Turbine Health Effects are Blowing in the Wind

Graham Lloyd, Environment editor
The Australian newspaper, June 15, 2011

SOME people consider them unsightly. Others consider them uneconomical. And some are just frightened about what wind farms might be doing to their health.

As the debate about the health effects of wind energy intensifies, dividing many rural communities where the turbines stand, those hoping for clarity from a Senate committee looking at the issue will be sorely disappointed.

The inquiry is split, and missed its already extended deadline to table its report to parliament yesterday. It received more than 1000 submissions both for and against wind-farm developments, and held five days of public hearings.

The report is expected to be tabled next week but it appears unlikely a unanimous position will be reached. Experts are divided about the impact of the giant turbines on health. Concerns include sleep deprivation from the noise of the turbines and the potential effect of low-frequency noise, known as infrasound.

The National Health and Medical Research Council has found “there was no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with health effects”.

But medical expert Max Whisson, who had a career in fundamental medical research related to the nature of cancer and the control of the development of tissues, believes the world is “likely to face a very serious plethora of fatal diseases as a result of current wind farm operation”.

“We have all been disastrously misled by focusing on noise,” Dr Whisson said. “This has led laboratories around the world to completely miss the catastrophic effects of lower frequency vibration.”

Ruth Corrigan is worried about the health effects. She lives near Capital Wind Farm near Bungendore, a 67-turbine facility just outside of Canberra, and says noise from the wind farm developments that surround her property frequently disturbs her sleep.

When Infigen Energy showcases its Capital Wind Farm near Bungendore to the public today, as part of international wind energy day, Ms Corrigan will open her house to show the impact wind turbines have on rural communities living in their shadow.

Ms Corrigan said she could see 17 turbines to the northwest and another 17 to the southwest from her property, the closest of which was about 2km away.

A further 22 turbines had been erected in the past few days and Ms Corrigan said dealing with the companies involved had been difficult. “They have put noise monitoring equipment into the paddock but we have not been able to get any data from them,” Ms Corrigan said.

She wants the Senate inquiry to order further research into the health effects. “A number of people have a multitude of problems,” she says. “The planning process also needs a big shake-up.”

The National Health and Medical Research Council, meanwhile, has confirmed it is updating its controversial “rapid review” of the health impacts of wind farm developments, which found “there was no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects”. The council last week conducted a scientific forum which heard a range of views from local and international experts.

A spokesman for the council said that the update would review any new evidence and take account of concerns expressed during the forum by members of the public.

The revised public statement will be discussed by the council in October.

NHMRC adviser Simon Chapman has likened concern about wind turbines to the hysteria that accompanied the introduction of other new technologies such as the telephone.

The Productivity Commission has recently taken aim at the subsidies that renewables, including wind energy, attract, saying they were a less cost-effective means of cutting carbon emissions than a market-based scheme.

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