[This feature article was published (in Danish) in Jyllands-Posten, 14 February 2013.]
When a feature article writer with an MA in history (and sport) as his educational background makes use of a research report to defend his views it is reasonable to expect a high degree of academic precision when using its contents. That, head of Secretariat Henrik Vinther, VidenOmVind (knowledge about wind), does not live up to in his feature article “Lift the level in the wind turbine debate” about neighbours’ concerns about the health effects from wind turbines in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten 1st February 2013.
Henrik Vinther is right indeed that the wind turbine debate needs a quality lift. Reading his chronicle makes that quite clear. Because of lacking source criticism he misinterprets a Swedish report that in itself is not too dependable in its conclusions. Consequently he has lowered the standard.
As the wind turbine industry’s pen pusher, Henrik Vinther in his feature article rejects that living in the vicinity of wind turbines can influence one’s health. He has done that consistently in other debates but to support his view this time he refers to the Swedish document with precisely these words:
“There is a completely up-dated research survey from Naturvårdsverket, the Swedish counterpart to the environmental agency in Denmark, which rejects health related consequences of wind turbine noise. The publication dates back to May 2012 and is based on a review of all the existing international research literature.”
It is Naturvårdsverket’s report no 6497 “Wind power’s effects on human interests” that VidenOmVind’s head of Secretariat
in this misleading way uses to gain support for wind power. This is a serious matter because the lives of many people are influenced by being neighbours of industrial wind power.
It is about a 196 pages so-called synthesis report that summarizes a fan of different studies of wind power from economy to impact on the landscape and noise. The chapter on health and wind turbines is only 10 pages and it is in no way possible that it can comprise a complete and fully updated research review purely because there are no references that are dated later than 2011. Since then there have been several articles and reports that are not included.
The chapter is based on a so-called knowledge juxtaposition done in 2011 by the Institute for Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute that Naturvårdsverket commissioned to investigate how much knowledge regarding low frequency wind turbine noise and the health relevant consequences there is.
Furthermore it is thought provoking that the Karolinska Institute was given the task and not the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg that has two internationally renowned researchers with a considerable knowledge of wind turbine noise and how people react to it.
* * *
There are two Swedish versions of the knowledge juxtaposition. In the first version a report from Aalborg University about big wind turbines emitting relatively more low frequency noise was overlooked. That was a significant oversight because low frequency noise is more disturbing. The responsible acoustician admitted the error and the juxtaposition was for a short time withdrawn and corrected. However the conclusion remained unchanged. It would appear it was decided upon in beforehand.
Later the authors used the juxtaposition in an article in an English magazine. And after that the contents were used as the basis for the chapter about health and wind turbines in the Naturvårdsverk synthesis report whose main authors are employed at a pedagogy institute. An apparently minor but certainly not unimportant difference in the conclusions of the four versions shook the credibility of the knowledge juxtaposition. The significant point is the connection between the self-reported sleep disturbances and wind
The final version from November 2011concluded that non tangible health related effects apart from feelings of discomfort from noise and shadows could not be demonstrated and added that the connection between wind turbine noise and self-reported sleep disturbances have been reported in some investigations while other investigations did not find such correlation.
As a matter of fact it only involved three investigations, and two of them found a statistically significant correlation. In the world of science it is viewed as a reasonably reliable indication that there actually is a connection. More popularly it can be expressed as a not so subtle intimation that wind turbine noise disturbs your night’s sleep.
When significant information is not reflected in the conclusions a scientific report or article will normally not be approved at a peer review – i.e. a scientific control carried out by independent professionals. The English edition of the knowledge juxtaposition was publicized in a scientific magazine after a peer review.
And here the conclusion regarding the correlation between sleep disturbances and wind turbine noise is expressed in much stronger terms from the vague formulation in the Swedish knowledge juxtaposition to pointing out that it involves a statistically significant correlation. That is a considerable difference that must be ascribed to the peer review that was carried out.
Then in May 2012 the synthesis report came out. A new investigation had been added, and that one had found impaired sleep quality in wind turbine neighbours. Nevertheless the conclusion had jumped back to the vague Swedish one. And that despite the indications of sleep disturbances being even stronger as the position now was that three out of four had shown sleep effects. In the long run untreated sleep disturbance can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and other serious illness.
The first Swedish report already had pointed out that epidemiological studies of wind turbine noise and the risk of cardiovascular diseases had not been carried out. Without
this research no one will know if there is a connection, neither Henrik Vinther and the wind turbine industry nor the health authorities for that matter that keep a small window open to a potential problem.
* * *
According to Henrik Vinther the opponents of wind power doggedly insist that ’’Being a wind turbine neighbour means a strongly increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Even if authorities that base their decisions on the leading medical expertise deny this correlation, as he writes.
But does the leading medical expertise indeed do that. One of the world’s most distinguished medical magazines, British Medical Journal (BMJ) in March 2012 treated this subject in an editorial under the heading ’’Wind Turbine Noise’’ and sent with these words an important signal:
“A great deal of documentation point to the fact that wind turbines disturb sleep and impair health at distances and external noise levels that are allowed by the authorities several places, including Great Britain. The sleep problems can be a special problem for children, and it can have significant implications on public health.”
* * *
Henrik Vinther writes conceitedly that there “is not a single documented example of cardiovascular disease on a background of decades of experiences with thousands of wind turbines”. However, if wind turbines actually have been the cause of cardiovascular disease, he cannot know anything about.
Through the many years with wind turbines there unavoidably will be neighbours that have suffered cardiovascular complaints. We just don’t know if some of them are caused by wind turbines. Because it has not been investigated. Therefore we don’t know if there has been more or for that matter less cases of cardiovascular conditions among the neighbours than before wind turbines were put up. Maybe the number is unchanged and that there is no connection. But we do not know.
However, we do know that noise and stress can cause high blood pressure. As long as we do not know the mechanism that leads from noise to increased blood pressure it must be regarded as cardiovascular disease. Exactly high blood pressure is among the things that wind turbine neighbours complain about.
After the arrival of industrial size wind turbines so far three neighbours have by working environment medical clinics had their symptoms linked to the turbine neighbourhood. Two of these patients are to meet the parliamentary health committee.
Now what does the Swedish synthesis report that Henrik Vinther uses so bombastically to determine that there are no problems say about that. Verbatim says:
“Wind turbine noise causes noise problems and possibly sleep disturbances which means that influences on the cardiovascular system after long time exposure to wind turbine noise, despite the relatively moderate levels cannot completely be ruled out”.
Therefore the synthesis report cannot rightly be used for such a total rejection of health related consequences from wind turbine noise that Henrik Vinther and thus VidenOmVind lend their names to. Moreover the synthesis report is included in a research program called Vindval meaning wind choice. That wording indicates at the same time what the actual purpose is – to support wind power with arguments.
It is laid on Energimyndigheten and Naturvårdsverket to spread wind power all over Sweden, and Vindval is one of the means. Therefore one cannot talk about independent and objective studies, but determined research in how the way can be paved for building of wind turbines and ways of overcoming resistance.
As late as 7th February Henrik Vinther writes in Jyllands-Posten that VidenOmVind works for popular support of wind power and wants to give the public debate another voice with factual and professional information. However, he and VidenOmVind are neither providing factual information nor lifting the level of the debate when a Swedish report is misused in a way that resembles scientific fraudulence.
Translation: Helen Skeel Taylor.
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