Science on the impact of wind farms on human health is still “evolving” and needs more clarification by medical and scientific experts, a Senate committee has found.
The committee’s final report handed down on Monday night calls for the establishment of a new Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound (IESC), a step that wind-farm proponents say would be another setback for the industry.
There is a clear disconnect between the official position that wind turbines cause no harm to human health and evidence from people living in proximity to turbines who suffer from similar physiological symptoms and distress, the report says.
“Those who have labelled ‘wind turbine syndrome’ as a communicated disease or a psychogenic condition have been too quick to judge,” it says.
“In so doing, they have unnecessarily inflamed the debate on the issue. This has understandably caused those who suffer adverse symptoms even greater distress.”
The committee said it had heard evidence of a range of adverse health impacts.
These included tinnitus, raised blood pressure, heart palpitations, tachycardia, stress, anxiety, vertigo, dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, headaches, nausea, ear pressure, exacerbated migraine disorders, motion sensitivity, inner ear damage and “worst of all”, sleep deprivation.
The final report of the Select Committee on Wind Farms says the government shares the view that scientific debate on the health impacts of wind farms was not settled.
The new IESC should conduct independent, multidisciplinary research into the adverse impacts and risks to individual and community health and wellbeing associated with wind turbine projects and other industrial operations that emit sound and vibrations, it says.
It should also develop a single national acoustic standard on audible noise from wind turbines that is cognisant of the existing standards, Australian conditions and the signature of new turbine technologies.
The report recommended the IESC be empowered to block new projects on health grounds.
The committee said it was “disappointed” the AMA did not engage with the inquiry and responded to comments made to the inquiry only through a Twitter post.
“This is regrettable given the influence that the association’s views have on the Australian medical community,” the report said.
“It is hardly surprising if general practitioners turn a blind eye to, or downplay, the complaints of those who claim to be suffering the effects of wind turbines when the peak body’s assessment of the authenticity of these impacts is so dismissive.”
The report notes that the NHMRC committed last March to conduct further research after dismissing health concerns associated with wind turbines in the past.
The recommendations were backed by government and crossbench senators on the committee, but Labor members rejected the recommendations as expensive and unnecessary and put out a dissenting report.
Labor committee member Senator Anne Urquhart said today the majority report’s proposals were “reckless, ridiculous and irresponsible”.
The Australian wind industry is already suffering from a slump in investment owing to the federal government’s cut to the renewable energy target and its directive that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation stop investing in wind farms.
Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm said the committee’s findings vindicated his motion to establish the inquiry and proved that regulation of the wind industry needed to change.
“There are glaring planning and compliance deficiencies plus growing evidence, domestic and international, that infrasound and low-frequency sound from wind turbines is having an adverse health impact on some people who live in the vicinity of wind farms,” he said.
“This is not something a responsible government can ignore.”
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