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Australia Just Dedicated Millions of Dollars to Studying a Syndrome That Probably Doesn't Exist

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The Australian government announced on Tuesday that it will devote $2.5 million to researching the consequences of wind turbines on human health. This comes despite the fact that previous reports—including one by the Australian government itself—suggest there is no direct connection between ill health and wind turbines. Crikey!*

The grants—applications for which are reportedly only given 15 percent of the time—will go toward exploring whether “annoyances,” sleeplessness, and quality of life are affected by the presence of wind turbines.


In 2015, however, the Australian government’s medical research arm released a report that concluded “there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans.” Yet the government apparently considered some of this evidence lacking, and people living closer to wind farms expressed concern about perceived impacts on their health, which appears to be the rationale for the grants.

It’s objectively not a bad idea to study something for which the evidence is deemed “unreliable,” but there are more than a few studies that suggest little direct connection between certain health problems—sleeplessness, headaches, and dizziness—and wind turbines. A report from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which also looked at studies done in Oregon, Massachusetts, and Vermont, found “no evidence” that compliant facilities independently cause health problems:

“[The Massachusetts’s independent expert panel] report that most epidemiologic literature of human response to wind turbines relates to self-reported ‘annoyance,’ and this response appears to be a function of some combination of the sound itself,the sight of the turbine, and attitude towards the wind turbine project.”


In other words, while it’s possible some people might lose some sleep because of wind turbines—even though wind farm noise is similar to other natural and man-made noise—the farms themselves aren’t causing people to go off the rails. Moreover, effects haven’t been seen consistently even among people who live near wind farms: some regions experience complaints, while others are fine.

According to some in the medical field, whatever symptoms people are experiencing are likely psychological rather than physical. “People living near wind farms who experience adverse health or wellbeing may well do so because of heightened anxiety or negative perceptions about wind farms,” according to the Australian Medical Association.

Given the wealth of evidence that appears to refute the notion of any witchcraft on the part of wind turbines, some have been left wondering why so much money was awarded to studying the question.

In the meantime, Australians with Wind Turbine Syndrome are welcome to join the wi-fi allergists, microwave haters, and other assorted techno-sufferers. Or they could just step outside, where they’ll probably be attacked by a blue-ringed octopus or funnel web spider.


*Note: I am Australian, so I am allowed to say this.

[Atlas Obscura]