The finding by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) that there is no reliable or consistent evidence that being near wind farms has any direct effect on human health is to be expected.
There’s a lot of wind around the issue, but not too much direct evidence.
The NHMRC followed a painstaking process over about four years, conducting literature reviews and seeking public submissions. In the end, only seven studies (published in 11 papers with some repetition) were assessed to be a valid source of evidence. Anecdotes were discounted.
It found that some people living near wind farms were annoyed by them, but found it wasn’t clear whether or not wind farms disturbed people’s sleep or affected their quality of life.
It found no direct evidence with which to even consider the question of whether or not infrasound or low frequency noise from wind farms causes any health effects. It noted that people exposed to infrasound and low frequency noise in a laboratory (at much higher levels than those to which people living near wind farms are exposed) have few, if any, effects on body functioning.
It found that it is unlikely that substantial wind farm noise would be heard at distances further than 500–1500 metres from wind farms, although the distances at which wind farms are audible vary with terrain, type of turbines and weather conditions.
It also found that the noise from wind turbines is similar to many other noises, and there is no evidence that health or health-related effects from wind turbine noise would be any different to those from other noise sources at similar levels.
But the NHMRC doesn’t say this is the end of the question. It says the quality of the research done to date is poor, and can’t be trusted. Further research is needed in specific areas, it says – to improve the measurement of noise, to examine the relationship between wind turbine noise and health or health-related effects and to investigate the social and environmental circumstances. It has released a draft information paper, with public consultations open until 11 April.
These findings will bring comfort to those who support the use of renewable energy as an alternative to carbon-based fuels.
But the analysis of future research needs could also be used by those who oppose wind farms to call for delays in the addition of further wind farms.
This article was first published by Croakey Health Media in 2014
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