Professor Chapman and his critics
2.19 Professor Simon Chapman AO, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, has been an outspoken critic of those who suffer ill-effects from wind turbines. In both his written and oral submissions, Professor Chapman cited many of his own publications in support for his view that:
…the phenomenon of people claiming to be adversely affected by exposure to wind turbines is best understood as a communicated disease that exhibits many signs of the classic psychosocial and nocebo phenomenon where negative expectations can translate into symptoms of tension and anxiety.
2.20 Several highly qualified and very experienced professionals have challenged this argument. Dr Malcolm Swinbanks, an acoustical engineer based in the United Kingdom, reasoned:
The argument that adverse health reactions are the result of nocebo effects, ie a directly anticipated adverse reaction, completely fails to consider the many cases where communities have initially welcomed the introduction of wind turbines, believing them to represent a clean, benign form of low-cost energy generation. It is only after the wind-turbines are commissioned, that residents start to experience directly the adverse nature of the health problems that they can induce.
2.21 The committee highlights the fact that Professor Chapman is not a qualified, registered nor experienced medical practitioner, psychiatrist, psychologist, acoustician, audiologist, physicist or engineer. Accordingly:
- he has not medically assessed a single person suffering adverse health impacts from wind turbines;
- his research work has been mainly—and perhaps solely—from an academic perspective without field studies;
- his views have been heavily criticised by several independent medical and acoustic experts in the international community; and
- many of his assertions do not withstand fact check analyses.
2.22 Professor Chapman has made several claims which are contrary to the evidence gathered by this committee. First, he argues that the majority of Australia’s wind turbines have never received a single complaint. There are various problems with this statement:
- wind turbines located significant distances from residents will not generate complaints;
- many residents suffering adverse health effects were not aware of any nexus between their health and the impact of wind turbines in order to make a complaint;
- just because residents do not lodge a formal complaint does not mean they are not suffering adverse health effects;
- data obtained by Professor Chapman from wind farm operators of the numbers of complaints lodged cannot be relied upon; and
- the use of non-disclosure clauses and ‘good neighbour agreements’ legally restricts people from making adverse public statements or complaints.
2.23 Second, Professor Chapman has argued that complaints of adverse health effects from wind turbines tend to be limited to Anglophone nations. However, the committee has received written and oral evidence from several sources directly contradicting this view. The German Medical Assembly recently submitted a motion to the executive board of the German Medical Association calling for the German government to provide the necessary funding to research adverse health effects. This would not have happened in the absence of community concern. Moreover, Dr Bruce Rapley has argued that in terms of the limited number—and concentrated nature—of wind farm complaints:
It is the reporting which is largely at fault. The fact is that people are affected by this, and the numbers are in the thousands. I only have to look at the emails that cross my desk from all over the world. I get bombarded from the UK, Ireland, France, Canada, the United States, Australia, Germany. There are tonnes of these things out there but, because the system does not understand the problem, nor does it have a strategy, many of those complaints go unlisted.
2.24 Third, Professor Chapman has queried that if turbines are said to have acute, immediate effects on some people, why were there no such reports until recent years given that wind turbines have operated in different parts of the world for over 25 years. Several submissions to the committee have stated that adverse health effects from wind turbines do not necessarily have an acute immediate effect and can take time to manifest.
2.25 Fourth, Professor Chapman contests that people report symptoms from even micro-turbines. The committee heard evidence that once people are sensitised to low frequency infrasound, they can be affected by a range of noise sources, including large fans used in underground coal mines, coal fired power stations, gas fired power stations and even small wind turbines. As acoustician Dr Bob Thorne told the committee:
Low-frequency noise from large fans is a well-known and well-published issue, and wind turbines are simply large fans on top of a big pole; no more, no less. They have the same sort of physical characteristics; it is just that they have some fairly unique characteristics as well. But annoyance from low-frequency sound especially is very well known.
2.26 Fifth, Professor Chapman contends that there are apparently only two known examples anywhere in the world of wind turbine hosts complaining about the turbines on their land. However, there have been several Australian wind turbine hosts who have made submissions to this inquiry complaining of adverse health effects. Paragraphs 2.11–2.12 (above) noted the example of Mr Clive Gare and his wife from Jamestown. Submitters have also directed attention to the international experience. In Texas in 2014, twenty-three hosts sued two wind farm companies despite the fact that they stood to gain more than $50 million between them in revenue. The committee also makes the point that contractual non-disclosure clauses and ‘good neighbour’ agreements have significantly limited hosts from speaking out. This was a prominent theme of many submissions.
2.27 Sixth, Professor Chapman claims that there has been no case series or even single case studies of so-called wind turbine syndrome published in any reputable medical journal. But Professor Chapman does not define ‘reputable medical journal’ nor does he explain why the category of journals is limited to medical (as distinct, for example, from scientific or acoustic). The committee cannot therefore challenge this assertion. However, the committee does note that a decision to publish—or not to publish—an article in a journal is ultimately a business decision of the publisher: it does not necessarily reflect the quality of the article being submitted, nor an acknowledgment of the existence or otherwise of prevailing circumstances. The committee also notes that there exist considerable published and publicly available reports into adverse health effects from wind turbines.
2.28 The committee also notes that a peer reviewed case series crossover study involving 38 people was published in the form of a book by American paediatrician Dr Nina Pierpont, PhD, MD. Dr Pierpont’s Report for Clinicians and the raw case data was submitted by her to a previous Australian Senate inquiry (2011) to which Dr Pierpont also provided oral testimony. Further, at a workshop conducted by the NHMRC in June 2011, acoustical consultant Dr Geoffrey Leventhall stated that the symptoms of ‘wind turbine syndrome’ (as identified by Dr Pierpont), and what he and other acousticians refer to as ‘noise annoyance’, were the same. Dr Leventhall has also acknowledged Dr Pierpont’s peer reviewed work in identifying susceptibility or risk factors for developing wind turbine syndrome / ‘noise annoyance’. Whilst Dr Leventhall is critical of some aspects of Dr Pierpont’s research, he does state:
Pierpont has made one genuine contribution to the science of environmental noise, by showing that a proportion of those affected have underlying medical conditions, which act to increase their susceptibility.
2.29 Seventh, Professor Chapman claims that no medical practitioner has come forward with a submission to any committee in Australia about having diagnosed disease caused by a wind farm. Again, Professor Chapman fails to define ‘disease’. Nonetheless, both this committee, and inquiries undertaken by two Senate Standing Committees, have received oral and written evidence from medical practitioners contrary to Professor Chapman’s claim.
2.30 Eighth, Professor Chapman claims that there is not a single example of an accredited acoustics, medical or environmental association which has given any credence to direct harmful effects of wind turbines. The committee notes that the semantic distinction between ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ effects is not helpful. Dr Leventhall and the NHMRC describe stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation as ‘indirect’ effects, but these ailments nonetheless affect residents’ health.
2.31 Finally, Professor Chapman queries why there has never been a complainant that has succeeded in a common-law suit for negligence against a wind farm operator. This statement is simply incorrect. The committee is aware of court judgements against wind farm operators, operators making out of court settlements or withdrawing from proceedings, injunctions or shutdown orders being granted against operators, and properties adjacent to wind turbines being purchased by operators to avoid future conflict. The committee also reiterates its earlier point that contractual non-disclosure clauses have discouraged legal action by victims.
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