Are Wind Farm Health Concerns a Load of Hot Air?

Friday, April 17th, 2015
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Australia’s peak medical agency is set to continue funding research into the health impacts of wind farms at considerable public expense, despite a barrage of studies from around the globe concluding that their effects upon the physical well-being of nearby residents are negligible.

Warwick Anderson, the departing head of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), recently confirmed in Senate Estimates that as much as $2.5 million could be allocated to research proposals into the relationship between wind farms and health.

While the $2.5 million is a mere fraction of the agency’s total research budget, which was $802.42 million in 2014, critics point out that the funding of such proposals nonetheless remains a waste of a considerable sum of taxpayers’ money due to the growing body of evidence that has already been amassed internationally indicating wind farms do not pose a significant threat to human health.

Anderson’s admission followings the issuance of a Targeted Call for Research by Australia’s peak medical agency “to encourage Australia’s best researchers to undertake independent high-quality research” into the topic, with a focus in particular on health effects of residents within 1.5 kilometres of a wind farm.

This call arrived in spite of the fact that NHMRC’s own most recent study on the matter has reached the conclusion that “there is no direct evidence that exposure to wind farm noise affects physical or mental health.”

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that much of motivation behind the NHMRC’s call for further research into the issue is political, given the Abbot government’s demonstrable aversion to wind farms as well as the comparatively low level of public concern on the matter.

Tony Abbott himself called for the NHMRC’s latest review of the evidence with respect to wind farms and human health in January 2014, stating at the tie that it had been “some years since the NHMRC last looked at this issue: why not do it again.”

Abbott’s remark came despite the fact that the NHMRC had already commissioned reviews of the evidence on wind farm health impacts twice since the turn of the decade – once in 2010, and again in 2012 with the Wind Farm Human Health Reference Group.

The animosity felt by leading members of Abbott’s government toward wind farms was made more explicit in May 2014, when federal treasurer Joe Hockey said that the wind farm adjacent to Lake George was “utterly offensive” and a “blight on the landscape.”

 Hockey reiterated those remarks during the Bloomberg Summit in Sydney in September, stating that “putting up those towers is just to me quite appalling in those places.”

Simon Chapman, professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, noted at the start of last year that there appears to be trivial levels of popular opposition to wind farms on health grounds. Only 129 out of the estimated 32,789 people living within five kilometres of Australia’s then 51 wind farms had made complaints about them, while 33 of these wind farms (64.7 per cent of the total) had never been the object of a single complaint from nearby residents.

The mounting body of international evidence continues points to wind farms having no direct effect on human health.

Chapman’s summary of the main conclusions reached by 24 reviews of the research literature on wind farms and health, conducted in collaboration with Teresa Simonetti of the Sydney University Medical School and latest updated in January 2015, found that medical studies had all but unanimously concluded that there is no link between the two.

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