Anti-wind farm campaigner’s infrasound argument crumbles

Screen shot 2013-02-06 at 10.52.38 AMThe Environmental Protection Authority of South Australia’s report on wind farm infrasound released last week (February 1) has gained considerable media coverage, and has led to an embarrassing media performance by anti-wind farm spokesperson Sarah Laurie.

For years, opponents of wind energy have maintained that wind farms increase infrasound and that this infrasound causes adverse health impacts for humans and animals. Now, both of these assertions have been exposed as false.

Before looking at the aforementioned embarrassing performance, let’s look at what the SA EPA’s research tell us. The EPA commissioned independent acousticians to compare the infrasound experienced by houses in urban and rural settings as well as those situated near wind farms. The study concluded “the level of infrasound at houses near the wind turbines assessed is no greater than that experienced in other urban and rural environments, and is also significantly below the human perception threshold”  (2013:41).

Among the media coverage of the EPA report, I’d like to point Yes 2 Renewables readers to ABC Radio National’s thorough story that contains an interesting interview between journalist, Timothy MCDonald, and well-known anti-wind farm campaigner, Sarah Laurie. The exchange reveals the weakness of the claim wind farm infrasound causes adverse health impacts.

Here’s the transcript: 

SA’s EPA rejects link between wind farms and health

TIM PALMER: For years opponents of wind farms have claimed wind turbines produce inaudible sound that affects the health of people who live close to them. But now a report by South Australia’s Environmental Protection Agency says there is no link because there is no extra noise.

The Clean Energy Council says the study is more evidence that the supposed link between wind farms and health problems is a myth.

But as Timothy McDonald reports, it seems unlikely the study it will put an end to the issue.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Various groups opposed to wind farms have long argued that what you can’t hear, can hurt you. They’re concerned about infrasound, which operates at frequencies below those that the human ear can usually detect.

This latest study says people who live near wind farms aren’t subjected to more of it than anyone else.

The Clean Energy Council’s policy director is Russell Marsh.

RUSSELL MARSH: It’s certainly more evidence to back up the case that we’ve been making for a long time that it is not infrasound that is responsible for any of the health claims that people are making near wind farms. And we hope that this puts the issue to bed as you say.

Another study that’s measured infrasound from wind turbines specifically, I think you should note, you know, that this study also included measuring infrasound at times when the wind farm was turned on and off and found no discernible difference at those two times.

And we think that it should really put the issue to bed that wind turbines do not add to the levels of infrasound in people’s homes. And, you know, it certainly doesn’t – it certainly can’t be responsible for any of the health claims that people are making.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: The study found that infrasound generated by wind farms isn’t any worse than what comes from air-conditioners or traffic, for example. Still, some people have their doubts.

Dr Sarah Laurie is the CEO of the Waubra Foundation. She says the organisation isn’t opposed to wind farms on principle, but worries about their health impacts and believes there needs to be more research into their health effects. She says the EPA’s study doesn’t look at the right areas.

SARA LAURIE: The report itself, the authors only measured down to 10 hertz by using what we call the G-weighting. They ignored the frequencies between 0 and 10 hertz. And they’re the frequencies that many of us believe are the problem frequencies. So they didn’t actually measure those.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: But Russell Marsh says there’s other research underway that will look at those areas, and he’s confident the results will be very similar.

RUSSELL MARSH: Whenever a study is done someone always finds a reason to say that it hasn’t gone far enough or done enough analysis. We know that there are, obviously there are, a whole range of other noise issues that people are raising. And I think we do – we understand that actually the EPA are about to do some more studies on other issues around low-level noise in particular. We have no doubt that they will actually show the same thing – that the levels of noise that come from a wind turbine wouldn’t be harmful to people’s health.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Dr Sarah Laurie says she still has her doubts about the independence of the research.

SARAH LAURIE: I think there’s interests from all sectors of politics that would rather this problem was not addressed. And in the meantime country people are being seriously harmed.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: And what do you base that on?

SARAH LAURIE: Ahh…

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: I mean I though the issue was that there was a lack of research?

SARAH LAURIE: There is a lack of research, that’s what we’ve been pushing for. It needs to be done properly. The data collection needs to be done independently of those who have an interest either way, OK. So it needs to be done with the very best researchers who’ve got the technical expertise and the knowledge in this area…

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: But I guess – you just made the claim that country people are being harmed by these wind farms, but at the same time you’re saying that the research isn’t there to show one way or the other. I’m just trying to reconcile those two points.

SARAH LAURIE: Well they’re reporting serious harm to their doctors. Their doctors are reporting harm, their psychologists are reporting harm. The individuals are reporting harm to a series of Senate inquiries and nothing is being done.

The fact that it’s not getting in the peer reviewed published journals doesn’t mean the harm isn’t happening.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: But Russell Marsh says that if it is happening, infrasound is almost certainly not to blame. He says many bodies – scientific, legal and parliamentary have looked at the issue in detail, and they consistently return the same result.

RUSSELL MARSH: Seventeen international reviews that have looked at the science behind this and they’ve all concluded that there isn’t a link between wind farms and health. The courts have looked at the evidence, I mean the courts they’ve kind of rejected the health claims made by some of the opponents.

And, you know, it’s been through at least two parliamentary inquiries and they’ve both concluded there isn’t the evidence out there to support the claims that the antis make around wind farms that, you know, that it’s causing people’s health. But there is plenty of evidence to show that whatever it is that the people are feeling it isn’t caused by anything the wind turbines are producing.

TIM PALMER: Russell Marsh from the Clean Energy Council.

NOTE:

Sarah Laurie of the Waubra Foundation will present evidence at the VCAT hearing on the Cherry Tree Range wind farm proposal on Thursday, February 7. It’ll be interesting to see how Laurie goes answering questions about her theories from the public gallery and the wind farm proponent’s legal representation.

One thought on “Anti-wind farm campaigner’s infrasound argument crumbles

  1. Sarah Laurie claims people are reporting serious harm to their doctors. I very much doubt it and anyway, Sarah is known for making up stories when it suits her.

    It would be interesting to see a study conducted in areas where windfarms have been operating for more than eight years to see just how benign/detrimental they really are.

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