As industrial scale wind farms have spread globally, so have the complaints about sleep disturbance, headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, anxiety and cardiovascular problems. The wind industry has been quick to dismiss turbines as the cause. The mantra is “What you can’t hear can’t hurt you.” Noise regulations reflect this thinking as they only focus on audible sound and ‘acceptable’ noise levels.
Logic would have us question this. We know that what we can’t see can hurt us, e.g. x-rays and ultraviolet rays. There are pathways into the body for sound other than the auditory pathway just as there are pathways for electromagnetic radiation other than the eye.
As stated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Exposure to noise can lead to auditory and non-auditory effects on health” (Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region 2018). The WHO recognises environmental noise as one of the top environmental risks to physical and mental health and wellbeing. Noise is a stressor that can have an adverse impact on health, especially following long term exposure. The disease burden of environmental noise can be quantified for cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in children, sleep disturbance, tinnitus and annoyance.
For the first time, the WHO has included wind turbines in the European guidelines.The lack of quality studies on the impacts of turbine noise on human health is acknowledged. Wind turbines are known to generate more infrasound and low frequency sound than other sources of noise such as traffic, and to have special characteristics such as pulsating sound. The adequacy of A-weighted (audible) sound measurements for assessing turbine noise and guiding their location is questioned by the WHO given the unique noise characteristics of turbines.
The lack of quality research into the impact of wind farms on human health was also recognised in a 2015 study commissioned by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC). The findings from this study are often misquoted. The poor quality of existing research meant that no relationship could be established. Nor could one be discounted. There is simply a lack of evidence to draw a conclusion either way.
Consequently, the NHMRC is spending $3.3 million to fund two research projects into the effects of wind turbines on human health. Early results from the Flinders University study show pulsing sound from wind turbines was audible in homes 3.5 km away, and these turbines are much smaller than those proposed for the Delburn Wind Farm.
Surely the precautionary principle should apply until the results of the NHMRC funded research are known? As stated in the Victorian Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018, “If there exist threats of serious or irreversible harm to human health or the environment, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent or minimise those threats.”
Victoria has the lowest level of protection from wind farm noise in Australia. The protections are clearly not working given the proven breach of the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act at the Bald Hills Wind Farm. Of interest, the directors of OSMI are also associated with the development of this wind farm.
The swept area of turbine blades has increased five-fold since 2010 yet setback distances to houses in Victoria have decreased from 2km to 1km during that time. The National Wind Farm Commissioner recommends setback distances of 2km from houses for turbines over 200m in height and a distance of 5km from towns to preserve amenity. The Strzelecki Community Alliance supports these recommendations and calls for appropriately located industrial scale wind farms.