The wind energy sector was abuzz earlier this week, with news of a new study that sheds some light into the thorny issue of how humans perceive the health impact of wind turbines.  The study suggests that people who claim to suffer health problems from living near turbines could actually be suffering from a psychogenic response, prompted by anti-wind farm campaigns – or, to put it less delicately, scaremongering – that say that noise and vibration from wind turbines cause health problems.

More specifically, the study finds that the vast majority of those who live near wind farms in Australia suffer no related health problems (frequently cited complaints like sleeplessness, headaches, and stress  are grouped into “wind turbine syndrome”) and that those who do claim adverse impacts mostly live near five specific wind farms that have been targeted by anti-wind campaigns.

Feeling sick already? (Image: London Free Press)

The study comes from Dr. Simon Chapman, a public health professor at the University of Sydney. Dr. Chapman has been questioning the “science” used by anti-wind groups, and looking at the issue from a risk communications angle. Chapman calls wind turbine syndrome a “communicated disease”.

His study, the conclusions of which imply that this is an area worthy of further work, sets out the case that communications – through such activities as media and public information campaigns – could be one of the strongest determinants of how humans perceive wind turbines and their impact on health and quality of life. Thus far, the scientific work done on the topic continues to find no link between wind turbines and adverse health impacts.

Given the opposition to wind farms in Ontario, the study should be very relevant to the debate here. For wind energy advocates, this study promises an interesting new direction in the challenge to better understand and manage the interaction between wind turbines and humans and to build a fact-based regulatory approach. It also supports the need for the wind energy industry to be more communicative and transparent about the annoyance issues associated with wind turbines.

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