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Let’s appoint a judge to investigate bizarre wind farm health claims

The rest of the world is powering away with growing wind energy. steve p2008/Flickr, CC BY

On April 30, 2015, South Australian Family First Senator Bob Day published an opinion piece on his website titled Wind turbines’ inconvenient truth. In gotcha-style exuberation, Senator Day noted that wind turbine motors incorporate rare earths, which are often sourced from heavily polluting mining in inner Mongolia.

Highlighting in bold an excerpt from a 2011 Daily Mail report, Day emphasised:

Whenever we purchase products that contain rare earth metals, we are unknowingly taking part in massive environmental degradation and the destruction of communities.

The subtext was plain: green wind energy supporters are indifferent to the environment and suffering and so are massive hypocrites.

A small problem with this accusation is that by far the main use of rare earths are not in wind turbine motors, but in a wide range of electronics that include billions of mobile phones, computers, DVDs and fluorescent lights, all of which Senator Day uses himself.

Senator Day, who has no training or experience in assessing medical evidence, also wrote to The Australian recently that he had heard “compelling” evidence about the adverse effects of wind turbines on humans and animals.

Day is one of six senators currently conducting what is the third Senate enquiry into wind farms in four years. The committee is chaired by the ex-Demcratic Labour Party (DLP) Senator John Madigan, a man who makes no secret of his loathing for wind farms and the industries which manufacturer and operate them:

I remain one of the wind industry’s most stubborn and outspoken critics (at 8m 27sec here).

He is joined by four other like-minded senators (Day, Chris Back, David Leyonhjelm, and Matthew Canavan) and a lone Labor Senator Anne Urquhardt.

Madigan is viewed as a hero by the anonymous authors of the virulently anti-wind farm website Stop These Things, a site which has over 15,000 Twitter followers, nearly all which have been generated from “follow-back” bots.

Against this background, here are some recommendations I’d like to make which are guaranteed to advance our knowledge about wind farms and health complainants, but which are highly unlikely to appear in the committee’s report. Sitting astride them all, is a proposal that a judicial investigator such as a retired judge should be appointed to investigate the evidence for the following claims by those strenuously insisting that their health is being affected by exposure to wind turbines. Specifically, such a judge should investigate the following:

1. ‘Abandoned homes’

How many Australian families have really “abandoned” their homes near wind farms, as opposed to simply selling and moving, as many tens of thousands of Australian families do every year regardless of location?

I investigated claims about “more than forty” such families and concluded that the calm was a factoid.

But Senator Madigan claims he has confidential knowledge of many families who have abandoned their homes but that these people do not wish to go public. His claim is thus not open to any scrutiny. He could provide this information in confidence to the appointed judge who could then investigate the veracity of these anonymous claims.

Questions to be asked would include whether those who had moved had any other reasons for moving such as seeking work, eviction from rented property or need to be near medical facilities.

The judge could also investigate whether any complainants where property owners whose applications to host lucrative turbines were declined because of unsuitable topography, and who then began resenting neighbours whose land was suitable.

Those claiming to have to regularly leave their house for respite from the turbines would be asked to make their home telephone records available to corroborate that no calls were made or taken in the many times they claimed to have been away.

They should also be willing to provide receipts for hotel accommodation or statutory declarations from family and friends who might have put them up on all these alleged many occasions.

2. Medical records

The judge should request the medical records of complainants from periods both before and after the operation of wind farms, to settle the matter of whether the complaints were sufficiently serious to have been given medical attention, and that they did not have these problems before the wind farm commenced operation.

Problems such as insomnia, headache and anxiety are very prevalent in all communities with and without wind farms. In Canada in 2012, the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal called for such records from some “wind action” plaintiffs. Tellingly, they declined to produce them and their case fell over. They then complained that these medical records would have been to onerous to obtain. This is an odd claim, because my GP can produce my records instantly on screen, going back nearly 20 years.

3. Has there ever been a wind disease diagnosis?

Next, public notices should be placed in the press and publicised in the attempt to find any medical practitioner who has ever diagnosed even a single case of “wind turbine syndrome” in Australia. If any such cases emerge, all relevant case notes should be made available to a panel of doctors appointed by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Consent would of course be needed from the patients concerned, but as they would be entirely confident that their diagnosis was real, they would surely leap at the opportunity to have this corroborated by an independent assessment process.

4. Experimental tests

Claims made by prominent opponents of wind farms that wind turbines can rock a stationary car at 1 km, cause lips to vibrate 10km away, “bring some men to their knees when out working in their paddock” near wind farms and be heard 100km away could be easily subjected to tests under blinded experimental conditions.

Wind farm operators would willingly cooperate in the experiment by powering turbines on and off unbeknown to the experimental subjects, and their lip trembling, standing ability in paddocks and claims about hearing the turbines at massive distances all tested.

5. Magical mystery tour

Similarly, Senator Madigan may like to cooperate in organising a fully supervised experiment where those claiming to be adversely affected by wind turbines at distances up to 10km could have this claim experimentally tested.

A bus could have its windows blackened and views out the front obstructed by a partition. Those alleging wind turbine impacts could then be driven through wind farm zones not knowing if the turbines were operating or not and their ability to discern operation tested. All mobile phones would be barred on the bus to prevent “phone a friend” assistance.

However, at least one Victorian couple who frequently complain about wind farms may have an objection to this. Ann and Andrew Gardner have stated publicly that:

Around the Macarthur wind farm, residents suffer from infrasound emitted by the turbines, even when they’re not operating.

They believe that the stationary blades catch passing wind, vibrate and generate debilitating infrasound. They have not made similar claims about the impact of tall trees, buildings, mountains or any other tall objects.

While this inquisition rolls on in Australia, the rest of the world is powering away with growing wind energy. Leading nations are Denmark (34% of all electricity generated), Spain (21%), Portugal (more than 20%), Ireland (more than 16%) and Germany (9%).

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