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No link between wind turbines and health: report

There is no evidence that wind turbines have a direct adverse effect on human health, according to an independent study by Australia’s National Health & Medical Research Council.

There is currently no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects, concludes the Council in a public statement that examines evidence of potential health impacts on people living in close proximity to wind turbines.

“Wind power has been gaining prominence as a viable sustainable alternative to other forms of energy production,” including the introduction in Australia of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act in 2000 and the Renewable Energy Target Scheme in 2009.

“As with any new technology, wind turbines are not without controversy,” it notes. “Those who oppose the development of wind farms contend that wind turbines can adversely impact the health of individuals living in close proximity.”

Australia study cites UK examination on wind turbines

“There is currently no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects,” and a study of wind farms in Britain finds that the sound associated with modern wind turbines “is not a source which will result in noise levels which may be injurious to the health of a wind farm neighbour.”

There is an argument that, if people are worried about their health, they may become anxious, causing stress related illnesses which are genuine health effects arising from their worry, but not from the wind turbine itself, it explains. For this reason, the Council recommends that people who believe they are experiencing any health problems should consult their doctor promptly.

The situation is further complicated by the findings that people who benefit economically from wind turbines are less likely to report annoyance, despite exposure to similar sound levels as people who were not economically benefitting.

Concerns regarding the adverse health impacts of wind turbines focus on infrasound noise, electromagnetic interference, shadow flicker and blade glint produced by wind turbines. While a range of effects such as annoyance, anxiety, hearing loss and interference with sleep, speech and learning have been reported anecdotally, there is no published scientific evidence to support adverse effects of wind turbines on health.

Reported health concerns primarily relate to infrasound (sound that is generally inaudible to the human ear) generated by wind turbines, but the World Health Organization says there is “no reliable evidence that sounds below the hearing threshold produce physiological or psychological effects,” the report cites. A recent expert panel review in North America found no evidence that audible or subaudible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effect, although the principal human response to perceived infrasound is annoyance.

Study links noise perception with attitude towards wind turbines

A recent study found that noise annoyance is strongly associated with a negative attitude to the visual impact of wind turbines on the landscape, but the Council notes that the noise produced by ten wind turbines at a distance of 350 m is 35 to 45 decibels, while the noise in a busy office is 60 dBA and car traveling at 64 km/h at a distance of 100 m is 55 dBA.

“Based on these figures, noise levels from wind turbines have been assessed as negligible; that is, they appear to be no different to that found in other everyday situations,” it concludes. “Further, a survey of all known published results of infrasound from wind turbines found that wind turbines of contemporary design, where rotor blades are in front of the tower, produce very low levels of infrasound.”

Phenomena such as shadow flicker and blade glint do not support concerns over health, and concerns over electromagnetic radiation from wind turbines are moot because the electrical cables are shielded with metal armour.

The Council says evidence is limited and recommends that relevant authorities “take a precautionary approach and continue to monitor research outcomes,” but adds that compliance with standards relating to wind turbine design, manufacture and site evaluation, will minimise any potential impacts of wind turbines on surrounding areas.”

Pro-wind group applauds report

The independent study “should put to rest claims that wind farms can make people sick,” says the Clean Energy Council. “There have been claims over the last couple of years from opponents of wind farms that noise and other factors associated with wind turbines can make people sick,” says Russell Marsh. “As this latest independent research has shown, there is no credible evidence that wind turbines have a direct effect on people’s health.”

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