Wind Turbine Syndrome is Bullshit
March 18, 2013
All manner of vapors, demonic possession, bad juju, soured milk and frightened horses have been blamed on wind turbines, especially by phony, fossil funded “grass roots” organization that are, let’s say, tea party top-heavy in their views. If a fraction of it were true, we’d be seeing thousands of body bags coming out of Germany and Denmark.
Fortunately – and, you already knew this – its all bullshit.
Sickness being attributed to wind turbines is more likely to have been caused by people getting alarmed at the health warnings circulated by activists, an Australian study has found.
Complaints of illness were far more prevalent in communities targeted by anti-windfarm groups, said the report’s author, Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University. His report concludes that illnesses being blamed on windfarms are more than likely caused by the psychological effect of suggestions that the turbines make people ill, rather than by the turbines themselves.
“If windfarms were intrinsically unhealthy or dangerous in some way, we would expect to see complaints applying to all of them, but in fact there is a large number where there have been no complaints at all,” Chapman said.
The report, which is the first study of the history of complaints about windfarms in Australia, found that 63% had never been subject to noise or health complaints. In the state of Western Australia, where there are 13 windfarms, there have been no complaints.
The study shows that the majority of complaints (68%) have come from residents near five windfarms that have been heavily targeted by opponent groups. The report says more than 80% of complaints about health and noise began after 2009 when the groups “began to add health concerns to their wider opposition”.
ANTI-WIND farm activists around the world have created a silent bogeymanthey claim can cause everything from sickness and headaches to herpes, kidney damage and cancers.
Despite the ubiquitous nature of infrasound, anti-wind farm groups such as Australia’s Waubra Foundation like people to think that it’s only inaudible infrasound from wind turbines which might send residents to their sick beds.
But two new studies suggest the cause of health complaints by people living near wind farms could in fact be down to the scare campaign of the anti-wind groups and reports about such scares in the media.
The first study Can Expectations Produce Symptoms From Infrasound Associated With Wind Turbines? was published earlier this month in Health Psychology - a journal of the American Psychological Association.
The researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand wanted to find out if simply exposing people to warnings that turbines might make you ill was enough to cause them to report typical symptoms such as headaches and nausea.
Using 54 people, the researchers showed half the group five minutes of footage of people complaining that wind farms had made them ill. Some of the footage was taken from this Australian Broadcasting Corporation report (watch it here) into “Waubra disease” where residents were filmed complaining about a wind farm at Waubra in Victoria. Footage was also taken from this CTV Network report from Canada about a wind farm in Ontario.
This group was called the “high expectancy group” because the information they were given had led them to expect they might experience certain symptoms if exposed to infrasound. The other half of the group was shown interviews with experts stating that the science showed infrasound could not directly cause health problems.
The researchers then told each person they were going to be exposed to two 10-minute periods of infrasound in a special acoustic room when, in fact, for one of those periods they would be exposed to no sound at all, or “sham infrasound” as the researchers describe it. So what happened?
The response from the “high expectancy” group was to report that the “infrasound” had caused them to experience more symptoms which were more intense. This was the case whether they were exposed to sham infrasound or genuine infrasound. The report explains that “the number of symptoms reported and the intensity of the symptom experienced during listening sessions were not affected by exposure to infrasound but were influenced by expectancy group allocation.”
In the low expectancy group, the infrasound and sham infrasound had little to no effect. In other words, the study found that if a person is told that wind turbines will make them ill then they are likely to report symptoms, regardless of whether they are exposed to infrasound or not.
Clearly, this points the finger at anti-wind farm campaigns as a potential cause of people’s symptoms, rather than “infrasound” from turbines. The research added: “The importance of findings in this study is that symptom expectations were created by viewing TV material readily available on the Internet, indicating the potential for such expectations to be created outside of the laboratory in real-world settings.”
Writing about her research on The Conversation, lead author Fiona Crichton says
The findings indicate that negative health information readily available to people living in the vicinity of wind farms has the potential to create symptom expectations, providing a possible pathway for symptoms attributed to operating wind turbines. This may have wide-reaching implications. If symptom expectations are the root cause of symptom reporting, answering calls to increase minimum wind-farm set back distances is likely to do little to assuage health complaints.
Reading some news reports (such as those offered by The Australian newspaper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd or anti-wind activist and UK anti-wind columnistJames Delingpole) and material from anti-wind farm groups, it might seem that health complaints are common among people living near turbines.
But an as yet unpublished study (and therefore not peer-reviewed) just released by Simon Chapman, the Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, suggests only a tiny proportion of people living near turbines do actually complain and, when they do, the complaints coincide with campaigning from anti-wind groups.
Chapman looked at health complaints made by residents living within 5 kilometres of all 49 wind farms operating in Australia between 1993 and 2012. After reviewing media reports, public inquiries and complaints to wind companies themselves, Chapman found evidence of only 120 individuals having actually complained – representing about 1 in 272 people living near wind farms.
But significantly, Chapman found that 81 of those 120 residents were living beside just five wind farms “which have been heavily targeted by anti wind farm groups”. What’s more, some 82 per cent of all the complaints had occured since 2009 when Chapman says anti-wind farm groups began to push the health scare as part of their opposition to turbines.
Some 31 of the 49 wind farms studied had never been subjected to a complaint either about noise or health.
“The 31 farms with no histories of complaints, and which today have some 21,530 residents within 5km of their turbines have operated for a cumulative total of 256 years,” says Chapman’s report. In Chapman’s research, he says that anxiety among residents increases as media reports spread the stories of health concerns and as researchers start investigating.
One down side to this research is, of course, that it tells anti-wind farm groups that by concentrating on unproven health concerns, their campaigns can illicit a steady flow of complaints and negative sentiment from communities.
Study author, Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University, said the results suggested that ”wind turbine sickness” was a ”communicated disease” – a sickness spread by the claim that something was likely to make a person sick. This was caused by the ”nocebo effect” – the opposite of the placebo effect – where the belief something would cause an illness created the perception of illness.Advertisement
He found a much greater correlation between negative attitudes to wind turbines and reports of sickness than any ”objective measures of actual exposure”.
And he cited studies suggesting that the spread of communicated diseases was much faster when the ”illness” had a name – such as Wind Turbine Syndrome, Vibro Acoustic Disease and Visceral Vibratory Vestibular Disturbance.
Professor Chapman also cites a recent New Zealand study in which some healthy volunteers were exposed to actual ”infrasound” – the sub-audible noise from wind farms claimed to cause health problems – and others to complete silence, which they had been told was ”infrasound”. In both cases the volunteers who had been told about the potential harmful effects of infrasound were more likely to report symptoms.
..the alleged health problem has been adopted by demagogues and parroted on popular climate-skeptic websites. But the bigger problem is that “wind turbine syndrome” is what is known as a “communicated” disease, says Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Sydney. The disease, which has reached epidemic proportions in Australia, “spreads via the nocebo effect by being talked about, and is thereby a strong candidate for being defined as a psychogenic condition,” Chapman wrote several months ago in The Conversation.
What Chapman is describing is a phenomenon akin to mass hysteria—an outbreak of apparent health problems that has a psychological rather than physical basis. Such episodes have occurred throughout human history; earlier this year, a cluster of teenagers at an upstate New York high schoolwere suddenly afflicted with Tourette syndrome-like symptoms. The mystery outbreak was attributed by some speculation to environmental contaminants.
But a doctor treating many of the students instead diagnosed them with a psychological condition called “conversion disorder,” as described by psychologist Vaughan Bell on The Crux:
It is unlikely that the New York teenagers’ problems are linked to an “unknown virus”, “mystery illness,” or “toxin,” which many media outlets mentioned as potential causes: Viruses, bacteria, or poisons are most likely to cause these symptoms by damaging the neural pathways—something we can normally detect fairly easily. So when the LeRoy cheerleaders were diagnosed with “conversion disorder,” the doctor was saying that although the symptoms appear to be due to neural damage, there were no problems with the neural pathways, and there was no evidence of faking, so the symptoms were likely due to psychological factors.
As for “wind turbine syndrome,” Chapman noted that “17 reviews [.docx file] of the available evidence about wind farms and health” had found no strong evidence that turbines were making people ill. One meta study released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health early this year concluded that wind turbines cause no noticeable increase in health problems, though the turbines’ sound and shadow flicker might annoy nearby residents.
For a condition that seems to have no physical basis, Chapman says wind turbine syndrome has an impressive list of medical problems (“an astonishing 155” [.docx file]) attributed to it: “I have worked in public health on three continents since the mid-1970s. In all this time, I have never encountered anything in the history of disease that is said to cause even a fraction of the list of problems I have collected.”