Why fear-mongering about windmills is bad for our health

Don’t believe the hype about windmills and health. As it turns out, listening to it just might make you sick.
Erie Shores Wind Farm
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Don’t believe the hype about windmills and health. As it turns out, listening to it just might make you sick.

If you’re told something is going to hurt, chances are it will. There’s a scientific term for this. The “nocebo effect” is what researchers call the phenomenon that If people are told something will cause pain or physical harm, they’re more likely to report feeling negative symptoms.

A new study out of Australia shows that the fear-mongering about the supposed health impacts of windmills is likely responsible for cases where people living near windmills report problems. The study looked at reported health effects from 49 wind farms since 1993.

It found that two-thirds of health complaints came from just five of the 49 wind farms, ones which have been heavily targeted by anti-wind farm groups. And 82 per cent of the complaints have happened since 2009, when anti-wind farm groups began focusing their campaign on health concerns.

In total, only one in 272 people living within 5 km of wind farms have ever made complaints about health concerns.

So, health complaints spike when people are bombarded with misinformation about the health risks of wind farms. This is consistent with multiple literature reviews that found very poor support for claims that windmills impact human health.

In Ontario, opponents of wind energy have vowed to challenge all new projects at the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT), a quasi-judicial body whose primary role is adjudicating applications and appeals under various environmental and planning laws.

Anti-wind groups have repeatedly failed to back up their health claims in these hearings. To date, seven cases have gone before the ERT, all related to the alleged health concerns of wind turbines. Of these, four cases were dismissed by the ERT because there was not enough evidence to back up the concerns about health, and three were dropped by the project’s opponents when they were asked to produce evidence of the health impacts.

When wind energy opponents are asked to ante up the evidence for the hyped up claims that turbines impact health, they come up empty handed.

Let’s not forget that renewable energy is helping Ontario eliminate coal-fired power plants and tackle climate change, both of which have clear human health impacts. Coal plants release sulphur dioxide, lead, mercury and other heavy metals and toxins known to cause serious health problems, including cancer, and are a major source of air pollution. According to the Canadian Medical Association, air pollution costs Ontario more than $220 million in health care costs and contributes to the deaths of an estimated 1,200 Ontarians each year. Coal plant pollution also causes asthma and other chronic respiratory illnesses.

The federal government is currently conducting a study on wind turbine noise and health. Any such study needs to consider the findings from Australia about the ‘nocebo effect’: if you scare people into thinking there’s a problem, you’re much more likely to find one.


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