Wind farms and health – the beat-up continues

Yesterday, The Australian again tried to instill doubts about the health effects of wind farms through cherry picking, but they would be better to wait until the NHMRC issues its full review of the evidence.

The Australian was at it again on Thursday, using a variety of tricks to try to suggest that we should be concerned about wind farm’s impact on health, and therefore by implication apply onerous restrictions on the approval of new wind farms – such as 2km set-backs from any home.

The article, headed ‘Caution backed on wind turbine health link’, used statements by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Professor Bruce Armstrong in an inappropriate context. When viewed in isolation this article wouldn’t cause too much concern. However when combined with a series of prior articles The Australian has written, it misleads readers into thinking that Professor Bruce Armstrong and the NHMRC “back” The Australian’s wider reportage that we should be worried about wind farms causing heath problems and need to toughen planning restrictions around wind turbines.

The Australian chooses to quote this section of the 2010 NHMRC public statement on its rapid review of the evidence on wind farms and health,

"While there is currently no evidence linking these phenomena with adverse health effects, the evidence is limited. Therefore it is recommended that relevant authorities take a precautionary approach and continue to monitor research outcomes."

The key issue here is what would be justified as “precautionary”. Taking this statement out of context makes it appear as if the NHMRC believes that planning authorities should be very cautious and should apply highly restrictive requirements beyond what has been applied in the past. However if you read the full report on their rapid review of the evidence, as well as the fact sheet, this is not the impression the average reader would be left with. The full report concludes with (underlining by myself):

“This review of the available evidence, including journal articles, surveys, literature reviews and government reports, supports the statement that: There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms and that any potential impact on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines.”

Those existing planning guidelines that they referred to were the ones in place prior to the Victorian government imposing 2km setbacks and NSW’s newly proposed guidelines. Now myself and The Australian could go on forever picking out quotes that suit our own story, so my advice is please don’t take my word for it, read the report (by clicking on the blue link).

Now I should say that I received a phone call from the author of The Australian articles, Graham Lloyd, who told me that he did call Queensland Health to verify the letter that he quoted from extensively in his article on Tuesday. So I should apologise for suggesting he didn’t.

However this led me to make further inquiries with Queensland Health. They made it abundantly clear that Queensland Health does not, as The Australian put it, “recommend that wind turbines not be built within 2km of homes”. Why not – because Queensland Health as an organisation doesn’t have a policy on what councils should do about wind farms. None, Zilch, Nada.

Quite sensibly they won’t have a policy until the NHMRC issues its full review of evidence surrounding wind farms and health (the report cited above was a "rapid review" of the evidence) and only then will Queensland Health develop a policy about what should be done. Also in spite of my questioning, they weren’t willing to point me towards a “growing body of evidence to suggest there may be adverse health effects associated with the noise generated by wind farms.”

This letter The Australian cites is not Queensland Health’s policy and is a complete beat-up. Also I should note that The Australian has been a bit tricky by citing the person who signed off on the letter as being Queensland Health's Director of Environmental Health. This might leave you to think that he might have some overarching position of responsibility across the whole of Queensland Health when in fact his full title attaches him to the regional division of Tropical and Regional Services situated in the Cairns Office.

When the NHMRC issues its report providing a full review of the evidence around what, if any, effect wind farms have on health I can assure you that Climate Spectator will be one of the first to report on it, irrespective of its findings. I hope The Australian will do the same and give it front page coverage without the cherry picking.

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