As Palmerston North’s wind farm rules are challenged for being “too restrictive”, an international researcher says they don’t go far enough to protect human health.
A commissioners’ decision on the wind farm section of Palmerston North’s District Plan has set 1.5 kilometres as the minimum distance houses should be built from turbines.
The distance is set to manage noise effects from turbines on adjacent properties.
But, Portuguese researcher on infrasound and low frequency noise Mariana Alves-Pereira says the distance is not safe, and the harmful effects of noise that cannot be heard by the human ear extend much further.
Alves-Pereira, who holds a doctoral degree in environmental sciences, delivered an open seminar at Massey University on Thursday about vibroacoustic disease.
She said health and safety groups and regulators around the world classically focused on audible noise and assumed “if you can’t hear it, it won’t hurt you”.
But, she said, using the decibel measure to assess what level of noise was safe was totally inappropriate.
She had been part of research into international examples of how exposure to low vibration caused illness in people and animals.
Alves-Pereira said it was not all about wind farms.
Patterns of illness had been studied first in people working in, or living close to, a range of industries, including airline pilots and truck drivers.
Often their complaints were dismissed as “noise annoyance”, or psychological conditions.
“If you complain about noise and they give you a hearing test and it’s fine, you will be referred to a psychiatrist.”
She said people were not being taken seriously and were not getting the right tests.
She said structures in the body thickened in the presence of infrasound and low frequency noise, specifically building up collagen in blood vessels and in the heart.
The lungs and digestive system were also affected.
Her study involving people living about 300m from wind turbines in 2007 eventually led to a Supreme Court order for the turbines’ removal.
Her current opinion of wind farms was that “humankind has more viable and human-friendly sources of renewable energy”.
Palmerston North city planner David Murphy said the District Plan review had focused on the visual effects of wind turbines, on what was now defined as the outstanding natural landscape of the Tararua Ranges and on noise effects measured in decibels.
Murphy said there was nothing in Alves-Pereira’s comments that would change the acoustic engineering advice given to the council about its planning rules.
He said the District Plan aimed to comply with the New Zealand standard for noise management – NZS 6808:2010 Acoustics – wind farm noise.
“If there is a problem with using 40 decibels as the measure, that means there is a problem with the New Zealand standard and then that’s an issue that’s bigger than Palmerston North. It would be a problem with the way New Zealand is managing noise.”
Murphy said the council had been notified of appeals against the plan change decision from NZ Windfarms, operators of the Te Rere Hau wind farm, and Joseph Poff, a supporter of the consented but yet-to-be-built Turitea wind farm.
He expected more would be lodged by the deadline at the end of the week.
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