March 25, 2011

Wind sickness doctor fronts Senate inquiry

By environment reporter Sarah Clarke, ABC News, 25 March 2011

A doctor who pioneered a controversial study into what she calls “wind turbine syndrome” has told a Senate inquiry that residents living near wind farms will get sick.

Dr Nina Pierpont told the first day of the inquiry into the social and economic impacts of wind farms that illnesses have been documented, and Australia should take note.

The American paediatrician says she has clinical evidence that low frequency noise and infrasound from turbines disturbs the body’s organs.

But the industry has been quick to question Dr Pierpont’s findings, and the Federal Government’s health advisory body says there is no such conclusion.

“Wind turbine syndrome is a uniform collection of signs and symptoms experienced by a significant proportion of people living near large wind turbines,” Dr Pierpont said.

“The symptoms include sleeplessness, headaches, nausea, dizziness, tinnitus, ear pressure and pain, eye pressure and pain.

“Episodes of alarm and panic awakening people from sleep, with physical symptoms of an adrenalin surge like a pounding heart.

“Frequent night time urination and enuresis and problems with cognition and performance, including difficulty reading, loss of short-term memory and concentration and deficits in spatial memory and problem solving.”

The study in which these symptoms were identified was based on 10 families in the United States who lived near a large wind farm.

Dr Pierpont interviewed them before, during and after the wind farm’s construction, and she says that was enough to convince her that she had a case.

Family First Senator Steve Fielding instigated the Senate inquiry, and today he questioned the so-called “syndrome”.

“I will ask a provocative statement to start with; if wind turbine syndrome is real, why is that there are people living near wind farms who are not affected at all?” he asked.

Dr Pierpont responded: “Because there’s variability and susceptibility to the probable cause, which is the low frequency noise and infrasound, and that in fact was the focus of my study.

“These people came and went away at frequent times until they had figured out themselves that it was the turbines causing their problems.”

Controversial findings

But the controversy surrounding Dr Pierpont’s work centres on the fact that her research is non-peer reviewed and her claims were made in a self-published book.

That has been noted by the CSIRO, and it was on those grounds that the organisation’s spokeswoman, Peta Ashworth, was hesitant to weigh into the anti-wind campaigner’s case.

“We did a search and we did a review of the ISI Thompson [scientific database] under N. Pierpont, but nothing came up in the academic literature for ‘wind turbine syndrome’,” she said.

The National Health and Medical Research Council, which guides the Federal Government, also has advice on the matter.

While it acknowledges that studies into the potential adverse health effects need to be ongoing, it says there is no evidence as yet that the low frequency noise or shadow flicker from the wind turbines make people sick.

Russell Marsh from the Clean Energy Council says wind turbines are one of the safest ways of generating electricity.

“Wind turbines have been around for 30 years; we have got more than 100,000 operating around the world,” he said.

“They’ve been tested, re-tested, by far one of the cleanest, safest, quietest ways of generating electricity and after all this time and testing by genuine experts there’s no evidence that wind turbines make people sick.”

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