The scientist who set up the Sydney University Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory – and who was asked to be involved in assessing the National Health and Medical Research Council’s targeted research examining the effect of wind turbines – says the growing body of evidence points to the low-frequency infrasound they create directly affecting the human nervous system.
Medical faculty associate professor of neuroscience Simon Carlile said it was time to properly examine the effects of low-frequency wavelengths and recognise that, like seasickness, they don’t affect everybody.
“In terms of the physiology, in terms of how we know the nervous system responds to this low-frequency noise, the evidence says ‘yes, the nervous system is activated at these frequencies’,” he told The Australian.
“But not in the traditional way you might think hearing works – it’s stimulating the system that’s involved in balance – the vestibular system. So there’s some good physiology, some good neuroscience, that this does exist and it’s been shown in animal models.”
But Associate Professor Carlile said its existence was only “one part of the story”.
“The other part is that some people are susceptible and some aren’t,” he said.
“It just means that when you look across 1000 people you can’t see a statistical effect across that population – because 90 per cent of them aren’t affected. Then the question is: why are some people affected and other people aren’t?
“And the answer to this could be because it’s not stimulating the ears – you can’t hear it at low frequency – it’s stimulating the vestibular system.’’
Associate Professor Carlile said that was similar to people who suffered seasickness.
“They get seasick because of the simulation of the vestibular system – and there seems to be quite significant variations of susceptibility to vestibular-induced nausea.
“A lot of the symptoms some people report around wind turbines are very similar to vestibular induced nausea or seasickness, like sleep disturbance.
“The nervous system is definitely sensitive to this stimulus.”
He said research could feed back to design: “This is going to be an important energy source and if we’re building tons of these things in the wrong places or building them in the wrong way then we’ve got big trouble.”
He felt the statistical and epidemiological approaches informing the debate had not been “hitting the mark. You have got potentially a wide range of individual difference on this: you’ve really got to be homing in on those differences.”
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