Saturday, 28 July 2012

Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ disease

The Conversation
20 July 2012, 6.09am AEST

The original article appeared here.


  1. Simon Chapman
    Professor of Public Health at University of Sydney 
Simon Chapman currently receives funding from the National Health & Medical Research Council for three project grants, and one capacity building grant. He receives no funding from any wind energy company or agents acting on their behalf.


At the beginning of this year I started collecting examples of health problems some people were attributing to wind turbine exposure. I had noticed a growing number of such claims on the internet and was curious about how many I could find. Within an hour or two I had found nearly 50 and today the number has grown to an astonishing 155.
I have worked in public health on three continents since the mid 1970s. In all this time, I have never encountered anything in the history of disease that is said to cause even a fraction of the list of problems I have collected.
The list of 155 problems includes “deaths, many deaths”, none of which have ever been brought to the attention of a coroner. It includes several types of cancer, and both losing weight and gaining weight. You name it. Haemorrhoids have not yet been named, but nothing would surprise me.
Many of the problems are those which affect large proportions of any community: hypertension (high blood pressure); mental health problems; sleeping difficulties; sensory problems (eyes, hearing, balance); and learning and concentration difficulties. Every day in Australia many hundreds of Australians receive their first diagnosis with these problems, and most live nowhere near wind farms.
So is it reasonable to suggest that all these problems – or even a fraction of them – are caused by wind turbines? Wind farm opponents repeatedly argue that turbines cause both rapid and long-gestation health problems. It is common to read accounts of people having been adversely affected within hours or even minutes of being exposed. If this was true, there is a big problem here.
Wind farms have existed in Australia long before the first claims about health ever surfaced. The Ten Mile Lagoon wind farm near Esperance, Western Australia has been operational for 19 years. Victoria’s first, the Codrington wind farm, just celebrated its 11th birthday, and has 14 turbines each capable of producing 1.3 megawatts. And yet health complaints are relatively recent, with the few in Codrington post-dating a visit to the area by a vocal opponent, spreading anxiety.
In this sense, “wind turbine syndrome” (which incidentally produces zero returns from the United States National Library of Medicine’s 23 million research papers) is what we can call a “communicated” disease: it spreads via the nocebo effect by being talked about, and is thereby a strong candidate for being defined as a psychogenic condition.
One prominent opponent of wind farms says he can hear them 35km away. Others talk about electricity from the turbines “leaking” into the soil and causing deaths of hundreds of cattle and goats. Such catastrophic events would always attract huge news attention. But try to find such coverage and instead you will only find website anecdotes about what happened on a neighbour’s farm.
Opponents also say that only “susceptible” people are adversely affected by wind turbines. But they repeatedly say animals such as sheep, cattle, dogs and poultry are badly affected, with problems such as malformations, sudden death, sterility and yolkless eggs being common.
Against this, on any trip to a wind farm region, one can find thousands of livestock grazing contentedly around the turbines. In Tasmania there is a poultry farm with a wind turbine at the front gate. Is the argument now that only some animals are “susceptible” too?
There have now been 17 reviews of the available evidence about wind farms and health, published internationally. These are reviews of all studies, not single pieces of research. Each of these reviews have concluded that wind turbines can annoy a minority of people in their vicinity, but that there is no strong evidence that they make people ill.
The reviews conclude that pre-existing negative attitudes to wind farms are generally stronger predictors of annoyance than residential distance to the turbines or recorded levels of noise. In other words, people who don’t like wind farms can often be annoyed and worried by them: some might even worry themselves sick.
There are two main anti-wind farm groups in Australia busily fomenting anxiety and opposition. One is the Waubra Foundation, a group of mainly wealthy individuals, none of whom live in or near the town of Waubra, near Ballarat. Several of them, NIMBY style, have opposed turbines near their own properties elsewhere. They are led by an unregistered doctor, Sarah Laurie, and a wealthy mining investor, Peter Mitchell who also has connections to the Landscape Guardians. Despite their name, the Guardians have never attempted to guard our landscape from over-zealous residential developers, open cut coal or coal seam gas mining. They only target wind farm developments. All three – Waubra, the Guardians and Mitchell’s mining investment company share a South Melbourne post office box.
Problems of falling and stagnant real estate prices in many of Australia’s rural areas are well known. When landowners with property that would be hard to sell see a wealthy energy company moving into an area and investing millions in turbines, it’s not difficult to predict that some will see potential in being “bought out” by such companies. Mining companies do it regularly. When this has happened in some communities, word spreads fast. I have been given accounts of lavish renovation and relocation “shopping list” demands that have been given to some wind energy companies by hopeful complainants.
Tellingly, four allegedly unlivable houses near Waubra where complaining residents were bought out now house non-complaining occupants.
When anti-wind farm leaders move around communities, sometimes with entrepreneurial lawyers, spreading anxiety that the turbines can harm heath, we can get a potent combination of poorly informed, worried and angry residents seeded with the idea that their protests might lead to a payout.
Other complainants appear to see the turbines as symbols of values and movements that they despise: totems of green politics, modernity and the urban artifice.
Almost daily, I receive heated email suggesting I should host a turbine in my inner city backyard. The irony is that for 22 years I’ve lived 300m under the main flight path into Sydney airport, 30 metres from a busy road and 200m from a railway line where the combined noise is incomparably louder than hundreds of wind turbines. I rather think I wear my fair share of community noise. But some in the bush believe that unlike city dwellers, it is their birthright to be sheltered from any intrusion in their pristine surrounds, the ultimate in NIMBYism.
Fortunately, anti-wind farm voices in the bush are in a small minority, as this CSIRO study shows.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Health Canada study having no effect yet on wind farms

Orangeville Banner
July 26, 2012

Freelance Reporter
In the face of calls for a moratorium on wind turbines pending the outcome of Health Canada’s study of alleged human health issues, Quebec has announced a fourth call for tenders for the commissioning of a new 700-megawatt wind energy block.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) says the federal health study is unwarranted “because the balance of scientific and medical evidence to date clearly concludes that sound from wind turbines does not adversely impact human health.”
CanWEA says Qu├ębec Premier Jean Charest has reaffirmed “his government’s commitment to renewable energy by seeking to attain the 4,000-MW objective set in its 2006-2015 energy strategy.”

“The vast majority of Canadians choose wind energy as a top source for clean and safe new electricity,” CanWEA said in a news release on the health issues. “When discussing an issue as important as our energy future we must look at the facts.
“It is clear that the balance of research and experience to date – including hundreds of thousands of people living and working near wind turbines in 89 countries around the world – concludes that wind energy does not adversely impact human health,” said Chris Forrest, vice-president of Communications.
It cites reports by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, the National Public Health Institute in Quebec, and most recently by an expert panel report to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Department of the Environment, as evidence of no health impacts.
“An Oracle Research poll conducted this year found that 78 per cent of Ontarians believe that wind energy is one of the safest forms of electricity generation. According to Dr.
Robert Oliphant, President and CEO of the Asthma Society of Canada, ‘In all forms, renewable energy is a safe and healthy alternative to fossil fuels’.”
But critics, such as the Melancthon residents opposing a Dufferin Wind Power (DWP) project, remain unconvinced of the reliability of studies to date.
At a Horning’s Mills information session Tuesday, a DWP panelist was chided for citing only positive findings of studies on turbines and health. His response was that the studies he had named had already reviewed the published negative materials.
There, the main thrust of questions on health could be expressed as, “if turbines don’t affect health, why are people getting sick after they are in operation?”
Jeff Hammond of DWP reiterated that causation hadn’t been proven. He said DWP “has to build a safe wind farm. We’ll follow the rules.”
Apart from health, there was an accusation that DWP wants to buy the former CP Rail corridor, and that it has an agreement with The Highland Companies.
Both allegations were denied. DWP, said Mr. Hammond, is simply negotiating an easement beside the rail bed. He said there has been no corporate contact with Highland.
Someone asked why the county is taking over the Melancthon landfill. Mayor Bill Hill, who was in the audience, was called on to respond that the county is not taking over any dumps but merely the collection of waste. He said he had no idea where the allegation had originated.
What happens when a turbine catches fire? Other than using the automatic internal extinguishers, you just let it burn itself out.
A frequently asked question centres on decommissioning at the end of the 20-year contract.
The meeting was told that if decommissioning should occur, the turbines, towers and some underground cables would be removed and the base cut away below grade. This would all be funded through securities DWP is posting.
But Mr. Hammond said it is more likely that the turbines would be replaced with newer, more efficient ones, and the contract renewed.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Dufferin Wind Pioneers II

We're continuing to post the letters from the investors (also landowners) of the Dufferin Wind project.  We believe that their words say so much more than those of the people who are opposed to the project.

Dufferin Wind Pioneers

Dufferin Wind Power is probably the largest community originated wind project in Ontario, if not Canada.  You can learn more about it here.

It's quite a story of local farmers getting together to collectively develop the resource blowing over their farms.  It's also a great story of how people can become committed towards wind power when they are the ones who initiate the project and contribute their own capital.

As a tribute to these people, we are going to publish the letters that they wrote to their local municipal and county representatives in support of granting their project's access to local road and rail allowances.  Each letter is different in perspective and tone, so we'd recommend that you read each one.  It's an amazing testimony as to how rural entrepreneurs organize themselves, assume financial risk and find the right people to help them achieve their goals.

There are a large number of these testimonials, and each is different, so we'll dedicate a number of blog entries to this theme.

Click on each image to read it in full size.