Assistant Health Minister Pru Goward has triggered divisions within the Baird government and drawn flak over her call for a probe into the health impacts on residents living near wind farms.
Ms Goward, whose roles include minister for Medical Research and Minister for Medical Health, used a public forum in Yass to throw her support behind complaints that wind turbines caused headaches and other sickness.
“Increasingly, I am [of] the view that there is some validity on the health effects” of wind farms, Ms Goward was reported in the Yass Tribune as saying on Friday. “There are a number of people with health problems…it is clearly not psychosomatic.”
Ms Goward went further on Monday, telling Fairfax Media turbines’ blades created pressure waves that “resonate in the skulls” of people living as far away as five kilometres.
“I don’t think we know enough about the impacts,” she said. “It is something we should be prioritising.”
Ms Goward stopped short of earmarking NSW government research funds “until it is justified”, but said she had pressed Planning Minister Rob Stokes to disclose how widespread complaints of so-called wind turbine syndrome are: “I want Rob Stokes to tell me what will be an appropriate [approval] process, and how extensive an issue it is.”
The Health Department, though, sought to distance itself from Ms Goward’s comments, pointing to work by the National Health and Medical Research Council, “Australia’s pre-eminent health research body”.
The council’s 2015 Information Paper, Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health, “included a comprehensive, systematic review of the available evidence and found no reliable or consistent evidence that wind farms directly cause adverse health effects in humans”, a spokesman for NSW Health said.
“NSW Health continues to support this advice and will continue to work closely with the Department of Planning & Infrastructure to ensure that evidence of health effects are adequately considered in development of NSW wind-farm planning guidelines,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Planning echoed those comments, saying its compliance officers “conduct regular inspections of wind farms to make sure they are meeting conditions of approval”.
Walt Secord, NSW Shadow Minister for Health, attacked Ms Goward’s comments as “absolutely irresponsible and echoed extreme right-wing conspiracy theorists on the political fringe” and “unfitting” for an assistant health minister.
“Ms Goward’s comments sounded like they came from someone wearing a tin foil aluminium hat rather than a Minister of the Crown,” Mr Secord said. “There is no credible scientific research showing a connection between wind turbines and mind control.”
Ms Goward, a former planning minister, said a “light-bulb moment” occurred after “five or six” people had come forward to complain personally about illness.
“We’ve got to take these complaints seriously,” Ms Goward said. “This is the point I’ve reached.”
No ‘adverse impacts’
Friday’s forum was held to discuss the Rye Park Wind Farm project, with New Zealand-owned Trustpower seeking to build 109 wind turbines, each about 157 metres tall. The plant, on the southern end of the Southern Tablelands has a proposed capacity of 327 megawatts of electricity.
“This is an issue that Trustpower, as a responsible wind farm developer and operator, has taken seriously but on all the credible evidence that’s available no direct link has been established between wind farms and adverse health effects,” Rontheo Van Zyl, Trustpower’s wind generation development manager, said.
“All the available Australian and international evidence does not support the view that the infrasound or low frequency sound generated by wind farms, as they are currently regulated in Australia, causes adverse health effects on populations residing in their vicinity,” he said.
Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, said Ms Goward’s comments were surprising.
“I’m struggling to think of any example of any health minister or any health authority anywhere in the world who has reached a similar conclusion,” said Professor Chapman, who has published widely on wind farms and human health.
The NHMRC, meanwhile, held an expert review panel on October to discuss its Targeted Call for Research into wind farms and human health.
The council expects to announce recipients for its $2.5 million over five year for the research by late 2015 or early next year, but may not spend the money if “applications of sufficient quality are not received”, according to its funding rules.
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