A “growing body of evidence” that wind farm noise could have health effects has prompted Queensland Health to call for caution when approving wind farm developments.
Queensland Health has in effect become the first government health agency to recommend that wind turbines not be built within 2km of homes. In a letter to Tablelands Regional Council, Queensland Health’s director of environmental health, David Sellars, recommended a “precautionary approach” be taken to approval of the proposed $500 million Mount Emerald wind farm near Walkamin on the Atherton Tablelands.
The Mount Emerald application is for up to 80 wind turbine towers, nine of which are within 2km of houses.
Tablelands horticulturalist Steve Lavis said he would like a moratorium on wind farm projects until all noise and health issues had been worked out. Reported symptoms of so-called “wind turbine syndrome” include sleep disturbance, high blood pressure, headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, a rapid heart rate and panic attacks.
The Queensland Health letter was in response to a request for information from then Tablelands Regional Council deputy mayor Chris Adams.
Mr Sellers said the council had been advised that the Mount Emerald wind farm would meet all noise-level goals.
“Despite the aforementioned findings,” he said, “Queensland Health recommended wind-farm planning applications be carefully considered, given there is a growing body of evidence to suggest there may be adverse health effects associated with the noise generated by wind farms.
“Research into the potential health effects of wind turbines is ongoing and is being undertaken on an international scale.”
Mr Sellars said the National Health and Medical Research Council was reviewing its position on the possible health effects of wind turbines and was aiming to release a public statement by the end of the year.
“Queensland Health would be likely to be guided by the NHMRC statement, resulting from this research,” he said.
“Until such time, Tablelands Regional Council is encouraged to take a precautionary approach to development applications of this type.”
Mr Sellars said the Victorian government’s new planning guidelines, which ban wind turbines within 2km of an existing home, might be considered to be current best practice.
A spokeswoman for the Tablelands council said the Queensland Health advice in wind farms would be considered by planning officers but the council would make no comment.
Mr Adams, who did not stand for re-election at the recent local government elections, said he was grateful for the advice from Queensland Health and would expect council to take note.
“I am not opposed to wind farms but I think there are a number of concerns,” he said.
The advice from Queensland Health reflected health concerns that were being expressed around the world.
Wind farm opponent and Waubra Foundation spokeswoman Sarah Laurie said Queensland Health was “the first health department in Australia to have acknowledged the obvious problems which currently exist”.
“We again call for governments to ensure that infra-sound and low-frequency acoustic pollution is measured – independently of the wind industry – both inside and outside homes and workplaces at existing wind developments, where people are sick,” Ms Laurie said.
The Mount Emerald wind farm is being proposed by RATCH-Australia Corporation, a Ratchaburi Holdings and Transfield Services company. The company said current estimates suggested the wind farm would produce enough clean energy to provide the annual power needs of more than 75,000 North Queensland homes.
A RATCH-Australia spokesman was not available to comment on the Queensland Health letter yesterday.
Mr Lavis said human health issues were not his only concern with the wind farm proposal.
He was also worried about the impact on the region’s banana industry, which relied on aerial spraying that would not be possible within 5km of wind turbine towers.
“All of Australia’s bananas are grown within 200km of here,” he said. “There is no way you can control the diseases without aerial spraying because of the wet season and the inability to get to the crop with a tractor,” he said.