Letter to Prime Minister Gillard, 2 December, 2012

Dear Prime Minister,

It is pleasing that Senator Cameron has stated the Government will be “guided by the science” in his speech to the Australian Federal Senate on 29th November, 2012 discussing proposed legislation to improve the regulation of excessive noise from wind turbines.

To be “guided by the science”, the science needs to be done.

Urgent research was recommended by the Senate Inquiry report into the Social and Economic Impact of rural wind farms, tabled in Federal Parliament in June 2011. No research has been funded or commissioned.

It is also pleasing the Commonwealth Government is now apparently prepared to fund such science (section 1.39, Senate Inquiry report, Excessive Noise from Wind Farms Bill, Renewable Energy Act, November 2012).

These serious problems need to be investigated by studying the reported symptoms in the people reporting them, inside their homes and workplaces where the problems are occurring.  This will not be achieved by a laboratory based study of unaffected people. Nor will it be achieved by yet another National Health and Medical Research Council literature review, which cannot include research unless it is first conducted.

The most common reported problem is repetitive sleep disturbance, resulting in cumulative sleep deprivation, which is well known to be damaging to health. Submissions to the recent Senate Inquiry into from two sleep physicians Dr Chris Hanning (UK) and Dr Wayne Spring, (Ballarat) confirmed the existence of sleep problems in residents living near wind developments, as did submissions from residents, two peer reviewed published research papers, and recently conducted research in Victoria by Dr Bob Thorne.

I call on you, as Prime Minister, as a matter of urgency, to immediately allocate specific funding for independent researchers, with no connection to the wind industry, to start this research with a study of the repetitive sleep disturbance and physiological stress symptoms which these residents are reporting, especially where they are “waking suddenly in a panicked state”. Such a study requires the collection of full spectrum acoustic data, concurrent with physiological data from “in home” sleep studies, non invasive blood pressure and heart rate recording, and sequential cortisol analysis.

The leading neurophysiologist working in this area of science internationally is Professor Alec Salt, (USA) who gave evidence to the recent Senate Inquiry, along with other leading researchers in this field. Professor Salt has shown in animal models, that when the inner ear is stimulated with a significant proportion of sound in the infrasound range, this stimulates the “alerting mechanism” of the brain, at levels not previously known to induce this brain response. This “alerting response” is precisely what these rural residents are describing, with their reports of “waking suddenly in a panicked state”.

The long term impacts from the consequences of such cumulative sleep disturbance and cumulative physiological stress are well known to clinical medicine. Both are extremely damaging to physical and mental health, and have been shown to be associated with increased rates of cardiovascular disease, mental health disorders, and impaired immunity, causing chronic infections and malignancies (cancers). Some of these conditions are already being reported in these residents, both in Australia and internationally. Recent peer reviewed published research from New Zealand, and the United States has confirmed increased sleep deprivation and mental health disorders in residents living near wind turbines.

Infrasound and low frequency sound energy from wind turbines is now being measured inside the homes of such sleep disturbed residents out to 8km from the nearest wind turbine. Characteristic sleep disturbance has been reported out to 10km. Wind turbine hosts and their families are also being affected, however binding confidentiality agreements prevent many of them and their families from speaking publicly about their problems. The existence of these agreements was exposed by Senator Chris Back, in the Federal Senate on 30th October, 2012.

The wind companies are well aware of the problems, and either ignore the issue, or silence sick people by buying their properties with a confidentiality agreement attached. Sick and desperate people sign these, in order to escape from what they have described as “torture”. The same agreements have been used to silence people impacted with identical symptoms by noise and vibration from coal mining (Upper Hunter, NSW), and gas fired power stations (eg Uranquinty, NSW). Sometimes the same power companies and industry acoustic consultants are involved.

Community population noise impact surveys in Australia are confirming that the numbers affected by wind turbines are not “just a small number of people”. In a recent study at Cullerin in NSW, 76% of households surveyed out to 7.5 km reported disturbed sleep from the wind turbines (71% survey response rate).

Finally, it is of great concern that the senators who are responsible for the majority senate inquiry report, chaired by Senator Cameron, would appear to have made a convenient “diagnosis” of the cause of the illnesses being due to a “nocebo reaction” (illness caused by fear in the absence of any other cause), without ensuring first that direct investigation of the reported problems inside Australian rural homes has been conducted. I note that none of the Senators are trained medical practitioners, so they may be unaware of the clinical and medicolegal importance in clinical medicine of excluding other causes before making this diagnosis.

Dr Michael Nissenbaum, Medical Practitioner, and author of a recently published peer reviewed study demonstrating that residents living near wind turbines developed sleep deprivation and mental health problems, made the following comments to the recent Australian Federal Senate Inquiry about the usage of the term “nocebo”.

Nissenbaum stated “suggesting a diagnosis of ‘nocebo’ without investigating, ‘boots on the ground’, for more plausible, better understood or more logical causes of a medical condition would normally constitute medical malpractice in most Western-based medical systems, including Australia. Individuals who are not physicians are not limited by this professional mandate

The “diagnosis” of “nocebo reaction”, without the necessary “boots on the ground” research in the homes of sick people preceding it, is misleading and irresponsible, and in clinical medicine would be indefensible.

The public health advocates of renewable energy, including some doctors, who are using “nocebo reaction” in this circumstance, and inferring it is causing the reported symptoms in people exposed to operating wind turbines, have not based their conclusions on acoustic and physiological clinical data inside the homes of sick rural residents reporting these symptoms, before making this nocebo “diagnosis”. I have been told by residents and advocates impacted by noise from CSG and mining that their reports of serious pathology have also been ignored by some of these individuals.

There is no doubt there is growing concern, and indeed anger, in an increasing number of rural communities about the inaction of all responsible authorities and the denial of adverse health impacts of noise and vibration pollution from wind turbines and other industrial sources such as compressors used in coal seam gas, gas fired power stations and coal mining. Your government is directly responsible for that growing concern, because of ongoing inaction with respect to commissioning industry independent multidisciplinary research to investigate these environmental noise problems and their impacts, “in the field”.

Your government, and the Australian Federal Parliament, has a responsibility to protect the health of its citizens, and more importantly it has a responsibility not to harm them.

Serious harm is currently occurring, and has been for some time.

Some of this harm to human health is potentially life threatening, specifically a range of cardiac disorders including unusual Tako Tsubo Heart attacks, and serious mental health problems including severe depression. Some rural residents have become suicidal.

Direct action must be taken immediately to commission the multidisciplinary acoustic and clinical research described above, into the reported sleep and physiological stress problems, and subsequently into their known damaging long term consequences for physical and mental health.

Yours faithfully

Dr Sarah Laurie

Download the letter →