Wind turbine noise, adverse health effects, and professional ethics

Dr. Sarah Laurie of the Waubra Foundation in Australia delivered these important comments to attendees at the Falmouth MA Human Rights Conference. A portion of Dr. Laurie's comments appear below. Her full set of comments can be accessed by clicking the links on this page.

The consequences of exposure to impulsive infrasound and low frequency noise generated by wind turbines were also clearly well known to the global wind industry, because of the dramatic change in design which resulted, and because the results were presented at the AWEA sponsored conference.  

And I suggest the consequences of such exposure were also well known to many of the acoustical engineers who provide services to the wind industry, and to the lawyers who helped the developers with the confidentiality clauses in their contracts.

Acousticians as a profession are far more knowledgeable about the range of symptoms and sensations commonly called “annoyance” which have been reported by those exposed to infrasound, low frequency noise and audible noise than most health professionals, with the exception of some occupational physicians 10 and some ear nose and throat specialists. 11,12  
Rural health practitioners 13,14,15,16,17,18, have been at the forefront of trying to raise the alarm with health authorities and their colleagues about the severity of the impacts and clinical consequences they are seeing in wind turbine neighbours.  So far, those concerns have generally fallen on deaf ears within the health, planning and noise pollution bureaucracies and responsible authorities with few exceptions.

These exceptions have generally occurred after significant community protests, sometimes assisted by professionals also expressing their concerns, and in the case in Australia this has led to four parliamentary inquiries – two federally, and two state based inquiries.  Just some of these exceptions include the following:  

•    Health Canada have initiated a study, 19
•    the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council have commissioned another literature review 20 after extensive criticism of the 2010 “Rapid Review”, and
•    the South Australian Environmental Protection Agency conducted an acoustic survey after significant public pressure from the Waterloo community was applied. 21

However there are those within both the acoustics profession, and in the ranks of Public Health bureaucracies and academia who still continue to deny or ignore the reports of harm from residents, and their treating health practitioners, as well as the existing peer reviewed published evidence of distress and harm to health from wind turbine noise, recently catalogued by Drs Lynn and Dr Arra from the Grey Bruce Health Unit in Ontario. 22   

These so called “public servants” have never gone and directly collected data and information directly from the sick residents, despite in some instances having an obligation to do so under the provisions of their respective legislation.  In some instances they ignore the express concerns of middle ranking public servants reporting to them, who are trying to do their jobs properly and are well aware of their statutory duties of care and ethical obligations (particularly in the case of medical practitioners).

Why is there such reluctance on the part of senior government health authorities globally, especially to accept and investigate such obvious suffering from the widely reported serious sleep deprivation at the very least?  

Is it a reluctance to rock the boat with their political masters and mistresses?

Is it ignorance of the adverse health effects of environmental noise pollution, including the downstream health consequences of sleep deprivation with night time noise, and physiological stress, or cardiovascular disease, some of which have been in the media recently with the recent Aircraft Noise studies, and reported by the World Health Organisation in its publications about night time noise or Environmental noise?  

Or is it because there is an attitude that rural residents are “collateral damage” in order to “save the planet”?  That has certainly been put to me in a private conversation, by one Australian medical practitioner who is a very active member of both the Climate and Health Alliance, the Public Health Association and the Doctors for the Environment.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, these three advocacy organisations in Australia containing some of the leading lights of public health in Australia have led the way in officially trumpeting the “nocebo” hypothesis, that the publicity about the symptoms and reported problems is itself CAUSING the problems.  

Sadly they have not been nearly so active in advocating for carefully targeted research to investigate the adverse health consequences of environmental noise pollution – something which was recommended by a major Australian government health report in 2004, entitled “The Health Effects of Environmental Noise – Other than Hearing Loss” and has since been quietly shelved.

Perhaps this attitude of “acceptable collateral damage” also partly explains why so few medical or health researchers want to get actively involved in data collection.  I have also been told that some researchers have been told their future grants have been threatened, which has discouraged their interest.  Others have been refused permission by their university to study the impacts of infrasound, for example.

Laurie S 2013 Address To Falmouth Human Rights Conference October 2013

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OCT 19 2013
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