The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australia’s premier health research body, has called for Australian scientists to look into so-called “wind turbine sickness”, saying that very few scientifically rigorous studies have been done.
The council has set aside $500,000 in funding grants for the research.
Wind turbine sickness is a list of medical complaints that includes headaches, nausea and anxiety and depression. It is said to be caused by proximity to wind turbines, as well as the sound and inaudible “infrasound” they produce.
After a comprehensive review of publications about wind turbine sickness, in which it amassed more than 4,000 documents from across the world, the council concluded there was “no direct evidence that exposure to wind farm noise affects physical or mental health”.
But Professor Warwick Anderson, chief executive of the NHMRC, said it was “terribly hard to prove a negative”.
Concerns about wind turbine sickness led to the Victorian Government’s introduction of a two-kilometre buffer between new wind turbines and houses in 2011.
The New South Wales Government later followed suit.
Few studies focus on health issues associated with wind farms
Of the 4,000 documents collected by the council, only 13 were included in the study. The rest did not meet the council’s criteria.
Professor Bruce Armstrong, the chair of the NHMRC Wind Farms and Human Health Reference Group, said there were not many publications that investigated the health impact of living near a wind farm.
“You might think there were a lot of studies that were thrown out,” he said.
“But no studies were thrown out that addressed the key question: ‘Is there an association between living near to wind farms or being in an area where wind farm noise is potentially audible and any human health outcome?’
“Very few studies focussed on this key point.
The NHRMC released the final version of the report today. A draft was released last year and opened for public comment.
The review also considered related reports into noise, such as road traffic or industrial noise.
Based on these studies, the council concluded that noise effects from wind farms are unlikely to be felt or heard more than 1,500 metres away.
“At this distance, wind farm noise is usually below 30-35dBA, below the noise levels of household devices and similar to a quiet residential area,” the report said.
Infrasound was at “levels are similar to those at other locations (for example, at the beach, in the vicinity of a coastal cliff, near a gas-fired power station and in a city centre away from major roads).”
More research important, council says
The NHMRC did note, however, that there was some poor evidence for “annoyance” from wind farm noise, which could contribute to stress levels of those nearby.
Professor Armstrong said there was more work to be done.
“We need to be sure that what people are complaining about is not due to wind farms before this story ends, and that’s why I personally think that doing research is an important thing to do,” he said.
“It’s possible that whatever research you do, you won’t satisfy people completely. But as Professor Anderson has pointed out, the research does not establish the negative – but it’s poor quality research.”
The Clean Energy Council welcomed the findings of the report, but questioned the need for further research.
“While the NHMRC has called for more research into potential health impacts within 1,500 metres of a wind farm, the evidence to support this is weak,” policy director Russell Marsh said.
“Australia already has some of the world’s strictest regulations for wind farms, and we know that further scientific research will only reinforce the fact that wind energy is one of the safest and cleanest forms of energy generation in the world.”
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