Australian court: wind turbine noise a “plausible pathway” to disease
Court finds an established association between annoyance (used as a medical term) and some diseases that result from prolonged stress
Pathway to Disease: Australian court links wind turbine noise with possible diseases
15 February 2018
In a World first, Australia’s Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) has declared that the “noise annoyance” caused by wind turbine generated low-frequency noise and infrasound “is a plausible pathway to disease”.
At the AAT hearing in Adelaide, the impacts of wind farm noise were considered by a senior Federal Court judge; the most thorough medial and scientific inquiry on the subject matter conducted in Australia to date.
The Tribunal’s findings were based on the “established association between noise annoyance and some diseases, including hypertension and cardiovascular disease, possibly mediated in part by disturbed sleep and/or psychological stress/distress”.
In its summary, and with unanimous support from relevant experts, AAT found that there were numerous recorded instances of wind turbine noise exceeding 40 dB(A) — a recognised threshold for annoyance/sleep disturbance.
“Even if it is not audible, low-frequency noise and infrasound may have other effects on the human body, which are not mediated by hearing but also not fully understood,” the summary reads.
“Those effects may include motion-sickness-like symptoms, vertigo, and tinnitus -like symptoms.”
It was also established that the current method adopted by windfarms to measure noise — the dB(A) scale was not suitable for the task, because a significant proportion of sound emitted by wind turbines is in the lower frequency range, where the scale cannot accurately identify the presence of frequencies or the peaks and troughs of their occurrence.
Instead, the dB(A) scale averages out the sound levels, masking the occurrence that could be causing harmful health side-effects.
The dB(A) weighting system is the basis of every wind turbine noise guideline in operation throughout the world.
With majority support from relevant experts, the Tribunal found that the most accurate way of determining the level and type of sound present at a particular location is to measure the sound at that location.
In conclusion, AAT noted the World Health Organisation stance that there is “sufficient evidence from large-scale epidemiological studies linking the populations exposure to environmental noise with adverse health effects”.
A Moyne shire resident living next to the MacArthur windfarm outlined the health impacts she has experienced since the wind farms were established.
“Severe ear pressure and pain, it’s actually in the inner ear; head pressure and headaches; my heart goes bananas, my whole body burns, and I feel sick,” she said.
“And (the symptoms) just come back immediately when in direct proximity to low-frequency emissions, it can happen anywhere, and it’s not just mild, it’s really debilitating.”
AGL started the consultation process with the community surrounding the proposed Willatook windfarm, raising concerns from residents about the proliferation of turbines in the area.
Community members met with South West Coast MP Roma Britnell over the weekend to voice concerns.
“Really (the meeting) centred around the fact that they will be surrounded, some of them, by the wind farms,” Ms Britnell said.
“They felt that it was a cluster effect and that it was unfair, that just because the power line goes through one area, they shouldn’t have to be the ones to had to take all the load of the 220-metre from tip- two-base structures in their backyard.”
Ms Britnell expressed no strong opinion in favour or against wind energy, simply saying we need to “get it right”.
“I am all for getting the renewable energy balance right, and wind is part of the solution, but wind is not the answer where there is no ability to store it,” Ms Britnell said.
“I’m afraid I still can’t meet the demand for supply when I want to milk my cows or have my shower when the wind isn’t blowing.
“Wind is not meeting the baseload and the biggest restriction I hear from community members is the supply issue, and that’s what the government is really not addressing.”
Tony Edney, director of the water foundation — an advocacy group for properly conducted, multidisciplinary research into health problems reported by people living in the vicinity of wind turbines and other industrial uses — told the Spectator that not every windfarm would necessarily generate problems.
“The location, topography, layout and design of the installation of factors that combine with climactic conditions to produce sound generating profiles of potential harm for some receiver sites,” Mr Edney said.
“And not everyone is adversely affected by wind farm noise. It is in part a matter of individual sensitivity or propensity, think of seasickness, and how we are not impacted equally by that malaise.”
Mr Edney said it was “simply no longer possible” for the industry to say that its technology was “clean, green and completely harmless”.
“Country people deserve to know what exactly they are dealing with when talk starts up about our windfarm proposed for their district,” Mr Edney said.