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article imageAustralia's spending $3.3 million on 'wind turbine syndrome'

By Megan Hamilton     Mar 24, 2016 in Environment
There's a good chance wind turbine syndrome doesn't exist, but Australia's going to spend $3.3 million (U.S. $2.2 million) to find out for certain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and many health officials consider it psychosomatic.
People who say they suffer from the syndrome have dizzy spells, trouble sleeping, and get nasty headaches, Atlas Obscura reports.
The decision to fund further study on this is being criticized by some scientists and environmentalists because the same body that's funding this, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is also the one that found "no direct evidence that exposure to wind farm noise affects physical or mental health," Science Alert reports. But the NHMRC says that additional high-quality research needs to be conducted on the topic.
One hypothesis says that the infrasound produced by wind turbines may cause these symptoms, but that's being questioned because a 1.5-year study by the NHMRC didn't find any links between the syndrome and living near wind turbines.
TechTimes reports that funding was increased by the NHMRC from $2.5 million to $3.3 million due to limited reliable sources and because there was no direct evidence of the effect of wind turbines on physical and mental health.
The beneficiaries of the funds are Guy Marks, a professor at the University of New South Wales, who received $1.94 million to study the effects of noise, sound waves, and infrasound on people's mood, sleep, and cardiovascular health. Peter Catcheside, an associate professor at Flinders University received $1.36 million to research whether wind turbines or wind farms disturb sleep when compared to traffic noise.
Catcheside said it's biologically plausible that wind farm noise may be disturbing to human sleep, ABC Net reports.
Sleepers will be monitored near wind farms and areas of heavy traffic for comparison, he said. And wind turbine noises will be played back to volunteers sleeping in the lab. Their reactions will be recorded.
"When we designed the study we didn't believe it was possible to do it in a proper well-designed study in the field environment," he said. "There are just too many uncontrolled variables in that setting. The only way really to properly answer the question of how disturbing is wind farm noises compared to other noises is to do the in-laboratory experiment."
The average grant that the NHMRC has awarded over the past 16 years is $546,516. The $1.36 million for Catcheside is the largest grant he's ever received.
There's a good deal of debate within the community about wind farm noise and it's something that won't go away without good quality studies to answers all of the questions, and this is why he believes the funding is justified.
But not everybody is on board with this.
Alicia Webb, a Clean Energy Council policy manager said numerous studies have been conducted in Australia and overseas and had concluded there is no evidence that wind farms adversely affect human health, ABC Net reports.
This finding, she noted, has been supported by statements from leading organizations such as the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Association of Acoustical Consultants, which say there isn't enough infrasound produced by wind farms to adversely effect humans living near the farms.
Dr. John Iser, of Doctors for the Environment questioned why this research received funding instead of more pressing projects.
He also noted that only about 15 percent of all grant applications receive funding from the NHMRC.
To add further concern, there have been repeated studies and some 19 reviews of the literature found no direct link to this condition with windfarms, Science Alert notes.
Whether wind turbine syndrome is real or not, it hasn't put a damper on Australia's burgeoning wind power, which now accounts for about four percent of all electricity in the country, Atlas Obscura reports.
More about Australia, wind turbine syndrome, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dizzy spells, trouble sleeping
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