Research has rejected suggestions that wind farms are linked to health problems. Photo: Erin Jonasson
There is no reliable or consistent evidence that wind farms directly cause human health problems, a major draft review by Australia’s leading medical research body has found.
The hotly anticipated study by the National Health and Medical Research Council, has also called for further research into the issue after it identified only a handful of studies into the issue it deemed credible enough to be considered under the review.
Anti-wind farm campaigners claim turbines can cause a wide range of ailments including, headaches, insomnia, and dizziness, sometimes dubbing the symptoms as “wind farm syndrome.”
These have been widely rejected by the industry and many public health researchers.
In late-2012 the council began reviewing the published scientific research into the health claims.
Chief executive of the research council, Professor Warwick Anderson, said it had been a high-quality and systematic review. He said more recent published studies would also be considered in the council’s final findings due in coming months.
The review considered research into noise, shadow flicker and electromagnetic radiation from turbines and found no conclusive evidence of any direct health effects from these sources. It also found wind farm noise was unlikely to be heard from distances beyond 500 to 1500 metres.
The review did find some consistent evidence, albeit of poor quality, that living close to a wind farms was associated with “annoyance”.
It also found less consistent evidence proximity to a wind farm was associated with sleep loss and poorer quality of life.
But the review stresses that this finding does not mean wind farm proximity causes annoyance, and could be rather the result of other factors or study selection bias.
Chair of the council’s expert reference group on wind farms and health, Professor Bruce Armstrong, said what constituted “annoyance” was defined by the respondents of the studies.
He said annoyance might not be the result of direct factors – such as noise – and indirect issues – such as the visual impact of a wind farm – could be the cause. He said it was hard through the studies to disentangle the contributing factors.
“It is not necessarily noise, it could be the visual impact of the wind farms that causes the annoyance. And then the annoyance may in fact cause people to not be able to sleep,” he said.
Through its literature review the council researchers identified 2850 published works and received 506 public submissions, but deemed only seven studies to be of high enough quality to be included in the council’s review.
Professor Anderson says the council is preparing a targeted call for research on wind farms and human health to address evidence gaps.
The research review was welcomed by the industry. Executive manager at wind power operator Pacific Hydro, Andrew Richards, said the company was pleased with the initial findings and it had reaffirmed its confidence the technology was safe for residents and staff.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Leigh Ewbank said the study had shown once again wind farms were “clean and safe”.
Chief executive of anti-wind farm group the Waubra Foundation Sarah Laurie said the review had not included more recent studies, and called for a direct investigation into the “full spectrum of acoustic measurements inside people’s homes” to “determine why people out to 10 kilometres are reporting recurrent sleep disturbance and other symptoms which correlate directly with operating wind turbines”.
The Abbott government has already committed to further study on wind farms and health, promising to establish a research program under the research council or an independent expert panel. The government has also promised to implement real time monitoring of wind farm noise.
It is the second significant look at the issue by the research council. A “rapid review” it published in 2010 concluded there was insufficient published scientific evidence to link wind turbines with adverse health effects.