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Statement of Sarah Laurie (overview: evidence of health risks) 

Author:  | Alberta, Health

… 24. Dr Amanda Harry, a rural General Practitioner from Cornwall in the United Kingdom was the first Medical practitioner I am aware of who reported adverse health effects being experienced by neighbours to wind turbines. Dr Harry conducted a survey of her patients living near wind developments in 2003. Her study is attached as annexure 3.

25. Dr Harry’s additional experience and post graduate qualifications in the fields of Ear Nose and Throat disorders, and the multidisciplinary assistance she received from a physicist with expertise in the field of infrasound and low frequency noise, together with the seriousness of some of the reported symptoms made me very concerned after reading her study that there was indeed a real problem for some neighbours of industrial wind turbines.

26. It became clear with further reading that in the subsequent years since Dr Harry’s study there had been little systematic population health data collection by clinical researchers. There was no information on the full spectrum of acoustic frequency exposures inside people’s homes, and very little research about the adverse health effects of chronic exposure to this sound and vibration energy from wind turbines specifically. There were, however, plenty of adverse health reports from sick residents, including reports of home abandonment, both in Australia and internationally.

27. I resolved to do what I could to ensure such research was urgently conducted, in order to ensure that future planning decisions for the siting of wind developments were better informed by science.

28. The release by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council’s Rapid Review in July 2010 into this issue did nothing to allay my concerns, indeed a glance at the list of references in that document made me even more concerned, as there was an abundance of wind industry generated literature, some of which purported to be independent, but key authoritative documents and studies on low frequency noise, sleep deprivation at its consequences and the impacts of environmental noise were nowhere to be seen. This Rapid Review document has since been extensively criticised nationally and internationally, and the NHMRC are currently conducting another review.

29. The CEO of the NHMRC has since admitted during oral testimony on March 31st 2011 at the first Federal Senate Inquiry that “we do not say that there are no ill effects”, a position which the judges in a court case in Ontario agreed with in July 2011, when they found that “This case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents” (Environmental Review Tribunal, Case Nos.: 10-121/10-122 Erickson v. Director, Ministry of the Environment, Dated this 18th day of July, 2011 by Jerry V. DeMarco, Panel Chair and Paul Muldoon, Vice-Chair, www.ert.gov.on.ca/english/decisions/index.htm.)

30. It was at this time when the NHMRC released their Rapid Review in July 2010, that I was first approached by Mr Peter Mitchell to work with the organisation he had established a few months earlier, initially called the Waubra Disease Foundation, as that was the name the Victorian media were using at the time to describe the symptoms being reported by the residents.

31. When I first became aware of the proposed wind development near my own home, I also sought the advice of acousticians with experience of wind turbine noise working in Australia and internationally, in order to determine whether or not, based on current acoustic knowledge, my family and I would have a problem.

32. I learnt from them and others of acoustic research and survey work which had already been carried out in Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK and in Europe. Those acousticians included Professor Colin Hansen, from Adelaide University, and Dr Bob Thorne, from Noise Measurement Services based in Brisbane, also associated at the time with Massey University in New Zealand. What they told me was not reassuring.

33. I also spoke with some of the residents whom Waubra Foundation director Kathy Russell, or Dr Thorne or Professor Hansen had previously been in contact with, and I was subsequently contacted by other residents who requested I visit their communities to share my growing knowledge of the problems with them.

34. I attended the first Symposium into the Adverse Health Effects of wind turbines held in Ontario in October 2010, to learn as much as I could about the problems from other scientists, health professionals and acousticians interested in the area, and also from the sick residents who also attended this symposium from the US and Canada. My husband and neighbours funded this trip.

35. During this trip I met with numerous Canadian families, who came from Goderich, Ripley, Shelburne, Amaranth areas, who all described the identical range but individually different symptoms and health problems in the characteristic pattern of worsening with increasing exposure but improving when they moved away, to those I had been previously told about in Australia, particularly by residents at the Toora and Waubra wind developments.

36. All the residents I spoke to had the identical patterns of being symptom free prior to the start up of the adjacent wind project, subsequently developing symptoms which correlated with exposure to operating wind turbines and wind direction. Their symptoms varied between members of the same household, but the pattern was consistent in that their individual symptoms worsened over time with ongoing exposure, and improved when away from their homes.

37. Some of these Canadian families had been forced to leave their homes, and some had spent time in motels, paid for by the wind developers. Some had signed confidentiality agreements, prohibiting them from speaking publicly about their health problems. I had previously been told of this practice of silencing sick people in Australia at Toora and Waubra.

38. I also met with a public health doctor at the Grey Bruce Health Unit who had publicly expressed her concerns about what was happening to rural residents living near wind developments in Ontario, Dr Hazel Lynn. Dr Lynn chose to speak out about her concerns despite the Chief Health Officer of Ontario, Dr Arlene King, issuing a report, widely used by the wind industry, which essentially denied there was any evidence of health problems from wind turbine noise.

39. Dr King has recently been subpoenaed to attend court in Ontario to explain how she came to her stated position, as it has emerged that numerous Ontario families had sent detailed reports to her department advising her of the serious nature of their health problems, and that field officers in the Ministry of the Environment, responsible for noise pollution regulation from the wind turbines, had also made their concerns clear to more senior government officials.

40. I visited Toora in South Gippsland in October 2010, and met with Dr David Iser, an experienced and highly regarded rural medical practitioner who was the first Australian medical practitioner to speak publicly of his concerns and conduct his own research locally at Toora in 2003/4, based on Dr Amanda Harry’s initial survey.

41. Dr Iser first raised his concerns in 2004 about his longstanding patients’ new symptoms, which coincided with the commencement of operation of the Toora wind development, with the Victorian Government and the Victorian Health authorities. I have attached his letters to then government ministers, his survey questionnaire and other material at annexure 4.

42. It is clear from information submitted to parliamentary inquiries and from media reports out in the public domain both in Australia and internationally that the identical range of adverse health problems resulting from exposure to operating wind turbines have been reported by residents and concerned health and acoustics professionals for a number of years prior to my own awareness of the problems and active involvement in advocating for research, which commenced relatively recently in July 2010.

43. The wind industry and some public health academics with no clinical experience in this area, frequently assert in Australia that the symptoms being reported are caused by the “nocebo” effect, by which they mean the Waubra Foundation’s ongoing community education program about the reported symptoms and problems being reported by residents impacted by infrasound and low frequency nose from a number of sources, which they also refer to as “scaremongering”.

44. There is no research evidence collected from rural residents living near wind developments in Australia or anywhere else in the world to support this assertion that the symptoms reported by these sick residents living with low frequency noise pollution are themselves caused by knowledge about the reported health problems.

45. Professor Simon Chapman’s recent “nocebo” research, widely publicised by the media and the wind industry globally, did not directly investigate the circumstances of the residents reporting the problems – rather he relied on notoriously inaccurate wind developer complaints data, media items and senate submissions where people had disclosed their identity. This data set is flawed because in all three data set sub categories it has resulted in underreporting of the real extent of the problems. There is no substitute for a properly conducted population survey and acoustic surveys at individual wind developments, to try and get an idea of the dose of sound energy which is causing the adverse effect on sleep and health (ie the dose – response curve).

46. There is human and animal research in the fields of infrasound and low frequency noise, which provide direct empirical experimental evidence that both infrasound and low frequency noise can cause a range of physiological stress effects and symptoms, many of which are also being reported by wind turbine residents. Sound in those frequencies is now being measured inside the homes of sick people, and preliminary data is showing direct correlation between certain frequencies and specific symptoms.

47. One useful literature review detailing research into infrasound was conducted in 2001 by the United States National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, with the title “Infrasound – Brief Review of Toxicological Literature”. It is attached as annexure 5. Some of the animal studies listed show evidence of a physiological stress response, although generally the doses of infrasound are higher than those extremely limited data sets of full spectrum acoustic measurements inside and outside homes at existing wind developments, but the exposure durations are very short, in comparison to living 24/7 for 25 years beside a wind turbine development. The report makes it clear that there are significant knowledge gaps with respect to chronic exposure to infrasound at lower “doses” particularly, stating: “Examples of critical data gaps include a lack of high quality long-term experimental studies of infrasound, and inadequate characterization of environmental infrasound and accompanying higher frequency sound levels in community settings”

48. The second relevant literature review was conducted in 2003 by Dr Geoffrey Leventhall, for the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs in the UK, with the title “Review of Published Research on Low Frequency Noise and its Affects”. This review contains some very useful information about the then known physiological stress connections with low frequency noise exposure, one example given is of measured cortisol elevation in sleeping children exposed to truck low frequency noise, and confirms that wind turbines were known in 2003 to be a source of infrasound and low frequency noise. That literature review is attached as annexure 6.

49. There is also plenty of evidence that the reporting of symptoms for many residents at wind developments in Victoria such as Toora, Waubra and Cape Bridgewater preceded the establishment of the Waubra Foundation. In the case of Dr David Iser’s patients at Toora the time elapsed is some 6 years, and similarly Dr Amanda Harry’s patients in her survey from the UK, which immediately preceded Dr Iser’s work.

50. With respect to the impact of the Toora wind development on its neighbours, I have been advised by Dr Iser that a number of his severely affected patients left the district, having been bought out by the wind development operator at the time.

51. These former Toora residents are now restricted from talking publicly about their health problems, because of a confidentiality clause in their agreement with the wind developer.

52. I have also been advised that some homes at Toora were relocated or bulldozed, and that in these homes, residents had reported seeing vibrations in their cups of tea and glasses of water. Acousticians I work with tell me this is evidence of sound frequencies well below 200 Hz, in the infrasound and low frequency noise ranges being present within the homes. One of the homes where this vibration was reported at Toora, was subsequently bulldozed by the wind development owner, after the home was purchased from the sick resident.

53. I was advised the law firm used by the sick residents from Toora to negotiate with the wind development owner was Slater and Gordon. The use of confidentiality agreements under these circumstances to silence sick neighbours whose properties were purchased by the wind developer was confirmed by Mr James Higgins, the General Manager of Slater and Gordon, in a letter to the Australian newspaper dated 4th May, 2012. In that letter, Mr Higgins stated the following: “We have acted for landowners who have been affected by the operation of nearby windfarms”. Higgins went on to state that “Any confidentiality clauses associated with some compensation claims have not been made at our direction. Such clauses are required by the wind farm operators and are typically required in these types of settlements.”

54. I am concerned about the inevitability of serious adverse health impacts of this particular proposed Bull Creek wind development on many of the neighbours, including both wind turbine hosts and their families and children as well as non participating neighbours and their families and children, over the lifetime of the project. This is based on my direct knowledge of the adverse sleep and other health impacts of large wind turbines sited in close proximity to homes, in similar terrain to what I understand is the terrain of the proposed Bull Creek Wind Project. These characteristic symptoms and health problems have been reported by residents publicly in the media and in formal government inquiries, and privately to me by residents from numerous wind developments both in Australia and internationally. They have also been reported to government inquiries by acousticians and health practitioners with first hand knowledge of the problems.

55. Characteristic symptoms such as the “repetitive night time waking in a panicked state” or waking up exhausted for no obvious reason, correlating with wind and weather conditions consistently observed by the resident and acousticians to correlate with this pattern of sleep disturbance, have been reported out to 10km from existing wind developments such as at Waterloo in South Australia, where the larger 3MW VESTAS V90 wind turbines have been used.

56. Community noise impact surveys have been carried out by two Australian concerned rural citizens following some disturbing results obtained from a similar population noise impact survey carried out by a Masters student from Adelaide University, Zhenhua Wang, at Waterloo.

57. Mr Wang surveyed all households within 5km of wind turbines at the Waterloo wind development, and found that over 50% of residents who responded were moderately or very affected by the wind turbine noise, with 38% stating they had adverse health effects including sleep deprivation and headaches. 75 surveys were distributed, and 48 returned, given a 64% response rate, which I am told by researchers who have published in this area that this is considered a very good response rate for this type of study.

58. Mr Wang was awarded his degree on the basis of this research, but unfortunately the original masters dissertation has not ever been made publicly available, for reasons which have never been explained to the participating residents of Waterloo by either Mr Wang or Adelaide University. The briefing summary written by Mr Wang is attached as annexure 7.

59. This study by Mr Wang is the only one of its kind in the world, which has looked at the impact of larger wind turbines such as the VESTAS 3MW on a rural population.

60. Mrs Mary Morris from Waterloo repeated Frank Wang’s survey questionnaire out to 10km in the same location, and found that the adverse noise and sleep impacts for some people extended out beyond 5km to 10km.

61. Mrs Morris is a 5th generation farmer in the area and knew of people including wind turbine hosts who were reporting their health and sleep was being affected by the wind turbines at Waterloo. In particular Mrs Morris knew of people well beyond 5km who were also having problems who were not included in Mr Wang’s study. Mrs Morris’s survey report is attached as annexure 8.

62. Mrs Patina Schneider repeated a similar community noise impact survey out to 7.5km from 2MW wind turbines at Cullerin Range in New South Wales, and found that at that distance, after nearly four years of operation, 76% of households reported sleep disturbance due to the wind turbines (71% survey response rate). Mrs Schneider’s survey report is attached as annexure 9. It is noteworthy that Professor Chapman’s research noted no complaints for the Cullerin wind development, in marked comparison to the numbers of households adversely impacted by the wind turbine noise.

63. This important work by both Mrs Morris and Mrs Schneider will no doubt be dismissed by the wind industry and its advocates as biased, as both women are impacted by proposed wind developments. However they cannot be dismissed quite so easily when these surveys are considered along with the evidence from many rural residents to two Federal senate inquiries, two state inquiries (NSW and SA), the results of Frank Wang’s survey, and the lack of publicly available completed and published peer reviewed university research which proves that their survey data is wrong or invalid.

64. This evidence from the residents near large wind turbines reporting sleep problems out to greater distances with larger wind turbines is supported by acoustic evidence from Professors Moller and Pedersen’s peer reviewed published research paper from 2011 which demonstrated that the size of the turbine is related to the amount of low frequency noise generated, and the consequent “annoyance” for the neighbours. Acoustic engineers have historically called sleep disturbance and a range of other symptoms known by them to be associated with low frequency noise “annoyance”. Professor Moller stated that “The relative amount of low-frequency noise is higher for large turbines (2.3–3.6 MW) than for small turbines (≤ 2 MW), and the difference is statistically significant.” That paper is attached as annexure 10.

65. I have now listened to detailed symptom reports from over one hundred and twenty rural residents in Australia affected by operating wind turbines, and have a good understanding of the range of pathology, the individual variability in expression of symptoms, and the pattern of inevitable deterioration with ongoing exposure once people become sensitised to the low frequency noise component of the sound energy.

66. My knowledge has also been informed by discussions with some of the treating health practitioners, being general practitioners, sleep physicians, psychologists, occupational physicians, and researchers and acoustic colleagues working in this area internationally in both clinical practice and research, and from my knowledge of the relevant research literature.

67. The symptoms reported to me by residents exposed to wind turbines primarily include symptoms related to acute and chronic sleep deprivation and its consequences, symptoms of acute and chronic physiological and psychological stress, and symptoms of vestibular disorders.

68. US epidemiologist Professor Carl Phillips has noted the connection with stress related disorders in his peer reviewed published paper on the subject, titled “Properly Interpreting the Epidemiological Evidence about the Health Effects of Industrial Wind Turbines on Nearby Residents” which is attached as annexure 11.

69. In the abstract of that paper, Professor Phillips states: ‘There is overwhelming evidence that wind turbines cause serious health problems in nearby residents, usually stress-disorder type diseases, at a nontrivial rate. The bulk of the evidence takes the form of thousands of adverse event reports. There is also a small amount of systematically-gathered data. The adverse event reports provide compelling evidence of the seriousness of the problems and of causation in this case because of their volume, the ease of observing exposure and outcome incidence, and case-crossover data. Proponents of turbines have sought to deny these problems by making a collection of contradictory claims including that the evidence does not “count”, the outcomes are not “real” diseases, the outcomes are the victims’ own fault, and that acoustical models cannot explain why there are health problems so the problems must not exist. These claims appeared to have swayed many non-expert observers, though they are easily debunked. Moreover, though the failure of models to explain the observed problems does not deny the problems, it does mean that we do not know what, other than kilometers of distance, could sufficiently mitigate the effects. There has been no policy analysis that justifies imposing these effects on local residents. The attempts to deny the evidence cannot be seen as honest scientific disagreement, and represent either gross incompetence or intentional bias.’

70. In addition to symptoms and consequences of sleep deprivation, stress and vestibular disorders, residents also consistently report that some of their pre-existing medical and psychiatric conditions worsen with exposure to operating wind turbines, but improve when either the turbines stop turning, when the wind is in a different direction, or when they are away from their home and not exposed to other sources of infrasound and low frequency noise.

71. Given the extensive and longstanding peer reviewed published clinical research detailing the known interconnections and associations between chronic sleep deprivation, stress and numerous clinical disorders including ischemic heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, immune suppression resulting in increased infections and malignancies (cancers), depression, and anxiety, this observation of these particular preexisting symptoms and health problems worsening with exposure to wind turbine noise is not surprising to clinicians and mental health professionals when they understand the way infrasound and low frequency noise, regardless of the source of the noise, are known to affect health via the physiological and psychological stress pathways.

72. When that wind turbine related noise pollution is occurring at night, and people are reporting their sleep is disturbed, even if the precise causative low frequencies are not known, the adverse health consequences from this widely reported sleep disturbance from exposure to operating wind turbines are well known, predictable, and inevitable. It is no surprise this is now being reflected in some of the emerging research literature and comments from acousticians doing the research and acoustic surveys where data is being collected from sick residents.

73. A relatively recent meta analysis of the impact of chronic sleep deprivation on cardiovascular disease, published in the European Heart Journal in February 2011 is attached as annexure 12. That meta analysis states “Lack of sleep exerts deleterious effects on a variety of systems with detectable changes in metabolic, endocrine, and immune pathways. Too little or too much sleep are associated with adverse health outcomes, including total mortality, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and respiratory disorders, obesity in both children and adults and poor self-rated health”

74. A review of the widely damaging impact of chronic stress on health by a leading researcher in this area, Bruce McEwen, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1998, and since 1998 the evidence continues to mount about the deleterious effect of chronic stress on physical and mental health and well being. That review is attached as annexure 13.

75. This characteristic pattern of symptoms varying directly with exposure to operating wind turbines is entirely consistent with reports from rural residents exposed to operating industrial wind turbines around the world, and is consistent with the recent clinical and acoustic reports from my health and acoustic professional colleagues, particularly from the following: Dr Nina Pierpont, American Paediatrician, Dr Robert McMurtry, (former Dean of the Medical and Dental School of Western Ontario), Ms Carmen Krogh, a retired senior Pharmacist from Health Canada who has conducted extensive field research in Ontario, and acousticians such as Dr Bob Thorne, Mr Steven Cooper, Mr Rob Rand and Mr Stephen Ambrose from Maine, USA, and Mr Rick James, from Michigan.

76. Dr Bob McMurtry has published a peer reviewed paper with a proposed Case Definition, to extend the work started by our clinical colleagues Drs Harry, Iser, and Pierpont, and to take into account the additional knowledge from his interviews with many affected residents in Ontario, Canada and his experience watching their symptoms progressively deteriorate with ongoing exposure. That paper is attached at annexure 14.

77. I have learnt that what acousticians call “annoyance” medical practitioners listening to the same reported symptoms described by the residents may describe as “serious clinical pathology”, particularly in the case of sleep and stress related symptoms if the effects are cumulative. Dr Nina Pierpont also identified this issue some years earlier.

78. As medical practitioners are not acousticians it is not surprising that using terms such as “annoyance” has resulted in continuing ignorance amongst our medical colleagues about what is meant by the term “annoyance” in the acoustic research literature, if they have time to read these papers.

79. Currently, the groups of medical practitioners who may have some awareness of the problems with infrasound and low frequency noise exposure are those working in the military, the aviation industry, occupational physicians looking after workers exposed occupationally to low frequency noise and vibration, and ear nose and throat specialists who look after patients with vestibular disorders.

80. Rural General Practitioners are the first to see these patients affected by operating wind turbines, and it is my observation that they rarely have any knowledge or specific training in this field of medicine, as it is not a core part of their work, unlike occupational physicians or ear nose and throat specialists. Rural doctors are often extremely busy, and if they are part of a large medical practice they may only see one or two patients living near wind turbines who are experiencing problems, so may be unaware of the relevant body of knowledge which does exist, even though it is limited in scope with respect to wind turbine noise specifically.

81. Closer collaboration and communication between knowledgeable and industry independent health and acoustic professionals locally and internationally, as well as the work of neurophysiologists such as Professor Alec Salt from Washington State University, is now helping to overcome these communication and conceptual barriers between acousticians and health practitioners to better understand the range and severity of health problems the residents are reporting, and their connections with exposure to operating wind turbines or other sources of infrasound and low frequency noise and vibration.

82. The evidence of the suspected direct causal relationships between specific low frequency emissions from the wind turbines and specific symptoms has recently strengthened with the case study reported by Associate Professor Con Doolan in November 2011, in a paper titled “Characterisation of noise in homes affected by wind turbine noise”.

83. Acoustic and “annoyance” data with a scale for severity of symptoms was collected from a resident and inside their home 2.5km from turbines at the Waterloo wind development in South Australia. It was found that symptoms of “annoyance” were related in time and severity to the presence and “dose” of specific low frequency sound energy present at the time the resident perceived and reported the symptoms.

84. The data collection in this case study was limited in its collection of infrasound frequencies, as it did not include frequencies between 0 and 10 Hz because the acoustic equipment used did not have that capacity to detect and record those frequencies. However with respect to the frequencies between 10 and 30 Hz, the following was stated: “Measurements taken in a single resident’s home near a wind farm show an increase in the overall mean Z (unweighted) and C weighted sound level with Annoyance rating. No increase was, however, observed in the mean A weighted sound level and this is due to the majority of the acoustic energy being contained in the lower frequencies. In particular, the energy levels within the 10-30 Hz band were observed to increase with Annoyance rating.”

85. The resident was unaware of the acoustic emissions at the time, and so was “blinded” to the acoustic results. This study is attached as annexure 15. It is important, because it provides evidence of direct causation of specific symptoms and measure low frequency noise, with a dose response relationship emerging. Whilst it was not possible for Professor Doolan to categorically determine that the only source of that low frequency noise was the wind turbines, because the developer would not cooperate with “on off” testing, the resident was adamant that the noise they were hearing was not “the noise from the refrigerator” or “the wind in the trees” which is what the wind developer and their acousticians have asserted. The residents are well aware of the different and new sounds in their soundscape, and what wind in the trees and the refrigerator sound like.

86. The improved understanding of the physiology behind the inner ear’s response to infrasound and low frequency noise has been greatly assisted by the work of physiologist Professor Alec Salt and his colleagues from Washington State University.

87. A recent paper presented by Professor Salt in August 2012 in New York, titled “Perception-based protection from low-frequency sounds may not be enough” showed that the inner ear of mammals is much more responsive to sound frequencies below 20 Hz than previously thought, especially where there is little concurrent sound present in higher frequencies. Professor Salt has suggested that based on his research, thresholds of safe exposure for infrasound such as is emitted by industrial wind turbines may be much lower than has historically been assumed by many acousticians to be safe, based on historic perception thresholds. That paper is attached as annexure 16.

88. British acoustician Dr Malcolm Swinbanks shares Professor Salt’s concerns about the inadequacy of the current perception thresholds to protect health. At the same New York Conference, Dr Swinbanks referred to a paper from Chinese researchers in 2004, demonstrating that in an experimental situation, infrasound resulted in both physiological changes (blood pressure elevation and increase in heart rate) and symptoms such as nausea, at levels which were below the current audible perception threshold used to assert that levels below that threshold were “safe” and did not cause those physiological effects. This is confirmatory experimental evidence from almost 10 years ago that these perception thresholds were not appropriate and needed to be much lower. Both the Swinbanks paper and the Chinese research paper are attached as annexures 17 and 18.

89. An acoustic environment full of infrasound and low frequency sound energy but without much concurrent audible noise is precisely the scenario in quiet rural environments inside well insulated homes in the vicinity of wind developments with large industrial wind turbines operating. When it is also understood that infrasound and low frequency noise sound energy is far more penetrating and attenuates far more slowly than audible sound, it helps explain why some people are reporting the characteristic sleep disturbance and vibration symptoms related to infrasound and low frequency noise energy on occasions out to 10km from the nearest wind turbine.

90. One such home was measured by Australian acoustician Steven Cooper, who recorded the characteristic wind turbine acoustic signature in a home 8km from the nearest 3MW wind turbine in Waterloo in South Australia, where the residents experience some of the characteristic symptoms, including sleep disturbance. That data is at figure 10 in attachment 19, in a paper by Steven Cooper with the title “Are wind farms too close to communities”.

91. I know the occupant of that house well. The resident in that home has changed from being an ardent wind turbine supporter, who worked on the initial wind turbine development at Waterloo, to deciding to forego the income from 6 turbines himself as he doesn’t want the symptoms for his family to worsen, and nor does he want to harm the health of his neighbours.

92. The acoustic survey performed at the home in Falmouth, Massachusetts by Robert Rand and Stephen Ambrose, and first reported in December 2011 in the document titled “Bruce McPherson Infrasound and Low Frequency Noise Study” also provided useful information with respect to the difference in the acoustic environment inside and outside the home while the wind turbine was operating. The document is attached at annexure 20.

93. Rand and Ambrose found that taking concurrent full spectrum acoustic measurements revealed that there was far more energy in the infrasound and low frequency noise section of the sound spectra inside the home than outside, and likened the inside of the home to being like being within an acoustic drum, because of the way the lower frequencies resonated.

94. Rand and Ambrose also found, unexpectedly, that they both became ill with the identical pattern of symptoms characteristic of exposure to operating wind turbines, and had to get out of the house in order to obtain relief from the symptoms. Both took some time to recover from just three days exposure. The Falmouth resident has since abandoned her home because of deteriorating health. Rand is now sensitised, and reports the symptoms he experienced at the Shirley wind project in December 2012 in his report at annexure 23 (see below). I am aware of three other acousticians who have reported to me that they too develop the characteristic symptoms when they are doing attended measurements at existing wind developments which is creating occupational health and safety issues for them in their work.

95. Further evidence of the role of infrasound between 0 and 10 Hz may be playing in the direct generation of symptoms such as nausea and headaches has come from the results of a recent acoustic survey at the Shirley wind project, Wisconsin. There was clear evidence of infrasound at 0.7 Hz and its harmonics, emitted by the operating wind turbines, generated as the blade passes the tower, called the “blade pass frequency”. The joint report of the four acousticians, and the reports by Dr Paul Schomer and Mr Rob Rand are attached as annexures 21, 22 and 23.

96. On the basis of the data collected, four firms of acousticians including those working for wind developers and those working for sick residents as well as a very senior member of the acoustics profession in America who has worked for both wind developers and residents (Dr Paul Schomer) signed a common report, which amongst other things stated the following: “The four investigating firms are of the opinion that enough evidence and hypotheses have been given herein to classify LFN and infrasound as a serious issue, possibly affecting the future of the industry. It should be addressed beyond the present practice of showing that wind turbine levels are magnitudes below the threshold of hearing at low frequencies”.

97. Thus there is very recent empirical acoustic survey data, from the US and Australia, which clearly demonstrates that wind turbines emit sound in frequencies below those currently being measured by the usage of dBA, which have the potential to cause symptoms in some people, and the potential to cause harm to health from the cumulative sleep deprivation effects alone, long described as the most prevalent “annoyance” let alone symptoms induced by acute and chronic physiological or psychological stress, or vestibular disorders.

98. The current practice by wind developers and noise regulatory authorities of relying solely on dBA for noise impact predictions and noise measurements has therefore been demonstrated to be inadequate, as dBA will not measure either the infrasound frequencies (0–20 Hz) or low frequency noise (20–200 Hz), and as Associate Professor Con Doolan has shown, reported annoyance bears no relationship to dBA, but “the energy levels within the 10-30 Hz band were observed to increase with Annoyance rating”.

99. Both infrasound and low frequency noise frequency ranges are considered by these acousticians and others including scientists and health professionals working in the field to be implicated in directly causing the pathology and symptoms being reported by the sick residents, on the basis of current knowledge and research.

100. There is general agreement amongst acousticians, health professionals and other researchers independent of the wind industry with direct personal knowledge of the problems reported by the residents that further multidisciplinary research is urgently required in order to determine human safety dose response curves, both for acute short term exposures and longer term exposures relating to infrasound, low frequency noise and vibration emissions from these wind turbines. This is particularly important given the reported and observed deterioration of the physical and mental health of residents with ongoing exposure to operating wind turbines, once they have developed initial symptoms of exposure.

101. This deterioration in health with ongoing exposure to infrasound and low frequency noise has been reported for 10 years. It was noted by Dr Leventhall, in his previously mentioned 2003 report to the UK Government’s DEFRA (annexure 6).

102. On page 60, in his concluding remarks, Leventhall stated: “There is no doubt that some humans exposed to infrasound experience abnormal ear, CNS (central nervous system) and resonance induced symptoms that are real and stressful. If this is not recognised by investigators or their treating physicians, and properly addressed with understanding and sympathy, a psychological reaction will follow and the patient’s problems will be compounded. Most subjects may be reassured that there will be no serious consequences to their health from infrasound exposure, and if further exposure is avoided they may expect to become symptom free.” For residents living near existing wind developments who become sensitised, they are faced with a stark choice. Either move, or try and ensure the turbines are shut down, in order to protect themselves from further deterioration in their health.

103. Evidence showing the deterioration in people’s health over time by comparing pre exposure status with post exposure status has not yet been collected in a systematic way at any wind development, so there is little comparative data, with the exception of Dr Nina Pierpont’s peer reviewed study, which clearly showed deterioration in those residents, which ceased when they removed themselves from exposure by leaving their homes.

104. The Waubra Foundation urged staff in the Victorian Department of Health to start collecting this pre exposure health data prior to Hepburn Wind’s turbines commencing operation at Leonard’s Hill, and subsequently from AGL/Meridian Energy’s Macarthur wind development turbines commencing operation recently, but according to the residents the Victorian Department of Health have not done so. Some residents are ensuring their own family doctor does a thorough pre construction health check, documenting their health status prior to the start up of the wind project in their area.

105. Residents at both these newer wind developments have publicly and privately reported serious health problems and some have reported temporary (in the case of Macarthur) or even permanent home abandonment (in the case of Hepburn Wind) for symptom relief.

106. The wind turbines at Macarthur are the largest in Australia, being Vestas V112’s, and are not yet properly commissioned. Yet already the characteristic symptoms of the typical repetitive sleep disturbance and body vibrations, have been reported to me by families who live out to six kilometres away from the nearest wind turbine, some of whom have also spoken out in the media. For some, the symptoms started within days of first being exposed, consistent with the reports from residents and other clinicians from elsewhere in Australia and internationally. The terrain of the Macarthur wind development appears similar to the terrain at the proposed Bull Creek wind project.

107. Dr Bob Thorne’s recent self-funded study submitted to both the recent Federal Senate inquiry into proposed legislation to better regulate “excessive noise from wind farms” and for peer review prior to publication in an international journal, has provided vital information about the health status of individuals who have lived near 2 Victorian wind developments for over two years. Some of those individuals were forced to leave their homes, some permanently, because of the seriousness of the health problems, which they developed with exposure to operating wind turbines.

108. Dr Thorne’s study is unique, in that it combined acoustic measurements at certain homes, with collection of clinical data using standardised validated questionnaires. This had not been done previously, and gives some idea of acoustic exposures inside the homes, however Dr Thorne was unable to collect frequencies down to the blade pass frequency level such as were collected in the Wisconsin study.

109. The questionnaires chosen by Dr Thorne were based on those used in two previous peer reviewed published studies, being work of Dr Daniel Shepherd et al, published in October 2011, and Dr Michael Nissenbaum et al, published in October 2012, attached as annexures 24 and 25.

110. Dr Thorne’s data confirmed the previous findings from both studies above with respect to the existence of significantly disturbed sleep in neighbouring residents, using an internationally recognised sleep quality questionnaire called the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. Dr Thorne’s study is attached, at annexure 26.

111. Dr Thorne’s results replicated Dr Nissenbaum’s findings of mental health problems in residents exposed to wind turbines. The scores were extremely low, indicating that in these people, there was a very disturbing level of mental health pathology, which is precisely what the residents have been reporting themselves. The wind turbines in all three studies mentioned above were much smaller than the 3MW wind turbines being used at Macarthur and Waterloo, so it is to be expected that the distance of reported adverse health and sleep effects on neighbours will be reduced.

112. In addition, when the health of individuals in Dr Thorne’s recent case series exposed to wind turbines was compared to data collected from patients hospitalised for depression, the self reported health data of the turbine exposed group was noticeably worse on every indicator of health, including domains of physical, mental, social and environmental.

113. Hospital inpatients generally have the worst scores on these indicators, indicating the seriousness of the pathology being experienced by these wind turbine exposed residents, which is consistent with their adverse health event reports and the reports of their clinicians.

114. The pattern of onset of symptoms is variable for each individual, even within the same household with apparently similar exposures. Reports of changes in their health from rural families in Australia to me directly are consistent with the clinical findings of medical practitioners such as Dr Nina Pierpont (USA), Dr Amanda Harry (UK) and Dr McMurtry (Canada). This is to be expected with any disease process in a population, but also because of the known individual variation with respect to perception of sound.

115. Predictors of increased risk of developing symptoms with exposure to operating wind turbines were identified by American Paediatrician Dr Nina Pierpont in her peer reviewed, case series, cross over study published in 2009. Dr Pierpont collected data documenting health status and medical problems for individuals prior to exposure to operating wind turbines, followed by a detailed clinical history of symptoms while exposed, followed by a detailed clinical history of symptoms when people reduced their exposure to operating wind turbines by leaving their homes. A clear pattern of symptoms relating to exposure to operating wind turbines was evident.

116. The predisposing risk factors identified by Dr Pierpont include having a pre existing problem with motion sickness, inner ear pathology, or a clinical history of migraines. The elderly and the very young appear also appear to be more vulnerable to developing symptoms early. Dr Pierpont’s findings are consistent with the clinical reports I have been given by Australian residents, and invariably those who reported a rapid onset of symptoms with early exposure fitted into one of the five groups mentioned above (child, elderly, motion sickness, migraines or inner ear pathology).

117. Dr Geoffrey Leventhall, the acoustic consultant often used by the wind industry, has acknowledged Dr Pierpont’s contribution in this area of identifying people susceptible to the effects of “environmental noise” whilst giving evidence under oath in Canada (personal communication with Eric Gillespie, Ontario Lawyer).

118. One of Dr Nina Pierpont’s Peer Reviewers for her study was Dr Owen Black, a senior Otolaryngologist (Ear Nose and Throat Specialist) with extensive experience of treating vestibular disorders and knowledge of pathology related to low frequency noise exposure from his work with the American Navy and with NASA. Dr Owen Black’s affidavit for a court case from 2009 in the USA is attached as annexure 27.

119. Over time with ongoing exposure to operating wind turbines and the infrasound and low frequency noise emissions, the symptoms worsen in each individual. This worsening of symptoms with ongoing exposure to low frequency noise, was also reported by Dr Geoffrey Leventhall, in his report to the UK Department of Environment Food, and Rural Affairs, in 2003.

120. There is no evidence that people habituate or “get used to” the effects, rather the clinical evidence is that people do not habituate, and they deteriorate until they remove themselves from exposure after which many of their symptoms and health problems start to improve. This is consistent with the pattern identified by multiple clinicians and acousticians previously mentioned.

121. It is consistently reported by the residents that the longer the period of exposure, the longer it takes for their symptoms to improve with cessation of exposure.

122. By far the most commonly reported problem by the residents is repetitive sleep disturbance, resulting in cumulative sleep deprivation and consequent exhaustion with ongoing exposure to operating wind turbines. The significance of this problem has been confirmed in the peer reviewed published studies of Dr Daniel Shepherd, and Dr Michael Nissenbaum, and in the recently completed study of residents at two Victorian wind developments by Dr Bob Thorne, previously mentioned.

123. The sleep disturbance can be many times in the same night, and is reported by the residents to be related to wind direction, with the worst experiences being reported to be when the residents are downwind from the operating wind turbines, and particularly bad in certain homes on those nights where they are downwind of a line of wind turbines.

124. Some residents also report experiencing an effect when they are upwind from the wind turbines. Acoustic field measurements performed by Mr Steven Cooper have confirmed the presence of the characteristic wind turbine signature with infrasound and low frequency noise components upwind of the turbines.

125. Many residents report not being able to see or hear the wind turbines when they wake up with the characteristic symptoms, especially if they are at a considerable distance from the wind turbines. However in my experience from staying and visiting these people, their predictions from inside their homes, about turbine operation and even wind direction, solely on the basis of the symptoms they have at a particular time, when they cannot see or hear the turbines, are remarkably accurate.

126. Some residents report being woken by the audible wind turbine noise on occasions, particularly on nights with cold night air, which acousticians report is consistent with what they describe as the “temperature inversion effect” where audible noise in quiet rural areas is noted by residents to travel for greater distances and to be noticeably louder, especially if there is wind at the hub height, but little wind at the “receptor locations”, also known as resident’s homes.

127. I am aware that the World Health Organisation recognises sleep disturbance as an adverse health effect. In its Night-time noise guidelines for Europe (2009) it states at pXII that “sleep is a biological necessity and disturbed sleep is associated with a number of adverse impacts on health”. The guidelines go on to state that: “While noise-induced sleep disturbance is viewed as a health problem in itself (environmental insomnia), it also leads to further consequences for health and wellbeing”. One example of a consequence is the previously mentioned links between cardiovascular disease and chronic sleep deprivation, which were confirmed by Professor Capuccio’s meta analysis, previously mentioned and attached as annexure 12.

128. The Federal Senate of the Australian Commonwealth Parliament made numerous recommendations in June 2011 for urgent multidisciplinary research to be conducted into wind turbine noise and adverse health effects, which included the measurement of sound frequencies inside affected resident’s homes. Unfortunately with the exception of work done by Professors Doolan and Hansen, and Dr Bob Thorne no other formal academic research has taken place, two years after the recommendations were made.

129. The Waubra foundation has long advocated that a precautionary distance of 10km must be adopted for new turbine developments, especially those planning to use the larger wind turbines, on the basis of clinical reports of sleep deprivation out to that distance at existing wind developments, until this research is conducted. Our Explicit Cautionary Notice is attached at annexure 28.

130. The evidence since we issued our Explicit Cautionary Notice in June 2011 has continued to mount that there are serious concerns, and that infrasound and low frequency noise are implicated directly in causation of these health problems.

131. In May 2012 the Waubra Foundation called for the full acoustic spectrum to be measured at all wind developments, with our Acoustic Pollution Guideline Requirements document attached as annexure 29.

132. The recent findings in Australia at Waterloo and the United States at the Shirley wind project now make that imperative at all existing and future wind developments, as part of ongoing monitoring in addition to the required research. It is our firm position that such acoustic monitoring results must be mandatory, transparent, out in the public domain, and available in real time to all parties.

133. I believe that the research recommended by the Australian Federal Senate in June 2011 must be performed before any more turbines are constructed within 10km of human habitation.

134. I have not found any scientific or other evidence to show that a 2 km turbine setback from homes, such as currently exists in Victoria, is enough to protect people from low frequency noise and infrasound, especially from the larger wind turbines increasingly being used by the wind industry, indeed experienced acousticians such as Professor Phillip Dickinson with nearly 60 years experience have suggested 5–10 km would be more appropriate. He stated at the conclusion of a recent paper which heavily criticised the New Zealand standard and restated the importance of sleep, “One easy solution for solving the noise problem and protecting public health, is a ruling that no wind farm sound emission shall exceed 30 dB (LAeq,10mins) at any residence, nor exceed 20 dB (LAeq,10mins) in total in the frequency bands 31.5 to 125 Hz. A very simple way of achieving this, and of eliminating the need for any further involvement by the territorial authority, would be to make a ruling that no wind farm shall be situated less than say 5 to 10 kilometres away from any residence unless the occupant agrees in writing for this condition to be waived”. The paper is attached as annexure 30.

135. There are valid concerns expressed by acousticians and clinicians, on the basis of clinical and resident adverse health event reports, population noise impact surveys and acoustic measurements, that even with the current limited knowledge, the buffer distances from larger industrial wind turbines need to be much greater than 2 km, in order to protect the health and amenity of residents who are hosts as well as neighbours, and their family members who may be in the particularly at risk groups such as babies, young children, noise sensitive individuals such as those with brain injuries, autism spectrum disorders, and the elderly.

136. The recent neurophysiological research work conducted by Professor Salt and Professor Lichtenhan, and detailed in their letter to the Victorian Health Department strongly criticising that department’s recent report which asserted that there is no evidence that infrasound could be causing the reported health problems in the residents. The letter from the two scientists lists their work in this area of the effects of infrasound on the inner ear (in which they are world leaders) and also lists a number of proven pathophysiological mechanisms they have clearly demonstrated experimentally in mammalian studies, which they suspect are playing an important direct causative role in the pathology and symptoms being reported by residents living near wind turbines. Their letter is annexure 31.

137. Emeritus Professor Colin Hansen, a highly regarded academic mechanical engineer with a longstanding career investigating low frequency noise, from the University of Adelaide, who is currently leading the field work in wind turbine acoustical survey work at Waterloo wind development, also wrote to the Victorian Department of Health to strongly criticise their report for similar reasons. Professor Hansen made it clear that on the basis of his recent field work at Waterloo, under certain wind and weather conditions a significant number of local residents could be affected by the wind turbine acoustic emissions in the very low frequencies out to 5–10 km and that this could be expected to disturb their sleep. Professor Hansen’s letter is annexure 32.

138. Recent laboratory research by a Psychology graduate and PhD candidate in New Zealand, by the name of Fiona Crichton, was widely publicised by the wind industry internationally, and purported to provide supportive evidence that the symptoms being reported by wind turbine neighbours were due to “scaremongering” or the “nocebo effect”. Ms Crichton has made public statements in written and media interviews asserting that those who publicise the existence of the known and well documented adverse health effects from low frequency noise are themselves causing the symptoms. Her study has been strongly criticised by acousticians and audiologists with direct field and research knowledge of the problems, as the exposures used in her experiment (10 minutes at a low “dose” during the daytime) bear no relationship to the exposures to wind turbine noise at higher “doses”, a wide range of frequencies, and durations of 24/7 for 25 years including at night, resulting in sleep disturbance. In addition her subjects were young students, whereas wind turbine neighbours and hosts are a range of ages including those known to be more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of the acoustic pollution include those at the extremes of age ie the elderly and the very young. Critiques of that research, together with critiques of Professor Simon Chapman’s “nocebo” research previously mentioned, which relies heavily on this Crichton laboratory research, are at annexure 33.

139. Dr Michael Nissenbaum’s comments to the Australian Federal Senate inquiry on the issue of invoking the “nocebo diagnosis” are particularly pertinent, given that neither Professor Chapman nor Ms Crichton have medical qualifications, and are therefore not trained to diagnose medical conditions. Nissenbaum stated the following: “On ‘nocebo’, if a physician provides the diagnosis of ‘nocebo’ (a psychologically mediated effect analogous to a ‘psychosomatic illness/response’), medical protocols dictate that it be done subsequent to a process of thoroughly excluding the possibility of any pathophysiological pathways that are plausible, more likely, or more important (because of serious downstream implications) to consider.” Nissenbaum went on to point out that “The ‘nocebo’ concept is inapplicable and it would be irresponsible to apply it as an explanation for the chronic sleep disorders which are the result of often unremembered nighttime arousals related to noise (a simple physiological chain of events that is not medically controversial in the least, and which are detectable by validated investigational tools such as used in our study). Its rushed utilization here would be a conjectural, unfair and cruel exercise that would in effect tell people that while what they are feeling may be real, the origin is ‘all in their head’ rather than in well understood physiological interactions between the sleep mechanism and noise.” Nissenbaum’s final point is a very important one: “Finally, suggesting a diagnosis of ‘nocebo’ without investigating, ‘boots on the ground’, for more plausible, better understood, or more logical causes of a medical condition would normally constitute medical malpractice in most Western-based medical systems, including Australia. Individuals who are not physicians are not limited by this professional mandate or even necessarily this conceptual framework. Please bear that in mind when deliberating the opinions (which, when not backed up by the evidence would by definition be superficial – and possibly contrived) – of witnesses or experts who opine on medical matters.”

140. A recent Canadian literature review from Dr Michael Arra and Dr Hazel Lynn is a refreshing counter to the numerous government reviews which continue to assert that “there is no evidence” of a problem with wind turbine noise. Dr Arra and Dr Lynn are both public health physicians, with the professional and ethical obligations that are part of being a medical practitioner. Their literature review sought to determine whether or not there was an effect, from operating wind turbines and wind turbine noise. They found that in every single peer reviewed study with empirical data collected directly from wind turbine neighbouring residents, that there was evidence of what they termed “human distress”. The literature review itself is undergoing peer review prior to publication in a peer reviewed journal but the powerpoint with relevant details is included as annexure 35.

141. A recent case in Australia (The Cherry Tree case) has resulted in judicial acceptance of the fact that some residents living near wind turbines develop a range of characteristic symptoms which the Commissioners presiding over that case have accepted are real, and not “imagined”.

142. David Mortimer is a wind turbine host who receives money for hosting wind turbines on his property and has developed the characteristic symptoms which occur with exposure to wind turbine noise. His wife too has developed symptoms. David gave evidence in the Cherry Tree case, thereby debunking the myth used by the wind industry and its supporters to assert that there are no adverse health problems because “no wind turbine hosts report symptoms”. This statement is untrue. David also referred to acoustic data collected by Mr Les Huson, an acoustic engineer engaged by the Waubra Foundation to collect acoustic data in December 2012, which clearly showed wind turbine acoustic emissions including infrasound and low frequency noise inside his home at the time he was symptomatic. David’s statement is annexure 36.

143. The Commissioners in the Cherry Tree case handed down their orders on the 4th April 2013, and are at annexure 37. On the basis of the evidence presented to them, including David Mortimer’s written and oral evidence including cross examination, and my own written and oral evidence and cross examination, the Commissioners have deferred their decision, acknowledged the “knowledge vacuum” which exists, and asked for further information to be presented to the Tribunal in September, 2013, from the updated literature review being conducted by the National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Acoustic survey being conducted by the South Australian Environment Protection Authority at Waterloo wind development in South Australia.

144. The pertinent extracts from the Commissioners orders in the Cherry Tree case are quoted below:

para 116

“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 southeast 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.”

para 117

“In some cases the impacts have been of such gravity that residents have been forced to abandon their homes.”

para 118

“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”.

145. This proposal for Bull Creek wind project should therefore be rejected on the basis of its potential to cause serious adverse health effects from sleep disturbance alone, to a significant number of people, including the wind turbine hosts and their dependents as well as the members of KLG and their families.

146. The proposed industrial wind turbine development should be rejected until the developer can prove with independently conducted peer reviewed scientific, acoustic and medical research that its industrial wind development will not cause harm to the health of rural people living and working nearby, through chronic cumulative exposure to unsafe levels of low frequency noise and infrasound emitted from the industrial wind turbines proposed, over the life of the project.

Sarah Elisabeth Laurie, BMBS, Flinders University, 1995
CEO Waubra Foundation,
signed and submitted 27th June, 2013



Download original document: “Statement of Sarah Elisabeth Laurie, re: Bull Creek Wind Project

Click here to download Laurie’s opening statement.

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