Simon Chapman: Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ disease

At the beginning of this year I started collecting examples of health problems some people were attributing to wind turbine exposure. I had noticed a growing number of such claims on the internet and was curious about how many I could find. Within an hour or two I had found nearly 50 and today the number has grown to an astonishing 155.

I have worked in public health on three continents since the mid 1970s. In all this time, I have never encountered anything in the history of disease that is said to cause even a fraction of the list of problems I have collected.

The list of 155 problems includes “deaths, many deaths”, none of which have ever been brought to the attention of a coroner. It includes several types of cancer, and both losing weight and gaining weight. You name it. Haemorrhoids have not yet been named, but nothing would surprise me.

Many of the problems are those which affect large proportions of any community: hypertension (high blood pressure); mental health problems; sleeping difficulties; sensory problems (eyes, hearing, balance); and learning and concentration difficulties. Every day in Australia many hundreds of Australians receive their first diagnosis with these problems, and most live nowhere near wind farms.

So is it reasonable to suggest that all these problems – or even a fraction of them – are caused by wind turbines? Wind farm opponents repeatedly argue that turbines cause both rapid and long-gestation health problems. It is common to read accounts of people having been adversely affected within hours or even minutes of being exposed. If this was true, there is a big problem here.

Wind farms have existed in Australia long before the first claims about health ever surfaced. The Ten Mile Lagoon wind farm near Esperance, Western Australia has been operational for 19 years. Victoria’s first, the Codrington wind farm, just celebrated its 11th birthday, and has 14 turbines each capable of producing 1.3 megawatts. And yet health complaints are relatively recent, with the few in Codrington post-dating a visit to the area by a vocal opponent, spreading anxiety.

In this sense, “wind turbine syndrome” (which incidentally produces zero returns from the United States National Library of Medicine’s 23 million research papers) is what we can call a “communicated” disease: it spreads via the nocebo effect by being talked about, and is thereby a strong candidate for being defined as a psychogenic condition.

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7 responses to “Simon Chapman: Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ disease

  1. While I don’t think wind farms are economically viable energy sources, I think the author’s suspicions are largely correct about these so called health problems. Of course, this is equally true of many ecology minded green litigants as many of our Erin Brockovitch observers surely know.

  2. Yeah. Me too. Pretty short term for any signal in health to show up already from something as relatively rare as a wind turbine.

  3. ‘I have never encountered anything in the history of disease that is said to cause even a fraction of the list of problems I have collected.’ Perhaps your next research project should go to establishing how much of this: http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm ‘is what we can call a “communicated” disease: it spreads via the nocebo effect by being talked about, and is thereby a strong candidate for being defined as a psychogenic condition’.

  4. Well my problem of course mainly is the low flying I do. Damn things keep getting in the way. The locals tell me it is mainly an aesthetic problem. – they would rather look at fields and trees than bits of waving metal stuck up in the sky. I think, apart from low flying, aesthetics is the real issue. Low frequency sound may be another. Aesthetic disaster overall, unless you are a Dutchman.

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