Much has been and continues to be written and researched on the topic of wind farms and health effects. Debate continues around the world as to whether a wind farm causes physiological harm to residents living in its vicinity.
In 2016, the NHMRC announced the funding of two research studies into wind farms and health. One study is focused on the effects of wind farm noise on sleep and is led by Professor Peter Catcheside at Flinders University. The other study is focused on measuring the effects of infrasound and is led by Professor Guy Marks at the University of New South Wales.
In addition, in late 2015, the Australian Government established the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines (ISCOWT) to provide advice on a range of matters including wind farm noise levels and the relationship to health effects.
A number of complaints about wind farms received by the Office include references to health impacts as a result of wind farm operations. Health conditions cited in complaints include sleep disturbance, headaches, ear-aches, ‘pounding’ in the ears, tinnitus, tachycardia, high blood pressure, sight impairment, diabetes, chest-tightening, nausea and general fatigue. The complaints generally state that such conditions are caused by audible noise and low frequency noise, including infrasound, along with vibration sensations attributable to the operation of nearby turbines. In some cases, complaints have stated that some health conditions are persisting even when the turbines are not operating.
Despite numerous invitations to complainants to provide evidence of their medical conditions, complaints regarding health concerns received by our Office have provided only anecdotal evidence regarding stated health issues and perceived causality. It has therefore been difficult to confirm whether or not the stated health conditions reported by complainants are valid and, if they were valid, whether or not the health conditions are possibly a result of the wind farm’s operations or from some other cause.
It is possible that stated health conditions may be caused by other known causes not related to the wind farm’s operations. Of concern is the potential situation whereby a resident may fail to seek and obtain appropriate medical advice and treatment for a treatable health condition due to the possibly incorrect assumption that an operating wind farm is perceived as the cause of the health condition. For example, if a resident is experiencing sleep difficulties, they may be advised by their General Practitioner to attend to a sleep specialist for a proper diagnosis of the root cause and advice on treatment to remedy the condition.
Health conditions may also arise as a result of stress, annoyance or anxiety related to the presence of an operating wind farm or concerns about the effects of a proposed wind farm. Further, uncertainties in relation to whether a proposed wind farm will actually proceed (a period which may extend for several years) may also contribute to stress and anxiety. Again, affected residents may need to seek appropriate medical treatment for these ancillary health conditions as well as seek ways to resolve their concerns.
The Office will continue to monitor relevant decisions that explore evidence about wind farms and health, such as the recent Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision Waubra Foundation v Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and the appeal decision regarding the proposed Palmer wind farm in the South Australian Environment, Resources and Development Court. The Office will also monitor and continue engagement regarding any results of the NHMRC funded studies and the work of the ISCOWT, as well as assessing any further evidence gathered through complaint handling activities.
9.2.1. Federal and state governments should continue to assess the outcomes of research into wind farms and health, including outcomes of the two NHMRC funded wind farm health studies and recommendations of the ISCOWT. Environmental standards, such as noise standards, should be monitored and reviewed in line with any recommendations arising from these programs.
9.2.2. Residents living in the vicinity of an operating or proposed wind farm that are experiencing health conditions should be encouraged to seek appropriate medical advice to properly diagnose and treat any health-related conditions accordingly. General practitioners receiving patients from wind farm locations should maintain an awareness of wind farm and health matters through bodies such as the Australian Medical Association and assist patients in understanding the need for appropriate testing, diagnosis and remedies for the presented health conditions or concerns.
9.2.3. Medical practitioners who identify potential causational links between a patient’s health condition and their proximity to the operation of a wind farm should report such incidences in an appropriate way to the relevant professional body, association and/or government agency.
9.2.4. Residents who are experiencing unacceptable noise levels from a wind farm should be encouraged to report such incidents to the wind farm operator, the compliance authority and/or the appropriate regulator to initiate the appropriate investigation and resolution of the noise incidents.