Jennings, Nick. New Zealand “AMA Ignored Science Of Wind Turbine Noise”

A considerable number of years ago, when I had the privilege of being the Chairman of the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (Inc.) for several years, I was the leader of a small team of local mountain recreational people who formally made a presentation to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ seminar under the broad umbrella “Community First Aid”, during which we explained and discussed the New Zealand approach to mountain safety as this country’s contribution amongst the presentations from Australia’s States on various other aspects of Community First Aid.

During our time at that seminar I met a wide variety of individuals, from both the surgical professions and the general population, and returned to New Zealand with a very high opinion of all of them.

Regrettably, I now have to inform you that your recent statement concerning industrial wind turbines has seriously detracted from that earlier respect for members of the medical profession.

To start with, I make four general comments:

The first is that I have no idea of what sort of impression and modification, if any, the industrial wind turbine industry could have made to your thinking in terms of your apparent unquestioning acceptance of their proselytising propaganda which advocates unchallenged further commercial developments of their products despite the lack of any reputable research, of which I have knowledge, which shows that their products do not have a deleterious effect on adjacent populations. Should you have access to any such research I would welcome being made aware of it.

Secondly, I think it is worthwhile drawing to your attention the AMA entry I found on the internet under the heading of ‘Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia’. In that entry, I think your references to avoiding potential harm to patients and to protecting patients’ rights, and (promoting) the integrity and independence of those patients’ relationships with their doctors, are thoroughly commendable: – apart from the fact that much of your statement concerning Industrial Wind Turbines reflects what seems to be an attitude, on your Association’s part, of believing that many of those patients, who live near a wind farm, have some sort of mental or emotional difficulty in accepting the presence of those large towers, and that their Doctors are colluding with them in their difficulties of acceptance. Neither of these would seem to be supportive of either the patients nor of their Doctors.

In particular, with a respectful kowtowing to the extraordinary variety of applicability the English language possesses, I draw to your attention the comment on the aforementioned web site of the entry: – ‘Providing a resonant and authoritative expert medical commentary on health issues’. My dictionary: – “Concise Oxford English” defines ‘resonant‘ as: – ‘(of sound) deep,clear and continuing to reverberate; …. suggesting images, emotions or a quality’; and then defines ‘reverberate’ as: – ‘(of a loud noise) be repeated as an echo, have continuing serious effects.’ All of which, whether intended or not, and directly orindirectly, would relate to much of the material discussed in your statement on Industrial Wind Turbines – particularly, perhaps, in ‘having continuing serious effects.’

Thirdly, should you not already be aware of the ‘Occam’s Razor’ approach to problem solving, I do recommend that principle of economy or succinctness to you. It states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove correct, but—in the absence of certainty—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better. I’m sure you’ll agree that the single assumption of industrial wind turbines emitting infra– or low frequency noise is considerably less complicated than local residents being made aware of turbine towers, being persuaded that those towers are undesirable, being further persuaded that they need to literally ‘worry themselves sick’ and that they in turn should then have the same influences on any other members of their families.

Fourthly, I strongly urge you to exercise your native common sense and to treat the whole controversy of industrial wind turbines and health in the same diagnostic manner that you would use in approaching patients with a puzzling condition – a step by step deliberate process with:

  • appropriate consultation with other medical professionals;
  • a due regard and respect for the patients (those who are reporting health problems since those industrial wind turbines have started operating);
  • the widest possible unbiased research;
  • the minimum of influence being exercised by those whose income is derived from the unimpeded operation of the turbines and who can be expected to bring all sorts of arguments and pressures – economic, global warming, social, environmental, levels of personal responsibility, academic status, and professional responsibility, amongst others – to bear on those they seek to influence in order to gain support for their commercial interests.

From your published position statement, it is not clear what science you rely upon to make those sort of conclusions. In the absence of such references, let me introduce you to some of the science you may have overlooked.

SOME RECENT SCIENCE

The Background:

VIBROACOUSTIC DISEASE

Vibroacoustic Disease (VAD) was first identified by a group of researchers in Portugal, and a comprehensive record of that research can be found in the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology of January 2007, p. 256–279, issue 93 (1) titled “Biological effects of infrasound and low-frequency noise explained by mechanotransduction”, authored by M. Alves-Pereira, and N.A.A. Castelo Branco,

More significantly, the work of Castelo Branco and the extended team of researchers occupy an entire issue of the journal: Aviation, Space, And Environmental Medicine,volume 70, number 3, section II – supplement, March 1999. Here there are 23 individual papers from a variety of authors who attest to the reality of vibroacoustic disease. The journal groups papers into six sections: Introduction; Clinical Features; Cardiorespiratory Involvement; Neurological and Psychological Disorders; Immunological Changes and The Noise Challenge. Since that time, it is not scientifically reasonable to deny the existence of the VAD phenomenon. It is important to understand that all science starts from observation. The scientific study of VAD now spans more than two decades and to deny its existence to ‘put one’s head in the sand’ in the face of over whelming evidence. A search of Google Scholar reveals 2,400 hits for ‘Vibroacoustic Disease’. It cannot be regarded as a myth any longer by those who find the science inconvenient.

The question which remains to be answered is just how many of the symptoms of VAD can be ascribed to the (unintended) immissions of industrial wind turbines (IWTs). While this topic remains relatively under-researched, that possibility can no longer be ignored. Health and safety practice does not advance by ‘sweeping problems under the carpet’ just because dealing with the implications would be an inconvenience or threaten profit margins.

THE VAD TEAM

The pedigrees of the scientists involved in VAD research are as formidable as they are numerous and represent a broad range of backgrounds and specialisations. The key scientist, Nuno A.A. Castelo Branco has impressive qualifications and a wealth of experience gained from a long career.

Castelo Branco graduated from Lisbon University in 1966 from the then Lisbon University Medical School and completed his General Internship in 1971. In 1962 he had joined the Portuguese Air Force, subsequently rising to the rank of Colonel, serving in the Portuguese African War, and is now retired from the armed services.

In 1977 he was awarded with a degree in Aerospace Pathology by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC, USA, and a degree in Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base at San Antonio. TX, USA. He became a Medical Specialist in Surgical Pathology at the Civilian Hospitals of Lisbon, Portugal, in 1978. In 1979 he was posted as Chief Medical Officer at an aircraft manufacturing rework and maintenance plant, owned and operated by the Portuguese Air Force, which employed a work force of about 3,500. From 1980 he effectively coordinated a team of researchers at that plant to investigate the biological effects of low frequency noise exposure, which came to be known as the VAD Team.

While it is understood that VAD is the end result of long-term exposure to large-amplitude, low-frequency sound, the symptoms bear a remarkable resemblance to what has become known as Wind Turbine Syndrome. While it cannot be said that full-blown VAD is caused by IWTs, due to the long gestation time of the syndrome, effects from those wind turbines cannot be scientifically ruled out and prudent avoidance is called for in the absence of supporting evidence of safety from such exposures. The relationship between the quanta of exposure to the causal elements, gestation time and emergence of clinical symptoms has yet to be investigated.

The response from Castelo Branco and Alves-Pereira to the proposed Mill Creek extension of the Wellington, New Zealand, West Wind wind farm adds useful additional information on the early years of VAD research reported in the relevant paragraph above.

The title of that document of August 2008 is – “Response by the VAD Team to reports submitted regarding possible health effects of a wind farm in Wellington New Zealand (Project Mill Creek).” Additional information on the above two authors and their work, as well as that of their colleagues, can also be found within that report.

GENERAL FACTORS CONCERNING NOISE

A general fact relating to noise and its measurement and analysis is that in the very great majority of the relevant work and research relating to sound/noise which is carried through the air, that sound/noise is generated by means of vibrations or pulses set up within the surrounding air by sources such as voices, thunder, waves, fans, gun fire, wind, rain, propellers, car engines and exhausts, industrial equipment, trains, fire engine and other sirens, trumpeting elephants, screeching sea gulls, night clubs – and so on and so forth ad infinitum … the important point to remember is that the means by which the vibrations are initiated in the surrounding air are irrelevant – once the vibrations are started they have the same range of characteristics regardless of the initiating source.

Other factors include:

  • Noise and sound affect different people differently – and the same people differently at different ages;
  • noise / sound will decrease according to its distance from the source;
  • atmospheric conditions will have an influence on how far sound / noise will travel;
  • ground cover and topography will also influence how far noise / sound will travel;
  • when sounds/noises impact on built structures, the effect of resonance within some internal spaces can magnify the effect of the impacting pressure waves;
  • increasingly, the evidence suggests that low frequency sound which can not be heard (perceived aurally) by most people, can still have an impact on the health of individuals;
  • different animals can recognise and respond to noise / sound beyond the range of human hearing.

Before listing the relatively recent research papers, it is important to point out that as a result of much of this research, a number of fondly believed fictions concerning sound are shown to be no longer acceptable to anyone who holds the values of science to be important .

THE RESEARCH PAPERS

1. Wind Turbines Can Be Hazardous to Human Health by Dr Alec N. Salt, Ph.D., of the Cochlear Fluids Research Laboratory, Washington University in St. Luis, updated 15 August 2012, and ‘published’ on Google. Issues addressed are: Amplitude Modulation (pulsation) of heard sounds; Stimulation of “subconscious” pathways; Causing Endolymphatic Hydrops; Possibly Accelerating Presbyacusis (Making you go deaf faster over the years) as well as an emphatic comment that infrasound cannot be heard and is unrelated to the loudness of the sound that you hear. Infrasound can only be measured with a sound level meter capable of detecting it (and not using the A-weighted scale). A list of other papers authored in whole or in part by Dr Salt, can be found on his web site.

2. The Bruce McPherson Infrasound and Low Frequency Noise Study, which was published by National Wind Watch (an independent organisation which receives no support from any industry or political interests, and is funded only from concerned individuals). The paper was not peer reviewed other than the implied imprimatur of its authors being members (one of them board certified) of the Institute of Noise Control Engineering. The paper provides sufficient information to enable replication by competent, disinterested and impartial scientists who have available the necessary motivation and equipment.

The Study concluded that, while further research is necessary, in the mean time it is evident that:

  1. the use of the dBA weighted scale of measurement, (as adopted by the NZS 6808:2010 document), is not adequate for protecting the public;
  2. the belief that ‘what you can’t hear, can’t hurt you’, (underlying the NZS 6808:2010 document) is invalid in terms of the scientific data; large industrial wind turbines can and do produce real and adverse effects on human health;
  3. those adverse health effects are due to acoustic pressure pulsations, not related to the audible frequency spectrum, by affecting the vestibular system, especially at low ambient sound levels, an effect not addressed by NZS 6808 2010;
  4. further medical epidemiological field and laboratory investigation is needed.

3. Properly interpreting the Epidemiological Evidence about the Health Effects of Industrial Wind Turbines on Nearby Residents. This paper by Carl C. Phillips, PhD, MPP, was published in the peer reviewed Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society, vol. 31, no.4,(August 2011).

4. Dynamic measurements of wind turbine acoustic signals employing sound quality engineering methods considering the time and frequency sensitivities of human perception. This paper, by Wade Bray and Richard James, was presented at NOISE-CON, Portland, Oregon, USA, during July 25–27, 2011 and addresses the appropriateness of a variety of measurements in relation to the human response to the phenomena being measured. The detail provided in the paper will make it relatively easy to replicate the research.

The paper is well summed up by the authors’ comment: “The reason the wind industry experts could claim that wind turbines produced insignificant levels of infra and low frequency sound is not because there isn’t any, but instead, because the instruments/methods they used could not detect it. They went hunting for a needle in the haystack using a magnet when the needle was made out of plastic.”

5. Environmental Noise: Better Measures and Reporting Needed by H. H. C. Bakker, B. I. Rapley and R. Elliott, presented at Proceedings of ACOUSTICS (2–4 November), 2011, at the Gold Coast, Australia.

This paper explores the inadequacies of NZS 6808: 2010 in dealing with current industrial wind turbines, particularly time or frequency averages, the L90, and A Weighting.

6. Problems Measuring Low Frequency Sound Levels Near Wind Farms, by H. C. C. Bakker and B. I. Rapley, Proceedings of ACOUSTICS (2–4 November), 2011, Gold Coast, Australia.

This paper reports on research showing that the noise from multiple industrial wind turbines can vary significantly over short distances (1 to 5 metres).

7. Wind turbine noise: why accurate prediction and measurement matter, by Robert Thorne and Daniel Shepherd, Proceedings of ACOUSTICS (2–4 November), 2011, Gold Coast, Australia.

This paper, among others, demonstrates the importance of incorporating social perspectives, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) concept of ‘Health Related Quality of Life’(HRQOL) into the decision making processes for the siting of industrial wind turbines.

8. Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health, by Michael A. Nissenbaum, Jeffery J. Aramini and Christopher D Hanning, Noise and Health, September-October 2012, Volume 14, issue 60.

Noise and Health is the only International Journal devoted to research on all aspects of noise and its effects on human health. It is an inter-disciplinary journal for all professions concerned with auditory and non-auditory effects of occupational, environmental, and leisure noise. It aims to provide a forum for presentation of novel research material on a broad range of topics associated with noise pollution, its control and its detrimental effects on hearing and health.

9. The Influence of the Infrasound on the Immunological Properties of Rats Blood by S. T. Tuleuhanov, O. S. Desouky and M. A. Mohaseb published in Romanian Journal of Biophysics, Vol. 20. No.3. P245-255, Bucharest, 2010.

The authors state: “It can be concluded that direct and indirect exposure for 10 minutes of infrasound (13 to 30 Hz with intensity 10.9 to 14 dB) can stimulate the immune system and lead to disturbance in the production of white blood cells inaddition to appearance of immature products in the blood. Caution is recommended for people dealing with these low frequencies.”

The subject matter of this paper is significantly outside the range of what had previously been considered relevant to issues relating to industrial wind turbines’ noise and is a sobering reminder of the wide extent of unexpected issues which can arise from the development of new technology.

CONCLUSION

With the resources available to the Australian Medical Association there should be no impediment to that Association either replicating the research noted above or contracting some other organisation to conduct that research on its behalf.

Whichever option is selected, the Association does have a problem. In view of its stance regarding its public statements concerning Industrial Wind Turbines, it is vital that any such research is absolutely conducted in a completely, and demonstrably, disinterested and impartial manner.

Should the Association, for whatever reason, chose to not have such research replication undertaken, those of the public with any sort of scientific background will, inevitably, conclude that the Association, for whatever reasons, in not interested in determining the science relevant to the effects of Industrial Wind Turbines on adjacent human and animal populations. In that situation the ability of the Association to achieve the outcomes indicated on its web site will be severely constrained and the reputation it has with Australia’s populations will be similarly affected.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Jennings.

Download Nick Jennings’ letter to the AMA