The wind of change

A reporter has allowed a two-year extension of a temporary permission for three 198m high wind turbines on the west coast of Scotland (DCS Number 400-017-660), notwithstanding residents’ concerns about the effect on their health.

The adverse health effects referred to by residents included headaches, dizziness and disorientation, nausea, lack of concentration and sleeplessness, and were attributed to infrasound and amplitude modulation. The reporter noted that infrasound is sound below the level of human hearing, and amplitude modulation is the variation of noise in a regular manner when turbine blades pass the tower. Residents contended that extensive evidence is available from around the world that chronic symptoms of long term exposure to the operation of wind turbines include the symptoms they reported.

The reporter recorded, however, that most of the evidence he had received from professional sources lent limited support, at most, for that view. Health Protection Scotland, whose views he accorded very considerable weight, considered four independent systematic literature reviews, including literature on infrasound and amplitude modulation. It noted that all the reviews concluded that there is sufficient evidence to confirm a clear association between wind turbine noise and annoyance, and that such annoyance is related to, but not necessarily causally linked to, levels of anxiety, sleep disturbance and stress. Apart from this, however, HPS found that none of the reviews found sufficient evidence to confirm a causal relationship between wind turbine noise and the type of health complaints cited by local residents.

An assessment by NHS Ayrshire & Arran also deserved considerable weight, the reported decided. He noted that it reviewed “the highest quality international scientific research that is available”, and said that there is no peer-reviewed scientific data to support a claim that wind turbines are causing disease or adverse health effects in humans; that evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterised as a “wind turbine syndrome” is of questionable quality and does not prove causation; and that assuming that reported symptoms are solely related to a source such as wind turbines without evaluating for other known causes of these symptoms is not consistent with best medical practice.

Turning to locally-based evidence, the reported recorded that NHS Ayrshire & Arran had analysed local general practice data from 2009 to 2016 to establish whether the reporting of dizziness increased in the surrounding population once the turbines had became operational. It found that the data did not show any increase in the number of people reporting symptoms of dizziness to their doctor following the installation of the first wind turbine, and the numbers were relatively consistent year-on-year.

The reporter concluded that the balance of evidence indicated that the appeal should not be refused on the basis of adverse effects on the health of the local population. He reasoned that in the event that a causal link was established between turbine operation at the appeal site and such effects, it could be addressed through environmental protection and public health legislation. Consequently, even with a reasonable application of the precautionary principle, he did not consider that the evidence of adverse effects on the health of the local population was sufficient to justify or support refusal.

What strikes us here on the Blog, though, is that with increasing emphasis on mental health does this conclusion focus attention a little too much on physical wellbeing? What do readers think?

The health effects of wind turbines are discussed at section 26.5323 of DCP Online.

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