Why Is The Victorian Health Department’s Head In The Sand Over Wind Turbine Health Problems?

How Can the Victorian Department of Health Continue Avoiding its Duties as Defined in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008?

This document is both a summary of five years of trying to penetrate the DOH’s practice of hear no, see no, speak no, and countenance no evil, being in this case the severe health impacts of wind energy projects on neighbours; plus a review of the statutory duties of the Victorian Department of Health. Witnesses were present at all meetings referred to in the document.

Prepared by:
Peter R Mitchell AM, BChE
March 2016
[email protected]

How can the Victorian Department of Health Contine Avoiding its Duties as Defined in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008[i]?

Summary

This document reviews the behavior, the apparent state of knowledge and the actions or otherwise of the Victorian Department of Health (the “DOH”) in relation to health problems of wind turbine project neighbours and analyses that situation against the responsibilities as defined by the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (“the Act”).

The Victorian Department of Health (DOH) has systematically denied the expanding and desperate health and wellbeing problems of many country Victorians living near wind turbine projects. In so doing it appears to have ignored the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. By posting its statements “Wind farms, sound and health” in 2013[ii] [iii], the DOH has attempted to justify its choice to ignore rural families suffering from the proximity of industrial machinery emitting dangerous levels of infrasound and low frequency noise.

A complete history of the Waubra Foundation’s failed attempts to engage, interest and motivate the DOH over a three year period to 2013 documents the neglect and determined avoidance of statutory responsibilities by the Department, senior politicians and bureaucrats.

The principal observations relating to the inaction by the DOH are:

  • many neighbours of wind energy projects (“WEPs”) claim that they are suffering serious health impacts both physiological and psychological and as such this qualifies as a serious risk to public health;
  • therefore the DOH and its delegated officers must take such action as is needed to attain the Act’s objective of the highest attainable standard of public health;
  • the DOH and its delegated officers have taken no such action;
  • there is no evidence that either the Department Secretary or successive State Chief Health Officers (“CHO”) have been engaged in addressing this serious risk to public health, despite the fact that the health impacts are spreading and will continue to do so unless positive but quite simple actions are taken;
  • the DOH attempted to cloak its inactivity by its pitiful website statement and reliance on yet another literature study by the NHMRC but is clearly absent from duty on the matter of the health and wellbeing of Victorians living near wind projects.

1. Context

The Brumby/Bracks Labor government accepted the anthropogenic global warming argument completely; and sensing votes in being seen to take action, welcomed the solution offered by the wind entrepreneurs without any reflection or question. Other jurisdictions were doing the same so it became a self-justifying race.

The perceived impending crisis being driven by global warming and the solution offered by wind energy thus became political “truths” and beyond debate. Politicians of the Bracks/Brumby era brooked no debate, neither asked nor answered questions, and senior bureaucrats quickly learned to conform.

Not noted by the DOH nor revealed by the wind industry, but very easy to find, was the first class evidence of health problems in the work of Kelley and others in the 1980’s[iv]. (On “rediscovery” of this work the industry immediately and falsely claimed that these early results did not apply to modern turbines). Clearly wind turbines were known, right at the very beginning of their deployment, to cause a serious health and safety problem as was the contribution of infrasound and low frequency sound (together known as “ILFN”). However the industry did not bother to mention its dangerous and unsafe problems to the politicians and the bureaucrats who were, at the time, setting and adopting uninformed and unsafe guidelines for turbines. It would be difficult to reconcile the behaviour of industry-favoured acousticians in this matter with any professional code of ethics.

Historically, large unsafe industries follow a pattern which can be summarised as deny, dissemble, discredit, delay and keep the cash flowing as long as possible.

Equally these industries have always been able to secure support in the form of carefully limited technical advice which, in this case, had acoustic experts providing incomplete advice. The acoustic experts, in turn, are now finding it very difficult to find a way to shape current advice without showing the inadequacy or downright misleading nature of previous work.

The health and planning bureaucracies find themselves in a similar situation. Prolonging the DOH’s current policy and not acting responsibly on the turbine health matter is inevitably going to become more difficult every day. Hopefully someone, other than country Victorians, will ultimately pay the price.

2. What is the most recent view of the DOH on wind turbines and health?

The DOH’s current advice to the public is encapsulated in two documents “Wind farms, sound and health,” one subtitled “Community information” and the other “Technical information” (see Endnotes ii) and iii) which appeared around April 2013. It is noted that although the DOH website advises that the information will be updated annually, these statements appear not to have been altered since 2013.

These documents contain many errors including:

  • -the Community information creates the clear impression that there is no significant problem and is inaccurate and misleading;

– the Technical information is inaccurate, incomplete and technically amateurish. It is clear the DOH knows nothing about noise and has been most likely advised by one or more of the industry’s compromised acoustics advisors;

  • the literature references used to draw the false and misleading conclusions are selective; and as a list, curious and profoundly obscure;
  • there is no reference to the comments by DOH officials Dr Slota-Kan and Mr Dedman, who separately admitted there was a health problem after meeting with different large groups of sufferers living near turbines (see item 5);
  • the DOH refuses to disclose who was responsible for the website documents, why they suddenly appeared as if on order (following the Cherry Tree VCAT Interim Orders – see item 4), why it was (and remains) so retrograde in its acoustics and health information after so much information had been made available to them over the previous three years.

The documents contain no reflection or investigation as to why the noise guidelines, surely created with the express purpose of sustaining the health and wellbeing of the public, are so incompetent at doing so.

3. Is there a health problem and if so what is its extent?

Two mid ranking DOH officials, one a doctor, admitted in 2011 and 2012 that there was a problem after meeting with and listening to sufferers.

A Canadian and a US court have each determined there is a problem. In 2011 the Environment Review Tribunal in Ontario in the Erikson v Ministry of the Environment case found that

This case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents

(Environmental Review Tribunal, Case Nos.: 10-121/10-122 Erickson v. Director, Ministry of the Environment, Dated this 18th day of July, 2011 by Jerry V. DeMarco, Panel Chair and Paul Muldoon, Vice-Chair, http://www.ert.gov.on.ca/english/decisions/index.htm.)

In Falmouth, USA, in November 2013 Justice Muse ordered an immediate injunction to stop wind turbines from operating at night, to prevent what he called the substantial risk of “irreparable harm to physical and psychological health”[v]

In October 2014 the Brown County Board of Health declared the Shirley Wind Turbine Development a Human Health Hazard.[vi]

VCAT Members in their Cherry Tree Wind Farm hearing Interim Orders dated 4 April, 2013[vii] said:
“116. There is evidence before the Tribunal that a number of people living close to wind farms suffer deleterious health effects. The evidence is both direct and anecdotal. There is a uniformity of description of these effects across a number of wind farms, both in south east Australia and North America. Residents complain of suffering sleep disturbance, feelings of anxiety upon awakening, headaches, pressure at the base of the neck and in the head and ears, nausea and loss of balance.

117. In some cases the impacts have been of such gravity that residents have been forced to abandon their homes.

118. On the basis of this evidence it is clear that some residents who live in close proximity to a wind farm experience the symptoms described, and that the experience is not simply imagined.”

4. What does the Act require? 

The Act, Part 1 Preliminary, Section 3 Definitions (page 16 ) states that:

a serious risk to public health means a material risk that substantial injury or prejudice to human beings has or may occur having regard to:

  • the number of persons likely to be affected;
  • the location, immediacy and seriousness of the threat to the health of persons;
  • the nature, scale and effects of harm; illness or injury that may develop;
  • the availability and effectiveness of any precaution, safeguard, treatment or other measure to eliminate or reduce the risk to health of human beings.

So the first question therefore is whether the health impacts (sometimes known as Wind Turbine Syndrome (WTS)) suffered by neighbours of WEPS constitutes a serious risk to public health?

The Waubra Foundation has interviewed many sufferers in Victoria and in 2011 marshalled some 30 of those people to attend two meetings with staff of the DOH; at which meetings the senior DOH person present (being Mr Rodney Dedman at the first meeting at Evansford on 19th April, 2011, and Dr Simon Slota-Kan at the second meeting at the DOH offices in Melbourne on 14 October, 2011) both admitted that there was a health problem.

In respect to the above instruction of the Act “to have regard to” the facts are:

  • there are many persons affected; the number is growing as larger projects with larger turbines are built utilising the same failed and dated noise standards;
  • the threat to the health of persons is current, immediate and serious;
  • the nature, scale and effects of the harm can be demonstrated by the fact that sufferers in increasing numbers are abandoning their homes to live in distant, rented, often substandard, homes and caravans;
  • finally, there are precautions that, if applied, can eliminate the risk to the health of human beings.

Clearly the condition known as WTS meets, without any amelioration or qualification, the classification as a “serious risk to public health.”

5. Who is responsible for dealing with a serious risk to public health?

Having established that WTS is a serious risk to public health, then the next question is who or what organisation is responsible?

The Act Part 2 – Objective, Principles and Application (page 19)

Paragraph 4(1)a states: the State has a significant role in promoting and protecting the public health and well-being of persons in Victoria.”

No other body is stated to have such a role.

Paragraph 4(2) defines the Objective of the Act “the objective of this Act is to achieve the highest attainable standard of public health and wellbeing by:

  • protecting public health and preventing disease, illness, injury, disability or premature death;
  • promoting conditions in which persons can be healthy;
  • reducing inequalities in the state of public health and wellbeing.”

The answer to the question of responsibility is that if meeting the objective requires action under the Act then the DOH and its delegated officers must take such action as is needed to attain the objective of the “highest attainable standard of public health”.

6. Have the DOH and its delegated officers taken such action?

Mr Noel Dean, a Waubra resident, attended a Community Cabinet meeting in Bendigo in June 2010, and handed the then Health Minister (and current Premier) Daniel Andrews Statutory Declarations from numerous Victorian Residents suffering the severe adverse health impacts of poorly sited and effectively unregulated wind turbines. The Health Minister did nothing to address or investigate the problems. Now as Premier he continues to promote the industry and ease the regulations thus magnifying the future problems of new project neighbours.

Following years of inaction, a meeting was secured on 16 July, 2012 with Professor Chris Brook, Executive Director; Graeme Gillespie, then Manager Environmental Health Unit; Dr Rosemary Lester, then Chief Health Officer and Brett Barton, advisor to the then Minister for Health (David Davis). This was arranged not through the Department but by a member of the Minister’s office. That meeting was attended by three members of the Waubra Foundation. DOH officers showed an abysmal ignorance of the cause and effect of WTS. They were not interested in a file of technical information. Nor were they interested in a package of sworn affidavits from affected residents – it remained on the table. The then Chief Health Officer was virtually silent during the meeting.

Perhaps the only outcome of this meeting was removal by the DOH of bureaucratic gobbledegook on wind power from its website, to be replaced by the Wind Power sound and health statements, which totally deny the existence of adverse health effects from wind farm noise pollution.

7. Why is the DOH so derelict and distant from its clear duties and responsibilities?

The DOH appears to have closed its mind to any review of its ignorant and misleading 2013 Statements. That denial is inexplicable and indefensible. The Acoustic Investigation of the Cape Bridgewater Wind Project[viii], released in late 2014, has demonstrated the link between operational wind turbines and crippling ill health leading to home abandonment by the three families the subject of the Investigation.

Could the Departmental denial be due to continued adherence to the Brumby/Bracks government’s policy of promoting, rather than controlling, wind farms, coupled with deceptive industry documents and to statements and advice from so-called experts with no qualifications in medicine or acoustics? Perhaps the current government has simply directed that new WEPs must be built, and built, without regard to thoroughly investigating the impact on rural families.

Alternatively could it be that the DOH is just incompetent or lazy; and is pulling the much damaged cloak of the NHMRC literature studies over its head and hoping the problem will disappear; or that the NHMRC will provide the solution? If so it is time for a reality check, as neither hope has any chance of fulfillment.

8. Administration of the Act – requirement

Paragraph 4(3) sets out Parliament’s intention in the administration of this Act and in seeking to achieve the objective of the Act, regard should be given to the guiding principles set out in sections 5 to 11 (of part 2).

The guiding principles are simply principles that have been selected to guide action in the meeting of the objective; they include:

  • evidence based decision making (no definition is included on what constitutes evidence);
  • the use of the precautionary principle where there is a lack of full scientific certainty;
  • the primacy of prevention;
  • accountability, specifically to the public, and transparency in regard to decisions;
  • proportionality, decisions should be proportionate to the risk and not taken in an arbitrary manner”.

Nothing in the principles ameliorates or negates any conclusions herein.

9. Role of the Secretary and the Chief Health Officer (CHO)

Part 3 – Administration (page 25)

Section 15 allows the Minister to delegate any power, duty or function, under this Act or under the regulations of the Act.

Section 17. Role and functions of the Secretary:

Para.1 defines the role in three sub paragraphs including 1(b) which states:

  • develop and implement policies and programs to achieve the objective of the Act

Para 2 defines the functions of the Secretary including the following relevant functions:

  • promote awareness and understanding of public health and wellbeing issues within the community;
  • to develop public health and wellbeing policies;
  • to assist persons who have an impact on public health to enhance opportunities for protecting public health;
  • to support, equip and empower communities to address local public health issues and needs”.

In respect of a serious health risk (which has already settled on too many members of the State’s rural communities and is threatening many others), the Secretary is neither promoting awareness, nor assisting persons, including the Waubra Foundation, nor supporting or empowering communities affected and to be affected; and, in terms of developing policies in regard to WTS has seemingly developed a “hands off” or “not our concern” policy.

Section 21 (page 30) Functions and Powers of the Chief Health Officer.

These include:

  • to develop and implement strategies to promote and protect public health and wellbeing;
  • to publish on a biennial basis and make available in an accessible manner to the public a comprehensive report on public health and wellbeing in Victoria”.

Successive CHOs have not attempted to engage with sufferers, (or the Waubra Foundation) for any purpose including obtaining a real firsthand knowledge of what is actually happening in the State.

10. Discussion

Let us be perfectly clear, only the infinitely lazy, or those whose climate change ideology compels them to ignore the health of country Victorians, or those otherwise influenced by the wind industry would:

  • build upon the initial reliance on the (incompetent) Rapid Review (literature survey) by the NHMRC in 2010, followed by a further literature survey published in 2015. Subsequent evidence showed that the survey reviewers of the Rapid Review were both pro-wind. Accompanying the release in 2015 of the second literature review was the statement: “Given the poor quality of current direct evidence and the concern expressed by some members of the community, high quality research into possible health effects of wind farms, particularly within 1,500 metres (m), is warranted.” Is it naïve to believe that were it any other industry, an immediate application of the Precautionary Principle would maintain and that Departments of Health would initiate their own field studies?
  • expect any literature study in the early period of the occurrence and spread of a syndrome or a disease to be more than an indication of the paucity of publishable studies;
  • rely on ignorant public health academics with no scientific qualifications and “studies” that no scientist would ever construct, let alone publish; and look to wind industry-favoured acousticians for advice on DOH publications;
  • publish the 2013 documents “Wind farms sound and health“ as the sum of Departmental wisdom, while totally ignoring evidence presented by the Waubra Foundation’s technical advisors who are demonstrably independent of the industry and are producing serious submissions to Senate committees, panel hearings, VCAT and other State’s Tribunals. These are studies from experts who have actually been in the field. Seemingly the Departmental memory of the admissions of Dedman and Slota-Kan, the only senior members of the DOH who have actually listened to victims of wind turbine noise pollution (i.e. been in the field) has been eradicated.

 11. Update

This document was originally written in 2014. A small selection of subsequent research/publications follows:

  • Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines, 2014-2015
    Following months of hearings in most States where wind energy projects operate, the Senate Committee’s Report and Recommendations was tabled. The recommended establishment of an Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound has occurred, together with an office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner. Both bodies will take several years to investigate and report on their work. The evidence pf health impacts tabled by the Committee is surely sufficient for the Victorian DOH to remove its Wind farm sound and health statements and to oblige it to finally adhere to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 , without subjecting Victorian rural residents to many more years of cruel health impacts.

Full recommendations from the Select Committee on Wind Turbines: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/senate-select-committee-wind-turbines-final-report-august-2015/

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[i] http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/Domino/Web_Notes/LDMS/PubStatbook.nsf/51dea49770555ea6ca256da4001b90cd/8B1B293B576FE6B1CA2574B8001FDEB7/$FILE/08-46a.pdf

[ii] http://waubrafoundation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/1212016_wind_turbine_community_WEB-29April2013.pdf

[iii] http://waubrafoundation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Wind-farms-sound-and-health-Technical-information-WEB-29April2013.pdf

[iv] http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/kelley-et-al-1985-acoustic-noise-associated-with-mod-1-

[v] http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/falmouth-mass-judge-muse-decision-shut-down-wind-turbines-causing-irreparable-harm/

[vi] http://waubrafoundation.org.au/2014/duke-energys-shirley-wisconsin-wind-development-hazard-human-health-declares-brown-county-board-health/

[vii] http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/vcat-cherry-tree-wind-farm-hearing-orders/

[viii] http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/cooper-s-acoustic-group-results-cape-bridgewater-acoustic-investigation/

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