Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Editorials

Wind turbine noise

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e1527 (Published 08 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1527

Rapid Response:

Re: Wind turbine noise

Authors’ reply

The weakness of Professor Chapman’s objections are evident from the tone of his response and his extensive use of ad hominen attacks, straw men and appeals to authority. He describes us as having “histories of anti-windfarm activity” as if that automatically rendered our opinions invalid. Neither of us have campaigned against windfarms in general, only against wind turbines being placed too close to human habitation, a public health objective which should have met with Prof Chapman’s approval. As Prof Chapman is a member of the Climate and Health Alliance, an advocacy group that campaigns for renewable energy, and could fairly be described as having a history of pro-windfarm activity, by his logic his opinions should be treated with equal scepticism.

Our editorial was careful to concentrate on sleep disturbance as the outcome measure for the adverse effects of wind turbine noise as we believe it is less susceptible to psychological effects than “annoyance”. We made no mention of “wind turbine syndrome” or any of the other symptoms that have been attributed to wind turbine noise. Professor Chapman’s assertions that complaints of ill-health from wind turbine noise are the product of mass hysteria are just that, assertions. There is no objective evidence to support them. There is clear evidence of causality and obvious mechanisms for wind turbine noise to disturb sleep rendering these assertions highly unlikely.

Prof Chapman makes much of his list of 17 reviews. Closer inspection shows that at least five were written before most of the studies cited in our editorial were published. One is in draft form and thus can not be relied upon, one reviewed the potential contribution of low frequency noise to annoyance and the rest were authored either by those with close associations with the wind industry or government departments committed to implementing wind energy and are thus hardly independent. We contend that the onus of proving safety falls on those introducing new forms of environmental pollution, including noise pollution, not on those exposed to the pollutant. A major principle of public health medicine is prevention. The reviews cited by Prof Chapman stand these principles on their heads.

We are not alone in calling for a review of current guidance for wind turbine noise and independent research. A review written by one of us (Hanning, 2011) contains a referenced list of 11 physicians and acousticians who have recommended greater setbacks and lesser noise levels than those currently permitted. An Environmental Review Tribunal in Ontario held in 2011 took oral and written evidence from over 20 experts including several contributors to Prof Chapman’s list and concluded: “… the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents. The debate has now evolved to one of degree.” (Case Nos. 10-121 and 10-122. p 207). The Tribunal called also for more research as do we.

We are firm in our assertion that the evidence for harm at distances and noise levels permitted under current regulations in most jurisdictions is such that regulators should take notice and initiate research. If wind turbines are as benign as Prof Chapman asserts he should have no objection to research being undertaken. After all, there is not a single published study showing a lack of adverse effects on sleep and health.

CD Hanning and Alun Evans
15th March 2012

Competing interests: None beyond those given in the editorial

15 March 2012
Christopher D Hanning
Honorary Consultant in Sleep Medicine
Alun Evans
University Hospitals of Leicester
Leicester LE5 4PW