Australia’s leading medical funding body, the National Heath and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), has awarded $3.3 million to two researchers to look into whether proximity to wind turbines causes illness.
More research was recommended by a year-long study into wind turbine sickness by the NHMRC that found “no direct evidence that exposure to wind farm noise affects physical or mental health”.
It recommended $500,000 to fund researchers to undertake further study.
Later, the NHMRC’s Research Committee upped the recommendation to $2.5 million because it was a case where there was “limited reliable evidence”.
Some residents who live close to wind power farms complain of a broad range of symptoms including headaches and nausea. Others report no such problems.
“Existing research in this area is of poor quality and targeted funding is warranted to support high quality, independent research on this issue,” NHMRC chief executive Anne Kelso said.
Today epidemiologist Professor Guy Marks from the University of New South Wales was awarded $1.94 million to investigate wind turbine noise and sleep, balance, mood and cardiovascular health.
Sleep researcher Associate Professor Peter Catcheside from Flinders University was awarded $1.36 million over five years to look into the impacts of wind turbine noise on sleep.
“It’s certainly biologically plausible that wind farm noise is disturbing to human sleep,” Professor Catcheside said.
He said sleepers will be monitored near wind farms and near areas of heavy traffic for comparison. In the lab, wind turbine noises will be played back to sleeping volunteers and their reactions recorded.
“When we designed the study we didn’t believe it was possible to do it in a proper well designed study in the field environment,” Professor Catcheside said.
“There are just too many uncontrolled variables in that setting. The only way really to properly answer the question of how disturbing is wind farm noises compared to other noises is to do the in-laboratory experiment.”
The average grant awarded by the NHMRC over the last 16 years is $546,516. For Professor Catcheside, the $1.36 million is his largest ever grant.
He believes the funding is justified.
“There’s very strong community debate around wind farm noise and it won’t go away without good quality studies to answer these sorts of questions,” he said.
Questions raised over research funding
Clean Energy Council policy manager Alicia Webb said multiple studies, both in Australia and overseas, had already concluded there is no evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans.
“This finding has been backed up by statements from leading national organisations such as the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Association of Acoustical Consultants, which have said there is not enough infrasound produced by wind farms to have a negative effect on humans living near wind farms,” she said.
John Iser from Doctors for the Environment questioned why the wind turbine sickness research received funding ahead of other projects.
“While we always welcome good quality research, the proposed studies are far removed from a real-life setting,” Dr Iser said.
“We live in a world with many pressing health concerns, it’s worrying that research on these issues will go begging while studies on wind farms receive millions of dollars.
“Only about 15 per cent of all grant applications receive NHMRC funding.”
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