Several months ago I started noticing references among wind energy proponents to 17 reviews of the evidence relating to health effects, all of which concluded there were no problems. The 17 reviews apparently originated with Simon Chapman, a professor in Australia. Initially I didn’t pay much attention to them – proponents are always claiming to have a mass of evidence that shows that wind turbines are safe, which is always contraindicated by actual neighbors. But when I saw that OSEA (the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association) mentioned the 17 reviews in a formal submission to Health Canada I thought I ought to take a look at them. To go through all 17 takes longer than one post, so I’ve split this one into 3 parts: (a) an overview and listing of the 17, (b) more detail on the 17, and (c) a look at their underlying source material.
I cannot image anyone reading through all 3 parts, but I wanted to make sure I gave the 17 every chance to show me that wind turbines are not a health hazard. In this, they failed. I came away with 3 major conclusions:
- the jury is still out on health impacts (but the jury is filing in);
- turbines disrupt sleep and create annoyance (enough to become a health issue);
- Chapman is a skilled cherry picker.
In every-day English a “review” could also be referred to as a “study” but this is deceptive: most people think of a study as going out and studying something, not sitting in a cubicle and Googling around. These 17 reviews were largely Googling exercises – they read other studies and summarized the results. The important point is that whatever conclusion these reviews came to necessarily depends upon what the authors read and how they interpreted it. None of the reviews relates actual research, like going out into the field to see what is really going on. As far as I can tell not one of the 17’s contributors has ever interviewed (let alone diagnosed) any victims or visited their homes.
Chapman introduced the 17 reviews in a submission to New South Wales [backup link] dated March 8, 2012. It is interesting to see how both he and others have referred to them. Initially, it was: “There are now 17 published reviews of the available evidence about whether exposure to wind turbines causes health problems and about whether infrasound can harm human health.” Note that there are really two topics here, health and infrasound, and “reviews” is fairly prominent. Down in Appendix 1 it becomes: “Summary of main conclusions reached in 17 reviews of the research literature on wind farms and health.” By September 7 OSEA claims: “OSEA is aware of at least seventeen reviews of the literature on this topic, in which the overwhelming conclusion is that wind turbines have little or no direct impact on human health…“. On Quora, Mike Barnard (A prominent wind energy proponent and commenter. Previously I stated that he had a financial interest in the wind industry. If he does, it seems small enough to be insignificant. Note his comments below. I’m sorry if I maligned him in error.) stated: “17 major independent health studies all clear wind turbines of negative health impacts“. Finally, in the Australian Senate hearings on wind turbines and health, it became: “Yes. And there have been 17 international studies of the health effects on wind turbines; are you aware of those studies?” I suspect the substitution of the word “studies” for “reviews” is intentionally misleading, in an effort to make them sound more authoritative than they really are.
What you quickly find out that of these reviews, at least those that actually consider wind turbines and health, almost all of them come down to either 3 or (more recently) 4 actual studies: Pedersen 2004, Pedersen 2007, van den Berg 2008 and Shepherd 2011. In part 2 of this series I’ll look at the 17 in more details and in part 3 I’ll cover what the 4 studies actually said and how that has been warped by proponents, including many of these 17 reviews.
The Reviews, all 17 of them
The first line is how I’ll refer to them. Then Chapman’s title, followed by the actual title (sometimes they aren’t exactly the same) to lessen any confusion, his link (with a few corrections, these all worked in November 2012) and finally a backup link.
2012: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
Wind Turbine Health Impact Study: Report of Independent Expert Panel
2012: Oregon Wind Energy Health Impact Assessment
STRATEGIC HEALTH IMPACT ASSESSMENT ON WIND ENERGY DEVELOPMENT IN OREGON
http://public.health.oregon.gov/HealthyEnvironments/TrackingAssessment/HealthImpactAssessment/Documents/Oregon Wind Energy HIA Public comment.pdf
2011: Fiumicelli D. Windfarm noise dose-response: a literature review. Acoustics Bulletin 2011; Nov/Dec:26-34
Wind Farm Noise Dose Response: A literature review.
none supplied, you can email Chapman at Simon.firstname.lastname@example.org
2011: Bolin K et al. Infrasound and low frequency noise from wind turbines: exposure and health effects. Environmental Res Let 2011;
Infrasound and low frequency noise from wind turbines: exposure and health effects
2010: Knopper LD, Ollsen CA. Health effects and wind turbines: a review of the literature. Environmental Health 2010; 10:78
Health effects and wind turbines: A review of the literature
6) UK Infrasound
2010: UK Health Protection Agency Report on the health effects of infrasound
Health Effects of Exposure to Ultrasound and Infrasound
2010: NHMRC Rapid Review of the evidence
Wind Turbines and Health A Rapid Review of the Evidence
8 ) King
2010: Chief Medical Officer of Health in Ontario
The Potential Health Impact of Wind Turbines
9) UK Noise
2010: UK Health Protection Agency. Environmental noise and health in the UK.
Environmental noise and health in the UK
2009: Minnesota Department of Health. Environmental Health Division. Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines.
Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines
2009: Canadian Wind Energy Association. Addressing Concerns with Wind Turbines and Human Health. CanWEA, Ottawa.
Addressing Concerns with Wind Turbines and Human Health
http://www.canwea.ca/pdf/CanWEA – Addressing concerns with wind turbines and human health.pdf
12) Colby 2009
2009: Colby et al. Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Panel Review.
Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Panel Review
13) Colby 2008
2008: Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit.
The Health Impact of Wind Turbines: A Review of the Current White, Grey and Published Literature
2007: National Research Council (USA): Impact of wind energy development on humans
Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects
2005: Jakobsen J. Infrasound emission from wind turbines. J Low Frequency Noise, Vibration and Active Control 2005; 24(3):145-155
Infrasound emission from wind turbines
none supplied, use http://windland.ch/doku_wind/noise/Infrasound_Emission_Wind_Turbines.pdf
2004: Leventhall G. Low frequency noise and annoyance. Noise & Health 2004;.6(23):59-72
Low frequency noise and annoyance
17) Pedersen 2003
2003: Eja Pedersen’s Review for the Swedish EPA
Noise annoyance from wind turbines: a review