No evidence of wind energy health impact

Wind power has been gaining prominence as a viable sustainable alternative to other forms of energy production. Studies have found that there is increasing population demand for ‘green’ energy. In Australia, this has been encouraged by the introduction 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. Those who oppose the development of wind farms contend that wind turbines can adversely impact the health of individuals living in close proximity.

Public Statement

The Public Statement presents the current evidence relating potential health impacts of wind turbines on people living in close proximity. The Statement concludes that there is currently no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects.

Evidence Review

The Evidence Review presents findings from a rapid review of the evidence from current literature on the issue of wind turbines and potential impacts on human health. The Review focuses on concerns regarding the adverse health impacts of infrasound, noise, electromagnetic interference, shadow flicker and blade glint produced by wind turbines.

A review by the Australia’s peak health body has found no evidence that wind farms can affect the health of those living nearby. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has assessed the common complaints levelled at the wind energy sector, chiefly that its wind turbines also generate ‘infrasound’ that can make wind farm neighbours feel ill.

‘While the range of effects such as annoyance, anxiety, hearing loss and interference with sleep, speech and learning have been reported anecdotally,’ the NHMRC said in a statement on Friday.

‘… there is no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects.’

The NHMRC said a recent US study into wind turbines and infrasound – sound that was ‘generally inaudible to the human ear’ – found no evidence that it could impact on the physical health of those living nearby.

This was backed by a study focused on three UK-based wind farms, it said, while the World Health Organisation also took the view that there was no evidence of a health impact.

The NHMRC said there was a mental impact on those who ‘perceived infrasound’ and this was ‘annoyance’.

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

It also assessed the total noise output of a ten-turbine wind farm as 35 to 45 decibels when a person stood 350 metres away.

This was about the same level as standing in a ‘quiet bedroom’ and well below the 60 decibels for ‘noise in a busy office’. Background noise in a rural area at night was rated at between 20 to 40 decibels.

The NHMRC said there was a similar lack of evidence to support complaints that ‘electromagnetic radiation, shadow flicker and blade glint’ from wind turbines could impact on health.

The statement was welcomed by Clean Energy Council, peak body for the nation’s renewable energy generators.

‘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,’ the council’s policy director Russell Marsh said.

He said more than 100,000 wind turbines had been installed across 80 countries in the past 30 years, and yet there remained ‘no credible evidence that wind turbines have a direct effect on people’s health’.