Some people who live close to the wind farms at Cape Bridgewater and Cape Nelson may need to start monitoring their blood pressure, according to a South Australian doctor who visited Portland last week.
Dr Sarah Laurie, the medical director of the Waubra Foundation, a group concerned about wind farm development near Ballarat, said she met last week with Glenelg Shire’s CEO, local doctors and citizens to discuss what she considers to be the damaging health effects of sound coming from the turbines and travelling up to 10 kilometres away.
“There is a link between early morning high blood pressure, heart attacks and the turbines at wind farms,” she said. “I have recommended to people near the Waubra project that, if they live within five kilometres of the wind farm and are concerned about their blood pressure, they should check it with a 24-hour monitor.”
She urged any concerned person living within five kilometres of a wind farm to purchase their own blood-pressure monitoring equipment, and to see a doctor if their blood pressure was over 140/80 when they first awoke in the morning.
Dr Laurie said people living close to turbines in both America and Canada were self-administering 24-hour blood pressure tests. Preliminary results showed “dangerously” high blood pressure levels while some people slept and while turbines were operating, she added.
“These are patients who did not necessarily have previously diagnosed hypertension,” Dr Laurie noted.
Dr Laurie, who said her medical practice was “on hold” due to family responsibilities and her foundation commitments, said she was not being paid to travel around Australia and Canada researching this issue and talking with community leaders. Although her own Beetaloo Valley home in South Australia is not near a wind farm, she said she’d personally experienced symptoms like headaches and sleeplessness while staying in houses close to turbines.
“The condition has been identified in Europe, the UK, the USA and Canada. This is not just a Waubra issue, it’s happening right around the world,” she said.
A recent report from the National Health and Medical Research Council went against her observations. It said noise levels from wind turbines had been assessed as “negligible”, that is, they appeared to be no different to that found in other everyday situations.
“Further, a survey of all known published results of (inaudible) infrasound from wind turbines found that wind turbines of contemporary design, where rotor blades are in front of the tower, produced very low levels of infrasound,” the NHMRC reported.
General manager of local wind farm operator Pacific Hydro, Lane Crockett, said he was open to the idea of more testing, but has no idea what more could be learned.
“Sure, bring it on, but who is going to pay for it?” Mr Crockett said. “The facts are already on the table – there’s nothing to hide. More testing just doesn’t seem to be terribly necessary, but we’d be happy to take part if it happens.”
During the recent state election campaign, the Coalition advocated a policy that residents can veto a development if turbines are less than two kilometres from homes. The policy would not apply retrospectively to the 28 wind farms already holding planning approvals. Mr Crockett said he “had issues” with a future veto, suggesting instead that planning decisions be made on a case by case basis reflecting local conditions, including hills, trees and wind direction.
Victoria is on the verge of the biggest expansion of wind energy in its history, with 1322 new turbines planned for 28 approved developments.
Dr Laurie said she’d interviewed 40 rural Australians who showed worrying symptoms after living near wind farms.
“The big issue for people living near wind turbines is noise for extended periods of time,” she said. “This leads to chronic sleep deprivation, which is associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, suppressed immunity, poor concentration and depression,” Dr Laurie noted.
Neither she nor the NHMRC could say if any other unidentified factor might be contributing to the illnesses.
The president of the SA chapter of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Andrew Lavender, recently told an interviewer that more medical studies needed to be done in the Australian setting.
“We are aware that people complain about health effects from living near wind farms,” he said. “People complain about tinnitus, headaches, nausea, sleeplessness. These are very non-specific symptoms and they can be related to a number of things. Stress, anxiety and depression can all be manifest in that way
“The fact that there is a wind farm nearby, and maybe your neighbouring owners are benefitting financially and you’re not, those things can all have an impact. The visual impact is significant and all these can add to the stress that may be contributing to the problems, rather than the operations of the wind farms themselves.”
Mr Crockett said any assertion of a link between high blood pressure and wind turbines was “…a challenging statement,” and he called for more evidence to be presented, since the NHMRC had found none.
A Senate enquiry called by outgoing Victorian Senator Steve Fielding will get underway in the autumn, and Mr Crockett said Pacific Hydro would be happy to take part in it. The deadline for submissions is February 10, with the Senate Community Affairs Committee required to make its report by April 30. Submissions can be sent via: www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/clac_ctte/impact_rural_wind_farms/index.
Dr Laurie said the Waubra Foundation, which is likely to make a submission to the enquiry, was funded through private community donations and she hoped it would soon gain tax-exempt status. She said the group would begin active fundraising in Glenelg Shire and elsewhere and vowed she’d return to Portland in mid-March to meet with Portland District Health staff.
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