind turbine noise does not include full spectrum noise assessments, nor does it include inside home measurements. This is ignoring the precise frequencies and locations (inside homes and workplaces) which we suspect are doing the most damage to health.

There may well be additional health effects from Electromagnetic field effects for some residents, in some locations, which similarly remain uninvestigated.

These serious health problems are entirely preventable, by adopting a truly precautionary approach, based on existing relevant information including field observations, until more definitive independent multidisciplinary acoustic and medical longditudinal research is conducted. This is precisely what the Waubra Foundation’s Explicit Cautionary Notice suggested, in June 2011, and it was based on the best field observations and limited research literature available at that time. Subsequent information is revealing that even this distance may be inadequate to protect the health of surrounding neighbours in some locations.

Two research proposals by suitably qualified and experienced independent acousticians, Dr Bob Thorne and Professor Colin Hansen, were first suggested to the NSW government Health Department representatives at an En Health meeting in November 2010. Subsequent proposals have been submitted directly to the NSW government by Acoustics researchers since that time.

Research was also recommended by the Australian Federal Senate inquiry into Rural Wind Farms in June 2011.

In the meantime, the suggestion by the NHMRC to “adopt a precautionary approach” is being ignored by developers and bureaucrats from planning and health departments alike. The justification given is that “there is no evidence” or “there is no credible peer reviewed published scientific evidence”.

Yet people’s health is being seriously damaged, and has been for years in Europe, the UK, North America, New Zealand, and in Australia. The voices of the sick residents, their clinicians, and their advocates, have been universally ignored by these bureaucrats, and the politicians they advise.

This lack of relevant research, despite the longstanding reported problems, is a global public health disgrace. So are the attempts of the wind industry to deny the problems, despite being well aware of them, as the letter from the Vestas CEO to the then Minister for the Environment in Denmark shows. Clearly corporate profits are being put ahead of the health of rural residents, the world over.

THEREFORE: to proceed with these inadequate guidelines, and without investigation into the current problems at existing developments, is reckless and irresponsible in the extreme.

What is urgently needed is:

  1. Full sound spectrum acoustic monitoring at all the homes of impacted residents in New South Wales, by acousticians who do not rely on the wind developers for their income, including inside and outside measurements concurrently. Data required by the acousticians from the developers to properly determine their results must be handed over.
  2. Thorough clinical assessment of impacted residents, paying particular attention to the commonly reported health problems experienced by residents elsewhere.
  3. Concurrent sleep and acoustic studies at the homes of people reporting regularly disturbed sleep, to assist with determining the cause of their sleep disturbance.
  4. Other broader epidemiological studies will be dependent on available funding, but as a minimum there should be an assessment which includes the population within 10km of existing developments, and suitable controls not exposed to low frequency noise for comparison. There must also be longditudinal data collected, as it is widely observed that symptoms deteriorate over time, with increasing exposure.

Submitted March 14, 2012

DR SARAH LAURIE
Bachelor of Medicine,
Bachelor of Surgery
FLINDERS UNIVERSITY, 1995

Chief Executive Officer
WAUBRA FOUNDATION

Download original document: “Response to NSW Planning Department Draft Guidelines for Wind Developments

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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