Australia Just Dedicated Millions To Syndrome That Likely Doesn't Exist

Australia Just Dedicated Millions of Dollars to Studying a Syndrome That Probably Doesn't Exist

Happier times with some koalas (Getty) The Australian government announced on Tuesday that it will devote $US2.5 ($3) million to researching the consequences of wind turbines on human health. This comes despite the fact that previous reports -- including one by the Australian government itself -- suggest there is no direct connection between ill health and wind turbines.

The grants -- applications for which are reportedly only given 15 per cent of the time -- will go toward exploring whether "annoyances," sleeplessness, and quality of life are affected by the presence of wind turbines.

In 2015, however, the Australian government's medical research arm released a report that concluded "there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans." Yet the government apparently considered some of this evidence lacking, and people living closer to wind farms expressed concern about perceived impacts on their health, which appears to be the rationale for the grants.

It's objectively not a bad idea to study something for which the evidence is deemed "unreliable," but there are more than a few studies that suggest little direct connection between certain health problems -- sleeplessness, headaches, and dizziness -- and wind turbines. A report from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which also looked at studies done in Oregon, Massachusetts, and Vermont, found "no evidence" that compliant facilities independently cause health problems:

"[The Massachusetts's independent expert panel] report that most epidemiologic literature of human response to wind turbines relates to self-reported 'annoyance,' and this response appears to be a function of some combination of the sound itself,the sight of the turbine, and attitude towards the wind turbine project."

In other words, while it's possible some people might lose some sleep because of wind turbines -- even though wind farm noise is similar to other natural and man-made noise -- the farms themselves aren't causing people to go off the rails. Moreover, effects haven't been seen consistently even among people who live near wind farms: some regions experience complaints, while others are fine.

According to some in the medical field, whatever symptoms people are experiencing are likely psychological rather than physical. "People living near wind farms who experience adverse health or wellbeing may well do so because of heightened anxiety or negative perceptions about wind farms," according to the Australian Medical Association.

Given the wealth of evidence that appears to refute the notion of any witchcraft on the part of wind turbines, some have been left wondering why so much money was awarded to studying the question.

[Atlas Obscura]

WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    Id rather see studies into how wind farms change weather

      Chopping down trees creates weather change. When trees give off moisture the cells in their leaves exhale at a hundred km an its why rain and wind happen.

      Yes that would be an equally stupid way to waste $3million
      Perhaps we can spend $3 million seeing if Aliens are making crop circles.

      Not sure why you'd consider it stupid - it does create localised changes to weather patterns.

        Such studies do exist.
        Basically, they suck kinetic energy out of the atmosphere, making things a little calmer.
        There's quite a science to laying out wind farms to ensure they don't get in each other's way!

    What a load of rubbish.

    Not as bad as absolutely gutting the CSIRO, cutting funding to education and failing to honor previously agreed upon Gonski funding committments - then running a multi million dollar "feelgoody" ad campaign with kids talking about "their future jobs" , and stating that "science and education is the future and the government cares deeply about it".

    Maybe save the millions on your election year taxpayer funded campaign ads masked as "public awareness campaigns" - and rebuild some of those CSIRO departments you ripped apart.

    This ad here - it's despicable - "that's why the Australian Government is investing in science" - tell that to all the CSIRO scientists you just laid off.

      "A tele-remote surgeon"

      Pity the NBN was neutered.

        Hospitals already have fibre.

        The money to do remote surgery is another story.

    In 2015, however, the Australian government’s medical research arm released a report that concluded “there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans.”
    "...But by God, we'll keep on looking for that evidence until we find someone willing to say it exists."

      The report, or at least its summary, also stated:

      Given these reported experiences and the limited reliable evidence, NHMRC considers that further, higher quality, research is warranted. NHMRC will issue a Targeted Call for Research into wind farms and human health to encourage Australia’s best researchers to undertake independent, high quality research investigating possible health effects and their causes, particularly within 1,500 m from a wind farm.

      Questioning the sincerity of world class scientists is easy to do on an amateur website like Gizmodo, but does nothing to enhance your credibility of your views.

    Surely common sense can answer this question? What I believe is far more relevant is what a blight wind farms are on our landscape. No-one would want a 10 storey high apartment block in any of those locations, but 20 or 30 equally tall wind turbines is apparently not a problem? To me it is just a different form of environmental vandalism.

      SomeOtherIdiot is that you? Only he would say something so idiotic. I'd prefer a wind farm over a coal powerplant.

      The reason why we know the whole "they look ugly" argument is Bullshit is because...
      A We know the alternative, vast coal mines are even uglier.
      B Non of you lot are campaigning for equally ugly electricity pilons to be removed.
      Stop denying us all cheap clean energy.

        Has anyone Smelled the Coal they use in power plants?
        That Coal SMELLS BAD.. better to have the smell from a wind farm.

    Need to study the health effects of; chronic uncontrolled rage and frustration at having to suffer inhumane levels of bureaucratic ineptitude and ill will (for those opposed to developments for no reason other than NIMBY, oh the property values, as if those aren't ephemeral).
    That would likely be the same as tilting at wind-turbines.

    That money should be used to build more turbines. Its only obvious any study will find a negative impact in some measure, but it will only be physiological, just as it will find positives. Why not look at the actual science (you know, that weird spooky thing that helps us make antibiotics and MRI machines) telling us that in less then 100 years we will sending our kids to school via boat instead of bus. We have no time left to waste, and limited funds.

    When did everyone start believing that science is about 'finalising' and 'settling' science? Let's shut down all debate!

    You've got someone that argues against climate change coming to speak at a university? To your keyboards everyone, someone's got to lose a job, conferences must be shut down!

    Science has said plenty of things were safe in the past, only to go on and prove otherwise later down the track.

    So..fossil-fuel industry funded.. then?

    This has been debunked already. There is no adverse effects from wind farms, or the turbines themselves. You can however worry yourself sick, which is not wind farm specific.

      These fellows disagree.

        You managed to find one study, from Northern Iran (a country reliant on oil export) that studied 53 workers working on the turbines. They also found the older you are the more likely you ate too have a sleep disorder.

        You are always going to find outlier studies trying to keep doubt alive. The majority (like yours) have their own agenda.

    It's a standard NHMRC grant to two senior researchers, one of whom is an epidemiologist and medical doctor. Malcolm Turnbull, pictured above, played no role in the decision.

    None of the references in the article demonstrate that no link has been established. There is no way to logically give an estimate, let alone deem the link "probably" non-existent, without the kind of research being undertaken.

    There is too much untapped coal in Australia for the govt. to not want to justify bringing Wind Farm construction to a complete standstill.

      The thing is the switch renewables are inevitable. It's not a question of IF it's when. We used to subsidise coal to ensure electricity prices remained low. Now we are subsidising coal to prop up a dying industry. I've got solar on my roof. In four years it has paid for itself and now my electricity is FREE. You will never get free energy from coal. This study is just another lie from rich and powerful men trying to cling on to their dying fossil fuels empire. Time to move on Australia, away from Energy Dictatorship towards Energy Democracy.

      Once you 'tap' that coal (usually in an open-cut situation) you will never have that resource again. It is non-renewable. Some might also point out that an 'untapped coal' site will likely be undeveloped, natural landscape. Open-cut mines have a lasting negative environmental impact.

      Add to that that falling coal price - we're currently at the same price we had in 2005 (less than 1/3 of the 2008/2009 price) - while the costs of extracting and transporting the coal have not reduced at all.

      Wind power, however, is a renewable energy source. The environment provides the energy, and we harness it. Then the environment provides more energy, and we harness that. Compare and contrast that to coal, where the environment is essentially stripped and gutted to get at the coal, then left to 'rehabilitate', usually with issues like seepage and run-off from their chemical and effluent dams further damaging the environment. The impact on the environment from a mine - open or closed - greatly outlasts the mine's productivity phase, with mitigation projects frequently required to stave continuing environmental impact. In fact, just a few years ago the NSW Auditor General basically admitted that they had "substantially-inadequate" resources to address the contamination liability for now-closed mines. In essence, they recognise that people's health will be affected by these non-functioning mines, and they cannot afford to pay the expected liabilities from the environmental and health impacts of these mining practices.

      ...but you want more mining? Something like this: ?

      Coal price:
      An example of environmental damage and subsequent failed clean-up in a contemporary underground mine:
      An report containing details of continuing mitigation and environmental issues of now-closed mines, including the Auditor General's liability statement:

      Last edited 29/03/16 11:24 am

    If infrasounds have been studied and appear to be of some detriment to human health and that based on EEG results from Ibaraki University in Japan concluded that it was an annoyance (though they encouraged further study to confirmation), and wind turbines emit infrasound in the human hearing range but apparently don't cause any ill health effects, which studies are wrong?

    "A scientist at the Sydney University Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory stated that there is a growing evidence that infrasound may affect a few people's nervous system by stimulating the vestibular system and this has shown in animal models an effect similar to sea sickness."

    Seems like a worthwhile thing to investigate to me.

    Last edited 26/03/16 10:48 am

      The questions you are not asking is intensity and exposure. Without further evidence you could be trying to link infrasound 50 times higher in some lab trial with real world experiences from wind turbines.

    We really should be studying how the farts from politicians wives fannies, either front or back, depeding where you're from, cause tornadoes on Mars!

    $2.5M isn't a lot of money, relatively speaking. I think the concern here is motivation. Liberal Party members have historically shown an anti-renewable energy bias. Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott famously called wind turbines "ugly" and an "eye-sore", while apparently having no issues with the appearance of electrical pylons, above ground power poles, traditional power stations or open cut coal mines. It seemed silly, driven by ideology, rather than fact.

    While you can find studies suggesting there is a human impact - usually from scientists in oil-rich countries - the overwhelming evidence indicates no negative effects.

    But science is about confirmation, so a study is fine. As long as there is no underlying agenda, which is most likely the source of the ridicule and distrust.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now