22 March 2013

Talking about windfarm health problems may make people more likely to feel they are suffer from them

Interesting Guardian article and research study:

The Guardian article link "Windfarm sickness spreads by word of mouth, Australian study finds"

The study pre-print article "Spatio-temporal differences in the history of health and noise complaints about Australian wind farms: evidence for the psychogenic, "communicated disease" hypothesis" link

NEW TERM: communicated disease
TERM NEW TO ME (UPDATED): Nocebo (Placebo, is a non-medicinal substance that has positive and beneficial effect on health, a nocebo is a substance that has negative and harmful effect on health)

Guardian Extract:

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".

Study Abstract:

Background and objectives
With often florid allegations about health problems arising from wind turbine exposure now widespread in parts of rural Australia and on the internet, nocebo effects potentially confound any future investigation of turbine health impact. Historical audits of health complaints across periods when such claims were rare are therefore important. We test 4 hypotheses relevant to psychogenic explanations of the variable timing and distribution of health and noise complaints about wind farms in Australia. Setting All Australian 49 wind farms (with 1471 turbines) operating from 1993–2012. 

Records of complaints about noise or health obtained from wind farm companies regarding residents living near 47 Australian wind farms, expressed as proportions of estimated populations residing within 5km of wind farms, and corroborated with complaints in submissions to 3 government public enquiries and news media records. 

There are large spatio-temporal variations in wind farm noise and health complaints. 31/49 (63%) of Australian wind farms including 17/34 (50%) with turbine size >1MW have never been subject to noise or health complaints. Western Australia has seen no complaints. Only 120 individuals across Australia representing approximately 1 in 272 residents living within 5km of wind farms appear to have complained, with 81 (68%) of these being residents near 5 wind farms which have been heavily targeted by anti wind farm groups. About 1 in 107 of those living near turbines >1MW have ever complained. The large majority (82%) of health and noise complaints commenced after 2009 when anti wind farm groups began to add health concerns to their wider opposition. In the preceding years, health or noise complaints were rare despite large and small turbined wind farms having operated for many years. 

In view of scientific consensus that the evidence for wind turbine noise and infrasound causing health problems is poor, the reported spatio-temporal variations in complaints are consistent with psychogenic hypotheses that health problems arising are “communicated diseases” with nocebo effects likely to play an important role in the aetiology of complaints.

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