Research into 'wind turbine syndrome'

Australians living near wind farms may soon know if 'wind turbine syndrome' actually exists or if the symptoms they report are the result of the ‘nocebo effect'.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has awarded two grants totalling $3.3 million to enrich the evidence-based understanding of the effects of wind farms on human health.

Research led University of NSW Professor Guy Marks will investigate the broader social and environmental circumstances that may influence the health of people living near wind farms.

The outcomes of this research will assist in developing policy and public health recommendations regarding wind turbine development and operations in Australia.

Australia is home to more than 75 wind farms running about 2000 turbines. AGL's Macarthur Wind Farm in western Victoria is the largest, followed by TrustPower's Snowtown project in South Australia, completed in 2014.

As the cheapest source of large-scale renewable energy, wind power use is rapidly expanding in Australia, with multiple new projects in the pipeline. But with the growth has come a rise in complaints from residents living near wind farms who report experiencing headaches, dizziness and sleep disturbances that they attribute to the turbines. The symptoms, which also include nausea, tinnitus and irritability, are referred to collectively as wind turbine syndrome (WTS), a medical state they link to infrasound.

With a $1.9 million NHMRC grant Professor Guy Marks will lead two trials, one in the laboratory and another in the study participants' homes, investigating the impact of infrasound – inaudible sound that emanates from turbines. Sleep quality, balance, mood and cardiovascular health will all be measured.

“As of yet, there’s no proof that WTS actually exists, as all the research available is seriously flawed,” Professor Marks said.

“Those who experience it are certain that it’s affecting their health, and report convincingly that the problem disappears when they go on holiday and returns when they come home.

“On the other hand, there are several experts who firmly believe WTS symptoms are the result of a ‘nocebo effect’, where a person becomes certain something harmless is making them sick. In other words, their health problems are triggered by the individual’s dislike of the turbines, rather than from any sound emanating from them.”

Flinders University’s Associate Professor Peter Catcheside’s $1.3 million NHMRC grant will evaluate the sleep and physiological disturbance characteristics of wind farm noise compared to traffic noise.