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.
Methods: 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.
Results: 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.
Conclusions: 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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