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COMMUNITY AFFAIRS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
31/03/2011
Social and economic impact of rural wind farms

CHAIR —Welcome, Professor Wittert. For the benefit of the committee, would you give us some of your background details and area of expertise.

Prof. Wittert —Yes. I am a senior consultant endocrinologist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Originally I worked in stress research when I did my MD in Christchurch, New Zealand, having trained in endocrinology. I undertook some postdoctoral work at the Children’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School, looking at some molecular biology related to stress. Since I have been in Adelaide—since 1994—I have been working in appetite regulation and obesity and various aspects of population health, in particular men’s health, and on issues related to social determinants of these—social and environmental factors, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and so on.

CHAIR —I invite you to make an opening statement and then we will ask you lots of questions.

Prof. Wittert —My involvement in the question was because I was asked by a legal colleague to assist in participating in some court proceedings as an expert witness. The expertise was based on my understanding of epidemiology and the relationship between stress, depression, cardiovascular disease and so on and the issues around psychosocial practice and disease states and the interrelationships between biopsychosocial and environmental factors and disease. I had had no prior experience directly with the effects of noise on health, although I had had some interest in the issue but certainly no involvement in wind farms up to that point.

I spent quite a considerable amount of time evaluating the evidence. I guess that is pretty much what they were wanting me to do and then to comment on the issues in the environmental and land court during some recent proceedings in Adelaide. It was during that process that I was able to acquaint myself with and to evaluate—coming pretty much in cold—with some of the issues and some of the data. I also had the opportunity to evaluate some of the data that others had collected.

My impression is that the evidence that has been collected to date is largely anecdotal. Regarding anecdotal evidence, I could use the analogy that if we were going to believe in anecdotes then we would be having a Senate inquiry about aliens because there are plenty of anecdotes about aliens and spaceships and so on. That is not to say that there are not a number of very credible people who will present accounts of being unwell or having adverse health consequences. The issue is not the reality of their experience or the genuineness with which they present themselves but the cause and effect relationships and whether the symptoms and the distress that they experience can be directly attributed to noise, as in audible sound or infrasound, or whether there is some other effect, for example, a psychological stress as a result of intrusion on the environment, or anxiety generated from some of the media storm that surrounds the issues relating to wind farms.

Some of the research that I think is of significantly higher quality than the anecdotes is predominantly that done by Dr Eva Petersen. There have been significant observations made that there is a psychosocial overlay to this that certainly alters the perception and any reaction that is experienced by individuals on exposure, not just to the noise of wind turbines, but this is true for any noise. For example, there were some studies relating to road traffic noise that are cited in my document where the relationship of the effects of the noise to hypertension are related to a whole range of other factors rather than the noise per se—predominantly anxiety, stress, depression and mood related factors. So, on that basis, certainly there was no evidence I could determine that noise directly, of the intensity being experienced by individuals where wind farms complied with the relevant legislation in terms of setbacks and decibel levels of audibility, was likely to be causing health effects.

What had been claimed by Dr Sarah Laurie was that there was an epidemic of accelerated hypertension, high blood pressure, in the Waubra area. She had had a series of people measure their blood pressure, presumably with devices she had supplied them with or that they may have acquired from somewhere; that was not quite clear to me. Five or six individuals had done that. As asked, they had measured their blood pressure on wakening in the morning and at several other times during the day. I had access to that information from Dr Laurie in tabular form for each individual over several weeks, and in some cases months, along with a printout of average wind farm output in terms of the power of the turbines. That was done over a 24-hour period. What I did was take the average nocturnal wind turbine power output and plot it against the morning blood pressure to get a data point at each time for each individual. What that data showed—and again I believe this has been submitted—was that, if anything, the relationship was inverse; but, at the very least, no assertion could be made that there was any relationship between mean overnight turbine power and elevations of blood pressure.

This is the sort of notion where evidence can be used in one way or another but when it is properly and rigorously evaluated turns out to refute rather than support the evidence, and the extent to which some of the assertions relate to activism as opposed to objectivity of course would have to be questioned. Insofar as infrasound is concerned—and I have been quite clear that I am certainly no expert on infrasound—my understanding is that it is quite widespread in the environment and you get infrasound from almost anything that generates sound to a certain extent—to the level that, for example, if you are living on top of some cliffs where the waves are breaking on the shore below around 75 decibels of infrasound, or up to that, could originate from wave activity.

The reports from the acousticians that were independently contracted to measure infrasound at Waubra—these were not industry contracted people but individuals living in the district—in fact quite clearly stated that the levels of infrasound were, if anything, below the normally accepted levels for effect and concluded that it was unlikely that health effects described in any case reports could be attributed to that. I think it is rather unlikely that the health effects that are being experienced by individuals could be due to infrasound, given exposure to infrasound under other circumstances seems not to produce similar problems—I am talking about waves crashing and so on—and it is unlikely that the level of infrasound is in fact that, although of course I gather there is some dispute about how infrasound should or could be measured.

My assessment of this is that there is no consistent evidence about the effects of, for example, road traffic noise or many other noises—other than extremely loud noise in occupational circumstances or aeroplane noise which is extremely loud when people are close to the airport—and adverse health effects which can be separated from a range of other psychological issues, that there is no credible evidence beyond anecdotes that there is a cause and effect relationship between wind turbine sound and adverse health effects and that the issue of infrasound at this point would have to be considered moot.

Senator FIELDING —Professor Wittert, regarding the legal colleague who asked you to get involved, what case is that for and what side of the debate were you asked to comment on?

Prof. Wittert —The case was in the Environment, Resources and Development Court. It was between Richard Partridge, Thomas Partridge and Louise Partridge and the District Council of Grant and Acciona Energy Oceania Pty Ltd. I appeared for the barrister representing Acciona Energy Oceania Pty Ltd.

Senator FIELDING —Were you compensated in any way?

Prof. Wittert —Yes.

Senator FIELDING —Thank you very much.

Prof. Wittert —If there is an inference that that necessarily altered my opinion one way or the other, I indicate quite clearly that the arrangement I had was that, if they chose not to like the opinion that I came up with they would not use it, or they said that they would not use it, but I was going to write what I considered to be the appropriate opinion.

Senator ADAMS —I would like to continue on your relationship to Acciona now. Are you involved with them at all?

Prof. Wittert —I am not in any financial relationship. They have asked whether I would be interested in looking at any research proposal. I have said to Acciona that I thought there would be some interesting opportunities to acquire some data, and I have met with them on one occasion to discuss that. That is in the context of using GIS mapping techniques to look at a 10-kilometre radius around the wind farm, using whatever PBS data about prescriptions for anti-hypertensive medication I can acquire to do some mapping of changes in use of blood pressure medication, and that might give some clues to a different type of approach to solve the problem. But, other than that, I am no longer in a relationship with Acciona and have not received any funds from them in any way, shape or form.

Senator ADAMS —How are you going to do what they have asked?

Prof. Wittert —Let me say quite clearly that they have not asked me to do this. I have suggested this to them.

Senator ADAMS —That is fine. As far as privacy goes, and I guess the GPs and pharmacists in the area, how are you going to get around that issue if you do it?

Prof. Wittert —The privacy issue is significant because the methodology would require obtaining de-identified PBS data. PBS will supply a level at the statistical local area as the smallest unit but does not generally supply information at the level of postcode. However, in the case of a number of the wind farm areas, and this would be done over a number of areas—in fact the wind farm covers a number of postcodes, so it is unlikely that there would be any significant privacy issues because it would simply be a matter of saying, that the percentage of prescriptions has changed by X, Y or Z over a period of time in an area where there was a wind farm before the wind farm and in the years following the construction of the wind farm. It would be applied to two, three or four different areas where there are wind farms and compared with control areas where there are not.

Senator ADAMS —What is the nature of your relationship with NHMRC at the present time? Are you involved with them at all?

Prof. Wittert —Yes: as a recipient of NHMRC funding, as an applicant to NHMRC funding schemes and as a panel member on grant review panels.

Senator ADAMS —The NHMRC statement in July 2010 ‘Wind turbines and health’ and, then, the next one that they did, which was the rapid response—have you been involved with that?

Prof. Wittert —I have read the document but I have not been involved in the authorship.

Senator BOYCE —Professor Wittert, you will have read the NHMRC rapid review.

Prof. Wittert —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —What is your view of the rapid review? They have subsequently put in a submission to this inquiry perhaps more forcefully suggesting that further research is warranted into the topic of health and wind turbines. What is your view?

Prof. Wittert —The rapid review simply means it was a review done in a period of six months or less. I do not think it implies that it was cursory.

Senator BOYCE —I was not suggesting that. That is just its title.

Prof. Wittert —I am not suggesting you implied that. I am just indicating that sometimes there is an inference in the public perception that that is what it means. My reading of it was that they have accessed much the same literature that I was able to access. The nature of the evidence based review process means that they were accessing peer reviewed publications, of which there are very few. It is kind of interesting, given the enormous density of wind farms through Europe and Scandinavia, how little evidence there actually is of any adverse effects, in particular given how health conscious, socially conscious and sensitive to adverse health consequences people are in these environments. Notwithstanding that, what was produced was pretty much consistent with my own conclusions from the data, although I looked much more broadly into the effects of a whole range of different environmental sounds to reach my conclusions. On the extent to which there is an argument around further data, I think it would be true for many issues. My own feeling in the matter was that I was unable to generate an absolutely credible hypothesis or have a very clear notion of how to test it outside the laboratory environment or using GIS mapping methods, which is an idea I have come up with subsequently.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you.

Senator MOORE —Professor, you had a couple of questions about your status in giving evidence in South Australia. I just want to clarify even further. You are a South Australian professor of medicine at the university who looks at process and methodologies in your work. Is that right?

Prof. Wittert —I am a researcher who uses epidemiological methods. I have a strong interest and undertake research in population health looking at longitudinal cohorts. I am very interested in social determinants of disease. I am involved in work in an institute in Boston that has a strong focus around social determinants and environmental effects on health.

Senator MOORE —And you were actually asked to give evidence in a South Australian court—

Prof. Wittert —Sorry, I cannot hear really.

Senator MOORE —I do apologise. I was yelling into something that had no link to the microphone system. It shows great intelligence on my behalf! I am just trying to clarify: you gave evidence in a South Australian environment court, and the major evidence you were asked to look at was by another South Australian doctor. Is that right?

Prof. Wittert —No, no, no.

Senator MOORE —I just want to get it clear.

Prof. Wittert —Oh, I see what you are getting at. There was a submission to the court that was generated by Dr Sarah Laurie, who has a medical degree but, as I understand it, is not a registered medical practitioner.

Senator MOORE —We spoke with Dr Laurie the other day and had that clarified. That is absolutely accurate. But what I am trying to place, in case there is this view that there is this great interference in who gave evidence for what side, is that we had a South Australian medical person who had the evidence come to the environmental court and you are a South Australian epidemiologist and that was the environment in which you were operating. Is that right?

Prof. Wittert —Yes, that is correct.

Senator MOORE —Good. I just wanted to have that on record.

Prof. Wittert —I also came to the thing looking at the evidence afresh. I have no background directly in this area at all, as is evident from my CV.

Senator MOORE —And it was a methodology process. I have read the evidence from the court and it was about methodology.

Prof. Wittert —Yes, I looked at methodology.

Senator MOORE —I am interested in the evidence you did give us about the 24-hour study you did. Is there any documentation on that project that you did?

Prof. Wittert —That was Dr Laurie’s data. Dr Laurie collected the data and she indicated in the documents she subsequently submitted to the court, not in her initial evidence, that she had collected this data. I asked the court to request the data so that I could have a look at it. I then plotted the data. What was tendered to the court and what I hope you have is a series of graphs which were based on that data. What I have done in a series of numbered points under methodology is list the information that was provided to me and how I dealt with that information in producing the figures. I have sequentially listed the figures and at the end of that document I have then made a conclusion, which was that the data is inconsistent with any assertion that the output from wind turbines has an adverse effect on blood pressure. I was not involved personally in collecting any of the data.

Senator MOORE —I just wanted to get that clearly on record. We have got some of that but I wanted to get the whole process of what you did on record. Thank you very much.

Prof. Wittert —My pleasure. It was simply an analysis of data that we requested through the court from Dr Laurie.

Senator MOORE —One other point: in terms of international research around the area and the need for more research in the area, you did indicate that you would find that an interesting area to do work.

Prof. Wittert —I had a discussion with Acciona and said, ‘You know where all your wind farms are. Can I get some geographic information help from you to map the areas around wind farms and control areas so that I can then contact the PBS?’ I have written to the PBS formally and had some advice from them on how to go about acquiring the data in an appropriate way that does not tread on any legislation because of postcode-level analysis and privacy issues that have been raised. That is as far as it has gone at the moment, but it is something that I am very keen on looking at. I also was involved in a review of a centre of clinical research excellence in Sydney yesterday where they do sleep research and where they can generate sound in sleep laboratories. I had a very preliminary discussion about maybe doing something.

Senator MOORE —You would probably be aware that in the discussions we have had on this topic, a lot of focus has been on independence and how you actually ensure that any kind of investigation or evidence is independent. Would you like to comment from your background—you have given us your professional experience across many areas—about how you actually go about proving independence in research? It is a good question I know, but it is very important to this discussion.

Prof. Wittert —It is a very good question. The first issue is that the funder and the provider have to be, to a certain extent, at arms length. The protocol or the process by which the question is constructed and asked should be reviewed, which is why the NHMRC is such a good process. You prepare your grant application, which is really the business plan for your research, and that is submitted to what is an extremely rigorous review so that at the end of the day the public is pretty confident that what they are funding is good research. There is an awful lot of rubbish in the literature that is believed for a period of time and turns out to be bad research. An example is the recent controversy about vaccination and autism in children where bad research led people to make very bad decisions and was subsequently shown to be bad research. By the same token, epidemiological methods that were rigorous in their conduct but perhaps not controlled clinical trials were sufficient to lead people to develop the conclusion that smoking caused lung cancer. That was done by the UK group many decades ago already using simple epidemiological methods but with extreme rigour.

So I think it is important to design a research study in accordance with good science, to conduct the study with rigorous methodology, appropriate power, appropriate review and oversight, to ensure that when the data is analysed and written up it is subject to review by peers who can critically look at the methodology and comment as to whether the study has or has not been appropriately undertaken and then to publish it in the journals so that it can be further discussed and debated and then, importantly, replicated by others. I can find it in my study, but one would like to see that someone else can do the same. One would like to see similar conclusions reached by doing research using a different methodology.

CHAIR —Senator Siewert here, Professor. I must admit I have not looked at every single one of the references for the NHMRC study, but do you know whether your data was referred to in the work that you did for the court case?

Prof. Wittert —No, the information that I generated was done long after the NHMRC review was produced. I did this pretty quickly and at relatively short notice and the evidence was tendered in court, I think, in early to mid-January.

CHAIR —This year?

Prof. Wittert —This year, 2011, and my document was submitted to the court in late December.

CHAIR —The study that you have been talking about has aspects that require study. Would you think that a similar sort of independent study was needed around the issues of infrasound or hearing specifically?

Prof. Wittert —This gets into a little bit more of a murky area for me because I do not know enough about infrasound to be sure. The acousticians that I was in contact with and whose data I read are acoustics people who were separately contracted by people from the Waubra area. It indicated that their measurements of infrasound were levels below what was generally legislated to be acceptable levels. Now I am hearing people say that the measurements must be wrong and that the levels of infrasound are much higher because people got the methodology wrong. Hang on a minute because, if you think about the density of turbines in some European countries, such as Germany and Scandinavia, one would expect that if there was that much infrasound causing people and animals to vibrate that you would notice some significant effects. There is no data coming out of Europe that there are any changes in lambing, in milk production, in the quality of beef or in any other form of agricultural products that involve livestock. Nor are there any reports of significant health effects coming out of any of those countries. I rather doubt that in Scandinavia, for example, this information would be suppressed.

CHAIR —Thank you. Senator Boyce has some questions.

Senator BOYCE —You point out that you had looked at Dr Laurie’s data. Did you also look at the publication by Dr Nina Pierpont?

Prof. Wittert —The book?

Senator BOYCE —Yes.

Prof. Wittert —As in did I read all of the case reports?

Senator BOYCE —Did you analyse or critique her work?

Prof. Wittert —I was provided with a number of case reports that came out of Dr Pierpont’s book that were tendered as part of Dr Laurie’s evidence and attached. I did not read the book, but I read the case reports.

Senator BOYCE —And could you comment on the methodology there?

Prof. Wittert —They are case reports. I had no idea how those individuals were selected and whether they were selected in an appropriate way. If I am doing survey methodology I want to be sure that I select people without bias and that the questions that are asked are asked without bias. Normally, we would want to find a random sample of individuals. We would want to ask neutral questions. If there were people, who, for example, put up their hand and said, ‘Pick me, pick me, I have a story to tell,’ that is fine. The story is very real to those people, but you cannot infer cause and effect from that sort of information. I hesitate to use this example but I will because it crosses my mind: in the book about the witchcraft trials from Salem, Massachusetts, we saw mass hysteria and everyone came up with a similar story. These are all stress related symptoms. We talk about headaches, palpitations, elevation of blood pressure, irritability, sleep disturbance, mood, concentration and memory, which are said to be symptoms of wind farm syndrome or, equally, symptoms of any stress related illness.

Senator BOYCE —That leads me to the next question, which is about the personal health records that Dr Laurie used. They do indicate elevated blood pressure. If it is not caused by wind turbines what, in your view, is it caused by?

Prof. Wittert —There are many things that cause elevated blood pressure. For example, in my studies of men in the north-western suburbs of Adelaide, 60 per cent of men over the age of 35 had elevated blood pressure and only half were aware of it. The origins of high blood pressure are strongly related to obesity. People are highly reactive to stress under many circumstances, which can elevate blood pressure. Currently, related to the obesity epidemic, there is an epidemic of obstructive sleep apnoea or sleep disordered breathing. Some very early data we have got from undertaking home sleep study is that around 10 per cent of people have severe obstructive sleep apnoea. That is of a magnitude where we would want people to immediately get treated and not get back in a motor vehicle or go to work or do any other thing. We estimate from 30 to 40 per cent of people have mild to moderate sleep disordered breathing. This is a condition that is directly associated with quite marked elevations of blood pressure.

Senator BOYCE —Is the short answer you do not know?

Prof. Wittert —Is the short answer to what I do not know?

Senator BOYCE —What caused the elevated blood pressure? You would not have sufficient detail to know if obesity or whatever was the reason. Is that correct?

Prof. Wittert —There is not sufficient detail in the case histories to make any assertions about anything.

CHAIR —We had Professor Chapman giving evidence on Tuesday and he raised the issue of annoyance. There are two questions there. Firstly, is that a potential cause? Secondly, you could say that it is related to the wind turbines because people are annoyed at the wind turbines. Is that analogy or association valid?

Prof. Wittert —If you are asking if I agree with Professor Chapman on the issue, yes.

CHAIR —You agree with the term ‘annoyance’. We had people appearing before us on Monday who were clearly upset.

Prof. Wittert —No-one would deny that there are people who are extremely upset by this issue. But I would wonder whether there are two things. Firstly, the data I have seen from Eja Pederson, which is probably the only high-quality published data on this matter—or at least the best quality data—and it has its own problems by her own acknowledgement, states that about five per cent of people will experience annoyance. Annoyance may be due to some vague and yet to be determined individual psychological factor—by that I mean they are stressed in many other ways and therefore annoyed by the presence of the turbines because of some change in amenity and environment—or it may just be that they are particularly sensitive to the noise and therefore it annoys them, which is fair enough.

One has to wonder whether there is something that precludes accommodation. For example, I can sleep in a hotel room with a ceiling fan going but I know that my wife would go absolutely crazy if we had to leave the ceiling fan on. I do not know whether if we were there for six to eight weeks she would get used to it or would not get used to it, or whether it would start to annoy me after a while. The fridge is on in the house and it does not seem to bother anyone. There are other household noises. For example, if the air conditioner is on, there is a noise and it does not seem to bother anyone.

Whether there is some characteristic of the noise that some people cannot adapt to or whether there is some other issue around anxiety or worry that seems to overlay this, I do not think anyone knows for sure but it is probably true that there are a small percentage of people who get annoyed. What causes this annoyance in particular is a matter of some debate. Does that last part make sense?

CHAIR —Yes. Thank you.

Senator ADAMS —I note that at the moment South Australia seems to have the most turbines throughout Australia. Do you have a very good idea from your research of where those turbines are situated and where people live?

Prof. Wittert —I have a reasonable idea because I have been mapping it.

Senator ADAMS —Could you just give us a brief rundown of that please.

Prof. Wittert —By and large they are reasonably sparsely located along the Yorke Peninsula around towards the Eyre Peninsula. There are some towards Clare and Burra. Then there is that planned development that is part of Hallett 2, up around Mount Bryan, although the Mount Bryan development is already in existence. The Mount Bryan development will actually be closer to Hallett. Then there is another development planned which is closer around Crystal Brook. So there are a number of planned and a number in existence.

Senator ADAMS —Are these areas populated? I know some of them are remote. Are the planned ones going to go into a more populated area?

Prof. Wittert —I do not think so. Not that I can see. I am trying to get data at the statistical level area and I cannot actually do that because there are not enough people in the statistical level area near a wind farm. It is diluted by people who are very far from the wind farm.

There is a lot of legislation around this of course. The setback has to be 1.5 kilometres. I think in Victoria they have now changed it to two kilometres. I cannot hear a turbine when I am close to it pretty much. Sometimes I can hear it but sometimes I cannot. If I am in a motor vehicle sitting and looking, I cannot hear it. For the most part if I am a kilometre or more away I cannot hear it. It is variable I think.

Senator ADAMS —I think in Victoria and New South Wales wind farms are being put a lot closer. There are those around Ballarat of course.

Prof. Wittert —Certainly around the Waubra area, you can see them quite easily from the town and from a variety of residences. I think the interdigitation of populations and wind farms is certainly different to what it is in South Australia; I would agree with that.

Senator ADAMS —And Western Australia is very new, of course. Most of theirs are in fairly remote rural areas, not in built-up areas, as we have seen travelling around and heard in evidence. This is hypothetical. If you were asked to go to Waubra to do a study—and it does not matter whether you are working for Acciona or whoever—what other areas would you look at—you talked about blood pressure—if there were complaints about sickness and having to move away from their houses and live in Ballarat? Would you just rely on the blood pressure or would you look at other issues?

Prof. Wittert —We are doing a bit of work here on sleep restriction with a colleague at the University of South Australia and one in Sydney. We have just put in a grant to the NHMRC to look at the effects of sleep restriction on blood sugar control. There is a long known association between shift work, for example, and diabetes. People who have circadian rhythm disruption or circadian misalignment are more likely to get metabolic diseases, both diabetes and heart disease. Our studies have been looking more at sleep restrictions: what happens if you only sleep four or five hours a night? Quite clearly that is very bad for you in terms of blood sugar control. Very quickly—within a matter of days—you start seeing elevation of blood sugars. Within four or five days people start to see blood sugars going up. The extent to which that is ubiquitous I do not know, but we saw that in all the volunteers we studied. They were by and large young, healthy men of college age. So I would almost consider that you would be more likely to see elevations of blood sugar with marked sleep restriction than elevated blood pressure, which I think is a more characteristic feature of sleep disorder breathing than simple sleep restriction.

Senator ADAMS —You were talking earlier about trying to get independent people. How would you go about that? You were talking about a 10-kilometre area for doing your PBS investigation. How would you find a cohort that was large enough within that particular area to do these other observations and have independent witnesses?

Prof. Wittert —That is why GIS methodology is probably the optimal way of doing it if you can get enough pool data. Let me give you an example. Let us say there were 2,000 dwellings within 10 kilometres of a set of turbines and I knew that the turbine was erected in 2007 or 2008. PBS could give me data over 4½ years. So let us say I can get data from 2006-07 and I know that there are a certain number of prescriptions being issued for blood pressure medication. Over the period of the next few years I could then determine whether there were any change in the provision of blood pressure medication. If I could do the same thing across two, three or four areas where there were turbines erected, I could compare those to other areas of similar demographics where there were no turbines erected. I would now be able to compare across time within an area where there is a turbine. I could compare across time in an area where there is no turbine. I could then compare between the two areas. I could do that across a range of conditions—assuming, of course, that there is a prescription issued for that condition and it is diagnosed. What you can then use is geographic information systems to overlay things like distance to the nearest doctor, a whole bunch of socioeconomic data, the age profile of the population et cetera.

Senator ADAMS —Thank you.

Senator BOYCE —To go back to a question I forgot to ask earlier about the NHMRC report which suggests that people who live near wind turbines and do not feel well should go see their GP and that that is a way of beginning to have the data collected and assessed, I was somewhat surprised at that suggestion. I would have thought that information collected by GPs in that way would take some considerable time to be seen as a health issue. Would I be correct in saying that?

Prof. Wittert —I am not sure I am clear on what the question is.

Senator BOYCE —The NHMRC are saying that people who suffer the sorts of symptoms that have been described as wind turbine syndrome should go see a GP and this will be useful for future data collection and assessment. It seemed to me that this is a rather slow way of suggesting that the data will be assembled.

Prof. Wittert —Yes. For one thing, measuring blood pressure in a general practitioner’s surgery is fraught with problems. There are a significant number of people whose blood pressure will go up just because they visit the doctor. How long they have been kept waiting, having the cuff blown up—some people find it uncomfortable, some people get anxious. The methodology is fraught with problems. For many people there are a whole range of issues around access and other chronic diseases. You are right that it is not a methodology to look at the problem objectively.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you. My other question related to a report that came out earlier this week from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare titled Health and the environment: a compilation of evidence. Have you had the opportunity to see it?

Prof. Wittert —I have not.

Senator BOYCE —They have used studies across 15 environmental factors and make the point in the synopsis that there are physical health effects of environment and mental health effects of environment such as poor mental health during drought conditions. I wonder if you might like to have a look and comment if you think it is worthwhile with regard to this report and wind turbine syndrome. You might also want to comment in terms of the annoyance question: how the environmental affects on the mental health conditions of people living in wind turbine areas should be assessed.

Prof. Wittert —I am happy to look at the report. I know there is a fair bit of data in the environment planning literature around doing things in rural environments. Whether you build a waste dump—never mind toxic, just a waste dump—or some kind of new facility of any sort, that will have an effect on people. Of course, that is the reason why there is a consultation process and people have opportunities to have their views put. The health effects of those are pretty much uniformly the same, and they are all what we are seeing here. I think the issue of sound may or may not be relevant but should not be confused with the presence of something new. Certainly the issue of annoyance is raised, but there is also an awful lot of anxiety being generated, and it would be nice to have some objectivity and rationality around it. Dr Laurie, for her own reasons, is an unashamed activist. She is not doing this as an expert witness. By her own admission she is doing this as an activist, and that is fine. People are entitled to do that. But it would be nice to have some objectivity across the board.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. We have taken this a bit over time but, as you can see, people were very interested in your comments. I think there was a little bit of homework that we gave you that you took on notice.

Prof. Wittert —Yes. I am being asked to look at the report. I must also ask, if I can negotiate this information with the PBS and obtain some GIS mapping within the next six to eight weeks, which is the time frame that the PBS has indicated they can possibly supply data, whether the committee would still be in a position or interested to receive it.

CHAIR —We would be.

Senator FIELDING —We would probably like to get someone else to look at the methodology you have put forward too. Obviously you have been seen to work for Oceania before. I think we need to make sure we have other people looking at it. But that is my opinion.

Prof. Wittert —That is a fair point, and I would be very happy, given that I am requesting information collected from public resources, to copy the request to the PBS to the committee so that the data can be reviewed.

CHAIR —Thank you. I think that would be very useful.

Prof. Wittert —I am happy to do that.

[12.04 pm]