The possibility of health effects from wind turbines was an “open scientific question” and public money would fund universities and acoustic experts to conduct high-quality research, the nation’s peak health body says.
In a statement on Wednesday, the National Health and Medical Research Council said research into the complex issue of wind farms and health was limited and of poor quality, with “no consistent evidence” of wind farms causing adverse health effects.
But NHMRC chief executive Warwick Anderson said it was “important to say no consistent evidence does not necessarily mean no effect on human health’’. “From a scientific perspective I see the question as still open.”
The chairman of the NHMRC’s wind far committee, Bruce Armstrong, said it was difficult to “prove a negative” — that wind farms do not harm health — and the decision to conduct further research should not be seen as cause for alarm.
However, he said “to not investigate would be negligent from a public health point of view”.
The NHMRC said research should concentrate on the area within 1500m of a wind turbine but this could be extended. It will call for targeted research into three main areas: low-frequency noise, case studies and psychological factors.
Professor Armstrong said research into low-frequency and infrasound was important “because it is what people who are concerned about health impacts focus on”. It had not been done particularly well so far, he said.
Research also had to look at the particular social environment and mental circumstances outside of the noise issue and the wider environment, he said.
There was evidence people were more likely to be annoyed.
“While the parallel evidence suggests that prolonged noise-related annoyance may result in stress, which may be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, annoyance was not consistently defined in the studies and a range of other factors are possible explanations ... ,” the NHMRC statement said.
The NHMRC has been studying the possible health impacts of wind farms since 2009. The latest review considered 4000 pieces of evidence but found only 13 considered of value to the study.
The peak wind-farm lobby group, the Clean Energy Council, said the NHMRC statement had given the industry a clean bill of health. “While the NHMRC has called for more research into potential health impacts within 1500 metres of a wind farm, the evidence to support this is weak,” CEC policy director Russell Marsh said.