This post was featured at Renew Economy, Australia’s leading source for energy news and analysis.
Victorian Senator John Madigan (Democratic Labor Party) has alleged that Australia’s wind power generation sector is responsible for a health cover-up comparable to those perpetrated by the tobacco and asbestos industries – a claim which does not sit comfortably with the facts.
In his address to the Senate on Monday the 17th of March, Madigan claimed that AGL Energy sought to “discredit and discount any patient visiting any doctor with any claims of ill health brought about by living near [its] Macarthur wind farm”. And that it did this, by suggesting in a letter to 12 clinics, that
“…anyone presenting to their doctor with symptoms of wind turbine syndrome should be directed by that doctor to visit the AGL Macarthur wind farm website or to ring the Macarthur wind farm community engagement team”
This series of letters, he argues, sought to “categorically [deny] any health impacts from living near wind turbines.”
But Madigan’s accusations come at a time in which two recent independent and highly credible releases have affirmed the basic findings of the very research the senator condemns AGL for upholding – that is:
- The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) draft information paper, ‘Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health’ (February 2014); and
- The independent Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) ‘Wind Farms and Health 2014’ position statement (March 2014).
In February, the chief executive of the NHMRC told the Guardian that their paper had found “…no reliable or consistent evidence that wind farms directly cause adverse health effects in humans.” And in March, Australia’s peak body for doctors, the AMA, stated:
The available Australian and international evidence does not support the view that the infrasound or low frequency sound generated by wind farms, as they are currently regulated in Australia, causes adverse health effects on populations residing in their vicinity.
What’s more, both of these findings, according to The Clean Energy Council’s Russell Marsh, are consistent with evidence put forward by “the New South Wales and Victorian health departments, which have both stated that noise below the hearing threshold cannot affect people’s health.”
Of primary importance here is the refutation of any suggestion that the low-frequency noise, infrasound or electromagnetic (EM) radiation emitted by wind turbines is in any way responsible for these purported effects–which is that of Senator Madigan’s . We know this because:
- The levels of infrasound and low frequency noise associated with wind turbines is roughly equivalent to those experienced in most urban and natural environments.
- Studies in which subjects are exposed to much higher levels of such noise and sound under laboratory conditions have shown “few, if any, effects on body functioning”.
- The EM radiation of wind turbines are within the same band as those found within and outside the modern (sub)urban home, and that there is scant evidence that this yields ill-health.
Add to this the fact that AGL, in the case of the Macarthur wind farm, “goes above and beyond regulatory noise monitoring requirements” by “[collecting] more than 40,000 hours of data” so as to ensure regulatory compliance, and his case looks weaker still.
Senator Madigan, however, has attempted to contest the veracity of this growing body of evidence on the basis of a “preliminary health survey…carried out, anonymously, in [the] district” on 23 families, which he purports to demonstrate “detrimental impacts from the turbines.”
But what the senator failed to mention, the Warrnambool Standard reminds us, is that the ‘survey’ is in fact the product of the Australian Industrial Wind Turbine Awareness Network – a noted anti-wind farm group — carried out by a resident opposed to a nearby development.
Highly dubious claims such as these, in spite of the evidence showing wind energy to be clean and safe, continue to be put forward by the anti-wind farm lobby and its adherents. What is worse, these attempts may in fact actually be creating the very symptoms they purportedly seeks to prevent.
In its aforementioned statement, the Australian Medical Association suggests that
“Individuals residing in the vicinity of wind farms who do experience adverse health or wellbeing, may do so as a consequence of their heightened anxiety or negative perceptions regarding wind farm developments in their area,”
This position has found support in 3 recent studies, according to Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, Simon Chapman, demonstrating that wind farm scaremongering is capable of producing potent nocebo effects, described by Chapman as
when people are warned they may become ill, and then do, even when exposed to a sham “dose” of an allegedly noxious agent.
If these effects, then, are better explained as product of the anxiety-provoking complaints of those hostile to the facts on the anti-wind side of the fence, then such groups have much to answer for.
This point becomes all the more pertinent when we consider the take-up of legislation founded in response to these manufactured fears, and the paralysing effect this has had on the renewable energy sector. These include Ted Baillieu’s anti-wind farm laws, and the O’Farrell Government’s recently announced opening to appeals of already finalised wind farm projects in NSW.
Consequently, Senator John Madigan and his choice to side with the radical anti-wind farm fringe in the Victorian Senate must not go unchallenged. It is time for our politicians to show some leadership and stand up for renewable energy by rejecting misinformation about wind turbine technology.