NHMRC evidence review welcomed
11 February 2015
Infigen Energy welcomes the finalisation of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) report examining the scientific evidence around wind farms and human health.
They write, “NHMRC concludes that there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans.”
A large number of evidence reviews into this issue have found no scientific evidence to support the assertion made by anti-wind groups that wind farms are injurious to human health.
A sizable collection of these studies are listed at the end of this media release.
World’s largest study on wind farms and health omitted
Infigen Energy notes the omission of the world’s largest study into the safety of wind energy technology, commissioned by Health Canada and released in November 2014.
The study involved 17 different models of wind turbines, 1,238 homes, 4,000 hours of acoustic data, two separate provinces, objective and subjective measures of health, an expert committee of government, academic and industry experts, alongside several international advisors.
The AU$2.1 million study, conducted over six months, found no link between the operation of wind turbines and dizziness, migraines, heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes, heart rate, cortisol levels or measured quality of sleep.
No tracking of adverse health impacts from combustible fuels
In Infigen Energy’s view, research priorities might be better directed towards the study of the impacts of all energy types.
Any research commissioned by the NHMRC should incorporate the quantification of immediate and indirect health impacts of the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity, including the impacts of climate change, as examined in the Bureau of Meteorology’s Annual Climate Report 2014.
Infigen Energy notes that the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry states, with regards to the health effects of the coal mine fire, that, “A number of vulnerable groups in the community were particularly susceptible to the adverse health effects of the smoke and ash, namely those with pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, pregnant women and unborn children, children and the elderly.”
These issues have the support of the scientific community, and as such, we hope they are incorporated into future research commissioned by the NHMRC into the impacts of electricity generation on communities.
Confusing remarks in NHMRC media release
The reference to a ‘1,500 metre area of interest’ in the NHMRC media release seems to go against a statement in the ‘Information Paper’ on page 22, that states “Based on the studies referred to above, wind farms would be unlikely to cause health effects at distances of more than 500 metres, where noise levels are generally less than 45 dBA” .
Additionally, the information paper states “Most of the studies into the health effects of environmental noise…examine exposure to noise at levels in the order of, or higher than, that expected from wind farms at 500 metres”
No wind farm in Australia could be built 500 metres from a household, according to Australian regulations. Audible noise exposure is controlled for in Australia by some of the world’s strictest wind farm placement regulations.
Previous evidence reviews
Plos ONE – “Currently, there is no further existing statistically-significant evidence indicating any association between wind turbine noise exposure and tinnitus, hearing loss, vertigo or headache”
Journal of Environmental Medicine – “Infrasound and low-frequency sound do not present unique health risks. Annoyance seems more strongly related to individual characteristics than noise from turbines”
Frontiers in Public Health – “To date, no peer reviewed scientific journal articles demonstrate a causal link between people living in proximity to modern wind turbines, the noise (audible, low frequency noise, or infrasound) they emit and resulting physiological health effects”
Cureus – “There is still no evidence of whether or not a causal relationship between distance from wind turbines and distress exists”
University of Adelaide – “There is no consistent evidence that noise from wind turbines―whether estimated in models or using distance as a proxy―is associated with self-reported human health effects. Isolated associations may be due to confounding, bias or chance.” NHMRC (2014)
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland – “VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has published a new study with a conclusion that wind turbines do not cause any adverse health effects. The study consisted of a review of nearly 50 scientific research articles conducted in Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand over the past 10 years”
Department of Health, Victoria – “There is no evidence that sound which is at inaudible levels can have a physiological effect on the human body. This is the case for sound at any frequency, including infrasound”
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection – “Claims that infrasound from wind turbines directly impacts the vestibular system have not been demonstrated scientifically. Available evidence shows that the infrasound levels near wind turbines cannot impact the vestibular system”
Oregon Health Authority – “Based on the division’s assessment, Oregon’s ambient degradation noise standard of 36 dBA for wind energy facilities is protective of public health (i.e., it is not expected to result in annoyance, sleep disturbance or other health effects in the general population)”
Acoustics Bulletin – “… it is probable that some persons will inevitably exhibit negative responses to turbine noise wherever and whenever it is audible, no matter what the noise level”
Environmental Research Letters – “It has been suggested that LFN from wind turbines causes other, and more serious, health problems, but empirical support for these claims is lacking”
Environmental Health – “Given that annoyance appears to be more strongly related to visual cues and attitude than to noise itself, self reported health effects of people living near wind turbines are more likely attributed to physical manifestation from an annoyed state than from wind turbines themselves”
UK Health Protection Agency – “There is no consistent evidence of any physiological or behavioural effect of acute exposure to infrasound in humans”
National Health and Medical Research Council – “There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms and that any potential impact on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines”
Ontario Ministry of Health – “The scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects. The sound level from wind turbines at common residential setbacks is not sufficient to cause hearing impairment or other direct health effects, although some people may find it annoying”
Minnesota Department of Health – “Respondents tended to report more annoyance when they also noted a negative effect on landscape, and ability to see the turbines was strongly related to the probability of annoyance”
Canadian/American Wind Energy Associations – “There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects”
Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit – “In summary, as long as the Ministry of Environment Guidelines for location criteria of wind farms are followed, it is my opinion that there will be negligible adverse health impacts on Chatham-Kent citizens. Although opposition to wind farms on aesthetic grounds is a legitimate point of view, opposition to wind farms on the basis of potential adverse health consequences is not justified by the evidence”
National Academies Press – “With older downwind turbines, some infrasound also is emitted each time a rotor blade interacts with the disturbed wind behind the tower, but it is believed that the energy at these low frequencies is insufficient to pose a health hazard”
Journal of Low frequency noise, Vibration and Active Control – “The survey indicates that wind turbines of contemporary design with an upwind rotor generate very faint infrasound with a level far below the threshold of perception even at a rather short distance. From considerations on propagation and transmission of infrasound it is concluded that infrasound from such upwind turbines can be neglected when evaluating the environment effects of wind turbines”
Noise and Health – “There is a possibility of learned aversion to low frequency noise, leading to annoyance and stress”
Swedish Environmental Protection Authority – “…there are no evidences that noise from wind turbines could cause cardiovascular and psycho-physiological effects”
 NHMRC Information Paper – Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health