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Scrutiny on ill-wind fear

Acoustic engineers at the University of Adelaide want to find out if wind farm noise can make people feel sick.

Professor Colin Hansen says it will be the first long-term, comprehensive study of noise and vibrations in and around people’s homes, combined with laboratory tests.

He is working with residents near two South Australian wind farms – Hallett stage 2 and Waterloo, 30km southeast of Clare, where four homes are abandoned at night.

“There is a problem of some sort. We have to work out what it is, because people don’t just leave their houses for no reason,” he said.

“There has to be something going on. We want to be able to measure it, measure the noise, measure the vibration, measure over an entire frequency range and measure the variability – how it goes up and down on particular nights.”

Prof Hansen bought equipment from overseas, using funds from consulting work.

He has also applied for Commonwealth Government funding.

In March, the State Government short-listed the project and invited a formal presentation, then cancelled it at short notice citing “little or no interest”.

The medical profession generally considers wind farm noise to be a minor annoyance, comparable with other forms of noise pollution such as traffic or heavy industry.

Head of medicine at the University of Adelaide, Professor Gary Wittert, puts the problem down to anxiety, exacerbated by anti-wind farm lobby groups.

“There is no credible data of adverse effects, only anecdotes and hype by activists with a range of motives,” he said.

He found no significant difference between the number of prescriptions issued to people living in areas with and without turbines.

Research in the Netherlands has shown people who benefit financially from wind turbines are far less likely to be disturbed, despite exposure to similar sound levels.

In June, the Senate Committee investigating the Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms called for “thorough, adequately resourced epidemiological and laboratory studies of the possible effects of wind farms on human health”.