Wind power. The clean, green way of the future or an environmental con that is making people sick? That’s the question that is concerning many residents of the Yass Valley given the explosion in the numbers of wind turbines planned for our area.
Over 100 people gathered at a public meeting hosted by the Bookham Ag Bureau at the Bookham Hall on May 2 to hear Dr Sarah Laurie discuss the possible health implications of having a wind turbine close to your house.
In the audience were people who have been approached to host turbines as well as those who will end up with turbines close to them but without financial compensation.
Dr Laurie is the Medical Director of the Waubra Foundation, a body set up to promote credible research into the effects of wind turbines on human health.
Concerns regarding the adverse health impacts of wind turbines focus on infrasound noise, electromagnetic interference, shadow flicker and blade glint produced by wind turbines.
Despite doctors in a number of countries, including Dr Amanda Harry in Cornwall England, Dr Michael Nissenbaum and Dr Nina Pierpoint in the USA, Dr Robert McMurtry in Ontario Canada, and Australian Dr David Iser in Toora Victoria, reporting unusual clusters of symptoms in their patients, there is very little primary research to help pinpoint the problems, a situation the Waubra Foundation is keen to address.
The symptoms patients presented with include sleep disturbance, headache, tinnitus/ ear pressure, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, visual blurring, tachycardia (rapid heart-rate), irritability, concentration and memory problems and panic episodes.
The symptoms only occurred at home, only when the wind turbines were operating and disappeared when the people left their homes. A number of these doctors conducted small scale research on their patients, and concluded that the wind turbines near the homes were causing people to become sick.
In addition, their symptoms often led to stress, anger, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and depression. The doctors hypothesised that low frequency sound or infrasound was causing the problems and called for research to test the hypothesis.
This news was not well received by wind farm companies and governments desperate to source more renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change.
The wind energy industry responded with the claim that the symptoms were psychosomatic and the product of general anxiety. Wind turbines have been around for decades, so why, they asked, would these symptoms be suddenly appearing?
Those who oppose wind turbines close to houses counter with the argument that the height of wind towers has increased enormously in the past few years, and the extra height of the towers and length of the blades has accentuated the effects. A modern turbine has blades that can reach 150m into the air (the Sydney harbour Bridge is 134m high).
There is also a suggestion that the placement of turbines affects the distance at which people experience problems. The sound will travel further if the turbines are sited on a ridge, rather than in a valley.
Dr Sarah Laurie explained that low frequency sound travels further than normal sound waves and can also penetrate buildings.
It has been shown to decrease productivity and lower the quality of social interactions in workers, that is, it makes people more disagreeable and less cooperative.
However, she said that when noise levels from wind farms are measured, infrasound is not included. So the data that would allow informed decision-making is very scant.
Dr Laurie believes some affected residents had sold their land to the wind company, but in the process had to sign gag clauses that prevent them speaking out.
She said that those suffering health effects from the turbines were regarded as ‘collateral damage’ in the push towards renewable energy targets.
“These are new problems,” said Dr Laurie, calling for a moratorium on construction of new turbines until research can be done.
“We can’t hope to site turbines safely if we don’t have the data.”
For the full feature on wind farms, including details on the location of nearby turbines, what doctors and scientists have to say and the response of Senate, please see the print edition of Wednesday’s Yass Tribune.
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