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Wind farms don’t make you sick, anti-wind-farm activists do, researcher says

A paper by Australian researchers that concludes wind turbines don’t make people sick — anti-wind-turbine activists do — is making a lot of noise in the anti-wind-farm community in Ontario.

The province has 1,500 megawatts (MW) of wind generation capacity connected to its power grid, the majority of it built under the Liberal's Green Energy Act. Opposition to wind farms has been fierce, especially from those who believe the noise and/or vibrations from turbines is making them sick.

Professor Simon Chapman, an associate dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, mapped out the history of health-related complaints about wind turbines in Australia and found they don’t follow logically from the development of wind farms, but instead follow the growth of anti-wind turbine activism. The paper has not yet been peer-reviewed.

He found the majority of complaints — 68 per cent — came from just five of the country’s 49 wind farms, which are also at the centre of activism. There were no complaints from all of Western Australia and many other very large wind farms.

Chapman collected health-related complaints about the country’s wind farms made to Australia's government, directly to wind companies and in Australian media finding that 120 people complained between 1993 and 2012. That is the equivalent of one in every 272 residents living within five kilometres from a wind farm.

“I find it implausible that if wind turbines in themselves were harmful, there would be whole farms using the same equipment, mega-wattage, everything, where people weren’t saying they were affected,” he said.

Wind farms have been in operation in the country since 1993, but health complaints didn’t start in earnest until 2009, when anti-wind activists began widely publicizing health-related concerns and a controversial American doctor dubbed the phrase “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, said Chapman.

He concluded wind turbines do not cause the symptoms — including insomnia, heart murmurs and other irregularities, headaches, vertigo, dizziness and nausea — at all.

“I don’t doubt that when people say, ‘I’m suffering,’ that they’re suffering,” he said. “But the problems that people speak of are very common in all communities. The question becomes not whether they have those problems, but what’s causing those problems.”

He argues people have mis-attributed their common health problems to wind farms because of activists’ campaigns. Some may have even become more ill because they believe that wind farms make them sick — a phenomenon called the "nocebo effect", he said.

“For people who are not trained in epidemiology or social psychology and who are generally probably ill-disposed to wind turbines — they don’t like the look of them and think they are a ‘green conspiracy’ and it reminds them of the city where they don’t live — they’re a very receptive group to such suggestions."

In Australia, some activists, whom Chapman calls “professional victims”, will tour rural areas where wind farms are being built and tell people all about their suffering from Wind Turbine Syndrome.

In some cases he highlighted, complaints of Wind Turbine Syndrome began before the wind farms were fully operational or operational at all. In one case, less than two days after a single turbine became operational at 25 per cent strength, a woman told an Australian national newspaper she’d been sick for three days.

New Zealand study seems to back Chapman's work

Another study released in March appears to back up Simon Chapman’s work.

Researchers in New Zealand exposed volunteers to 10 minutes of infrasound — the type of inaudible decibel believed to cause health problems — and 10 minutes of fake infrasound. Some volunteers were previously exposed to information from anti-wind groups, intended to invoke a high-expectation of negative symptoms.

Those volunteers reported symptoms that aligned with that information when they heard both the infrasound and the fake infrasound, while the other volunteers reported no symptoms. The researchers said their findings suggest psychological expectations could explain the link between wind turbine exposure and health complaints.

To read Metro's coverage on the perspective of an Ontario researcher who herself has felt the ill-effects of wind turbines, click here.

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