Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
COMMUNITY AFFAIRS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
31/03/2011
Social and economic impact of rural wind farms

CHAIR —I now welcome the representative from Doctors for the Environment Australia, Dr George Crisp. I understand information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you, Dr Crisp.

Dr Crisp —It has.

CHAIR —Do you wish to add any information about the capacity in which you appear?

Dr Crisp —I am a practising general practitioner.

CHAIR —We have your submission, which is numbered 829. I invite you to make an opening statement and then we will ask you some questions.

Dr Crisp —I thank the panel for the opportunity to present our submission and the information it contains. Doctors for the Environment Australia is a voluntary organisation of medical doctors with members drawn from all disciplines of medicine and from all Australian states and territories. As doctors, we are concerned with the health of individuals and the health of populations and we have a particular interest and expertise in the effects of and relationship between environmental degradation and changes in human health.

With any new or developing technology, questions and concerns arise regarding health and safety as well as adverse and unwanted environmental, economic and social effects. It is important to understand the nature of the health concerns that have been expressed and to try and meet the needs of the people who feel that their health may be at risk. These risks and benefits should be evaluated using the best available science to both prevent and minimise potential harm to human and environmental health and also to provide appropriate explanation or reassurance where there has been uncertainty.

Wind energy has been widely established for several decades in at least 70 countries, yet in the scientific literature there have been very few reports of health problems. However, more recently there has been an increase in media attention, with alleged adverse health effects in a small number of people living in close proximity to wind farms. DEA has examined the current literature in order to reach a conclusion as to whether there is evidence to support these health concerns. DEA notes that a number of reviews have been conducted, including by the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia in 2010, the Chief Medical Officer of Health in Ontario in 2010 and the Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit in 2008. These expert reviews have all concluded that wind turbines do not constitute a risk to human health, and our review and assessment is entirely consistent with those findings.

I would briefly like to address wind turbine syndrome, although you have probably heard this before. Just briefly, there has been a proposal that there is a clinical entity in relation to infrasound and vibration exposure from wind turbines. It is important to point out that that is based on a small unscrutinised case series and other anecdotal reports. It must be emphasised that it is not possible to determine causality from case series studies, even when they are very well constructed, and that anecdotes do not constitute evidence. Secondly, there has been no viable physical or physiological mechanism identified for which these ill effects could occur at these low levels of sound or vibration. Infrasound and vibration are not in any way unique or specific to wind turbines and are generated by internal bodily functions and a wide range of natural and anthropogenic origins, often at greater intensities. Lastly, the symptoms that comprise the syndrome are not specific, as your previous witness said. They are common to many other conditions, most notably anxiety and somatisation.

Senator BOYCE —Sorry, what was that last word?

Dr Crisp —Somatisation. It is the conversion of psychological or anxiety related symptoms into physical symptoms, and it is a DSM and ICD recognised thing.

CHAIR —It is another big word we can all roll around now.

Dr Crisp —Please stop me if I use words you do not know. I am prone to do that. When considering the health consequences of wind turbines it is also relevant and important to recognise the co-benefits, particularly with regard to health, that are gained by replacing other fossil fuel electricity generation sources. Wind is one of only two renewable energy sources that currently have the capacity to power all of our future energy needs. Wind generated power is acknowledged to be clean and renewable and it produces no known emissions, waste products or harmful pollutants, which is in marked contrast to coal and other fossil fuels

The relationship particularly between air quality and public health has been clear for a very long time. Improvements in air quality and from decreasing fossil fuel emissions has a direct and highly significant benefit to local public health. But the very considerable costs arising from coal have been and continue to be excluded from the publicly quoted price of coal combustion. Indeed, once these externalised costs of coal are included, wind is actually less expensive than coal. The costs of coal in Australia, based on overseas figures, is likely to be more than $1,000 for every Australian citizen, and mostly as a result of illness and health costs. So even if there were any adverse health effects relating to wind turbines, they are likely to be both local and temporary and a tiny fraction of the already well-known, pervasive and widespread health effects that result from fossil fuel combustion.

Having reviewed the literature and reports regarding wind turbines and health information Doctors for the Environment supports the conclusions of other recent reviews in finding that opposition to wind farms on the basis of potential adverse health consequences is not justified and there is no evidence to support any direct causal link between wind turbines and pathological effects in humans. Furthermore, there are several separate compelling reasons to develop wind energy in preference to fossil fuels on current and future health grounds.

CHAIR —We heard from Dr Pierpont via teleconference at a hearing in Canberra on Friday. I do not think the evidence in the Hansard is up on the website yet. When it is, I would like to give you some homework. I call it homework but is actually putting a question on notice to you. I understood one of your comments just then to be around there being no explanation about how low-frequency sound or infrasound work. My understanding is that Dr Pierpont started to explain that, and she did use some very medically technical terms. Would you take on notice to have a look at the evidence and provide some feedback to us. I understood her to have been going some way towards explaining what she thought was the connection. It would be appreciated if you would look at that.

Dr Crisp —Certainly. I would very briefly say that there is already a lot of information in the literature on infrasound and vibration.

CHAIR —Yes, and we understood that to say that there is a connection between infrasound and people’s health. That is what she was saying.

Dr Crisp —I would dispute that. If you look at the information and some of the things she has referred to previously in the case studies and book—if you expose animals and humans to high volumes of infrasound you can cause both discomfort and illness at high volumes or high sound pressures. However, there is no evidence currently that at low sound pressures of below 50 decibels, for example, there is any harm but, more importantly, there is no mechanism for harm. It is difficult because you need some evidence to say that something bad is happening but you also need to say, ‘How is it happening?’ It is very difficult to say. Our cochleas are unable to determine low volumes of low-frequency sound—in fact, as the volume of sound gets lower, you can hear it less and less. That is an audiological fact, if you like, if you look at audiograms.

For Dr Pierpont to be correct not only do the emissions from wind farms have to be quite high but also there has to be a mechanism by which that can be interpreted by the human body, and it is very difficult to explain that on the basis that infrasound is already prolific in our environment. Just about everything makes infrasound. Our bodies are producing infrasound. A heartbeat is between one and two hertz; our gut and lungs are producing sound all the time. We are not aware of it because it is at quite low volumes. Why then would a similar low-volume infrasound cause illness? It is very difficult to provide an adequate explanation; you have to come up with something quite new and fundamentally different that we could somehow perceive and interpret these very low-level sounds.

CHAIR —I have just been told that the Hansard has just gone up on the website, so it would be very much appreciated if you would have a look at that.

Dr Crisp —Yes.

Senator FIELDING —We have obviously heard conflicting views from both sides of the debate. How do you think this committee should try to get to the bottom of those issues when people present with severe health issues? There is a claim being made that it is psychosomatic, in other words they believe living near wind turbines is not good and therefore that plays out. There is another view that there is infrasound, which you have just been talking about, and that is causing issues—wind turbine syndrome it has been coined. How do we really get to the bottom of this once and for all? I am thinking that we probably need to get some scientific research done in some way to try and put this to bed, because this is a very big issue for a lot of communities. It is only going to get worse as wind turbines are rolled out in a massive way across Australia over the next decade. How do we actually get to the position where both sides can be happy with the methodology being proposed to do that research?

Dr Crisp —I think that there is already, if you like, quite a body of evidence out there. As in any debate about health or science it is important to go back to the actual evidence that is there. As I mentioned, wind turbines have been around for decades. They have been widely distributed throughout many countries and there have been very few reports of adverse effects until just recently when there has been publicity. Should science respond to publicity and public anxiety? To some degree you have to reassure people and you have to have the evidence to reassure people that there is not any harm. If you are asking whether we should do large-scale trials and investigations, I suppose in an ideal world, yes, we should. But I would also point out that, and this is the reason that I referenced coal so heavily here, we have not done any clinical trials into coal adversely affecting communities in Australia since 1994—the last one was done in the Hunter Valley. Here is something that is causing massive amounts of costs in health and illness across the country; why are we not investigating that? If you say we should start investigating wind and putting resources into that, surely these two things do not equate very well. So yes, I think we should investigate and assess these things but I also think we should keep it in proportion to the other things that need investigating.

Senator FIELDING —I did notice that you put a lot of emphasis on the coal and the health effects from that, and I saw that from the evidence. It is not really part of the terms of reference of this particular committee, but I would hate to say that because something else is causing a bigger problem we should look at that before looking at this one. I am hoping that is not what you are saying—so you are saying that we do not need to do more research into this issue?

Dr Crisp —I think that we should get our priorities right in terms of putting dollars of medical research into the most important areas. So should we investigate wind turbines for adverse health effects? I would suggest that it is not an unreasonable thing to do, but I think you are also competing for dollars in research with other areas. There are also several other countries that have a far higher density of wind turbines than Australia, so it would probably be better for those countries to look at the health effects where they are more likely to see a consequence anyway. If there is a health consequence arising from wind farms you would expect it to be in areas where people live closer to wind farms, where the setback is less and where there are high densities of people—obviously, from a statistical point of view, you are more likely to see low-level abnormalities if you have a greater population exposed. So should we be doing the research for this? I would suggest that there is a lot of research and expert reviews that have already been done and a lot of countries that are probably far better placed to do it. In terms of competing for health dollars for other medical research my personal opinion is that it is not necessarily a very good use of medical resources.

CHAIR —In evidence given to us earlier in this inquiry, people have suggested that perhaps the wind industry could put into a fund to fund it. It has got to be arm’s length; we have already had that discussion. We have had a lot of evidence about it needing to be independent, but that is not to stop industry putting into a separate fund. What would you think about that?

Dr Crisp —I would suggest that we will continue to look at all the evidence gained here and overseas. I do not think it is for us to direct. I do not think it is beyond the scope of Doctors for the Environment to suggest necessarily things like that. If it was done, I would be interested to see what the findings were.

Senator MOORE —Are members of your organisation living in wind farm areas.

Dr Crisp —I would expect so, yes.

Senator MOORE —That is one of the points. One of the issues that came up when we were talking to community members on Monday was: if you don’t live here, you don’t know. That comes up everywhere, but I just thought I would put that on the table. I am following on from Senator Fielding’s questions. We have heard evidence that people now are so concerned about what they have read and have heard about potential impacts that they are making life decisions about going into areas. We heard evidence this morning that someone who is pregnant is not going to visit her family because of concerns about wind farms. That to me is an increasing health issue. Taking on board your comments and other people’s comments about potential competing health concerns, it is just as this one seems to be—as you have pointed out in your evidence—getting larger and impacting on people’s lives. I am not sure and we are struggling with how, once you have people fearful, you ever combat fear. Do you have any comment from a medical perspective about what happens with pre-existing fear and what you can do to respond to that?

Dr Crisp —That is very difficult. It is true that hype will tend to have those effects. Again, I referred earlier to immunisation: the fallout from measles and mumps, rubella has had the most enormous consequences. Ten years down the track we can probably put it to bed—although some people will not. I suppose this is a societal problem. If somebody is able to put up something that is believable, it has huge effects on people’s behaviour often to the detriment of those people. How do we address that as a society? I do not know the answer. If you do medical research and invest a lot of money into looking at whether there is hard evidence of physiological health effects rather than annoyance from wind frames, I suspect that the people who actually believe and have got ingrained views will continue to do so and criticise. We have seen this in other debates about science recently. People take entrenched views and then they do not want to change no matter what evidence is presented. I do not know the answer to that.

I think it is very important for the early inclusion of communities in decision making about projects such as wind farms. If people have some control or autonomy over the things that happen to them that is always better. I also think that there is an issue and it has been raised about whether people should be compensated for any potential loss with any industry that comes into their area. With wind farms, should there be some compensation paid for loss of amenity, if there is one?

One of the things that is interesting from trials that were done in Sweden looking at the rates of complaints of wind turbines due to annoyance or noise is that none of the complaints came from people who were beneficiaries of wind farms. The complaints in the groups related more to how much they had negative opinions about wind turbines. You could gauge how likely people were to get adverse effects by whether they liked or disliked wind turbines. You can try and change community views about these things by trying to make them beneficial to communities so there is some incentive.

Senator MOORE —I knew that question would come up with such an answer in terms of a discussion rather than a yes or no. For the record, could you provide on notice whether there are members of your group who live in areas where there are wind farms.

Dr Crisp —I only know local members in WA. DEA is national, as I said.

Senator MOORE —Is there a way of getting that through your network? I do not need to know who or where they are but in terms of that point of credibility.

Dr Crisp —Can I take that on notice and respond to you?

Senator MOORE —Absolutely. You may not be able to do it but, considering the information we have had, with people saying, ‘Unless you know, you don’t know,’ I think it would be a useful thing.

Dr Crisp —I find that that sort of argument, however, could apply to every single debate of treating patients—that you do not know unless—

Senator MOORE —If there are not any, it will not colour the evidence; it will just respond to those kinds of things. And none of us live in an area with wind farms, so we have the same issue.

CHAIR —Senator Adams.

Senator ADAMS —I guess I should declare that Dr Crisp is my doctor. Any questions I ask you, I am still coming back to see you! It’s a bit tricky!

Dr Crisp —I wasn’t going to say anything!

Senator ADAMS —I know you weren’t, but I thought I had better do it. Some submitters have argued that wind farms have been imposed on rural areas. Western Australia has a number of wind farms in the pipeline at the moment but, where we have come from, doing the other interviews, more and more rural areas have a lot more turbines going up, and it does seem to be causing a problem. This is against the wishes of local residents and for the benefit of those in the metropolitan areas. You are a city based person. How do you think we would go with health effects and other problems if somebody decided to put wind turbines along Leighton Beach, Cottesloe Beach, Sea View golf course or somewhere like that? Can you bring into perspective how a rural person would feel and how a metropolitan person would feel with the same indignity pushed onto them?

Dr Crisp —I am not sure quite how to answer the question. I think that wind farms, from a quality point of view, should probably go in the places where the best resources are, whatever sort of area that happens to be. There are clearly going to be some conflicts of use in areas. You could not build a wind farm just on the approach to the airport, for example, or—

Senator ADAMS —I am talking about windy areas, which of course are along the west coast beaches.

Dr Crisp —At the moment, there are setbacks and things like that to make sure that there are distances between people and wind turbines. You could not realistically put a wind turbine anywhere in Perth without a setback. There would not be a place you could do it. So from a practical point of view I am not quite sure if that question can work.

CHAIR —There are proposals for a couple of turbines in Fremantle.

Dr Crisp —I think that would be really good. Why wouldn’t we have one in Fremantle? I do not know that there is any difference, if that is what you mean.

Senator ADAMS —In the eastern states a lot of these smaller rural communities, as they are getting out, are having wind turbines put in. There is a lot of secrecy about where they are going, what is happening and all the rest of it. We have had that evidence from the proponents of them simply because they are saying it is commercial-in-confidence.

Dr Crisp —I do not think that things should be kept secret in any event, but just getting back to that other question: of course, there is one on Rottnest Island. I do not know that it has had any adverse impact on tourism in Rottnest. Geordie Bay and Longreach Bay are very close to that wind turbine. I do not know—has that caused any trouble?

Senator ADAMS —I cannot remember the history of it. It has been there for quite a while.

Dr Crisp —It was originally up where the lighthouse was, and then the new one was constructed just at the back of Geordie Bay about six or seven years ago, I think. That is quite a decent sized wind turbine.

Senator ADAMS —Over to Rottnest! We missed that.

CHAIR —We might have to go there for a trip to have a look at the wind farm!

Dr Crisp —I am still happy to go there, if I can get a house.

Senator ADAMS —I was going to ask you questions about planning. The Commonwealth are forming planning guidelines at the moment but, because of constitutional issues, they cannot tell the states what to do. What would you as an organisation, because you are a national body, say should go into those guidelines to help with the problems that seem to be associated with the expansion—that is probably the best way to describe it—of the wind farm industry?

Dr Crisp —From a health perspective, the only demonstrated consequence of wind farms is annoyance from noise. So I think that the setbacks and the positioning of wind turbines and wind farms should be at a distance so that the WHO health guidelines as well as ours are observed, in that the sound pressure levels are less than 50 decibels. That is in the order of a quiet room.

Senator ADAMS —I have gone through that argument with aircraft noise. In different areas, whether it is water, valleys or whatever, these sounds are very different. It is fine having a highway going past and people have gone there knowing that they are going to be confronted with that. I know they try to shift airports because of the increase in traffic, and that is a wee bit difficult. But as wind turbines are increasing I think there is a lot more that could be done in the planning with national guidelines. That was the reason I asked.

Dr Crisp —I suppose from a health perspective, though, we have to respond to what health issues could arise from wind turbines being installed. Currently there is no evidence of adverse health effects. So, other than the fact that there is a noise issue, although modern turbines tend to be quieter than older turbines, really from a health perspective the only thing you can say about the planning is that we should make sure that the noise levels under all conditions—topography and all these other variables—do not exceed the guidelines with respect to people who already live in these areas.

Senator ADAMS —The other thing is about the small turbines on the wind farms that have been around for 10 or 15 years. Things have changed a lot because they are going to larger and larger turbines and the generators are making a lot more noise as well. In Denmark they are actually shifting them out into the sea because they are getting so large that people just cannot cope with them on the land. That is because of the noise.

Dr Crisp —It is not because of the noise. The reason that they are going out to sea—

Senator ADAMS —Well, the evidence we have says that.

Dr Crisp —There are other very good reasons why they put wind turbines out to sea, and that is that you get a much better wind resource.

Senator ADAMS —They would not be taking them out there if they did not.

Dr Crisp —No. Wind turbines get more and more efficient at a square of the diameter of the blades. Basically for every doubling of the blades you get a square increase in the amount of energy from the wind turbines. So the bigger you can build them, the more energy you can harness, and that is obviously a good thing from an electricity generator’s point of view and all of our points of view. When you build very big wind turbines, the cost of each turbine gets bigger and it becomes cost effective to start putting them out into the ocean where the wind resource is better and you get a better return on your investment. As I understand it, that is the primary reason for offshore wind. You secure a much better resource that way. I do not think that noise was the driver of moving wind turbines offshore.

Senator ADAMS —No, it was not the driver but it is part of it. I will be in Denmark and Sweden next week, so I am going to be quite busy. I will probably have to miss a lot of the other issues that we are supposed to discuss, because this is getting bigger than Ben Hur. But I will certainly be bringing some evidence back to the committee. If your organisation were asked to do some practical observation of the complaints that have come in—this is probably more for the eastern states and these smaller communities that have problems at the moment—how would you go about it? I think you were here for the evidence from previous witnesses about the PBS and blood pressure in a 10-kilometre radius. What would you do?

Dr Crisp —We really do not have the resources to conduct any of those sorts of things.

Senator ADAMS —No, I realise that. But if you were funded to do it?

Dr Crisp —Again, I would suggest that we do not have either the structure or facility to do this. We look at and review the information as provided by other researchers—published information.

Senator MOORE —I don’t think we mean your organisation.

Senator ADAMS —We really need some practical work on this because it is fine to say, ‘We will go and review it.’ We hear that time and time again. We want some new evidence. You are a general practitioner and you have had, say, 150 patients come along and say, ‘Look, I’ve got a problem and I live here,’ or ‘I do this.’ A group of your colleagues have got together.

Dr Crisp —I think I understand what you are saying. As general practitioners, as people who work in the community, we can often identify case series. So we may see several patients with something and then identify that. Similarly, we can look at case series from other origins. It is really important to look at the actual types of information to determine what you can say about them. Case series will never tell you causality. So you can never provide either cause or reassurance on the basis of those things. You have to do cohort studies or longitudinal studies, looking at case maps or control groups as well. That requires a lot more work, and it has to be done formally. It is quite a big undertaking to do those sorts of things. Is that what you mean?

Senator ADAMS —It sort of is. You have some research dollars. It is just to have a group of interested GPs or a GP network. Say you are all within a 10 kilometre radius, and you go to a group meeting or something and say ‘Look, I’ve had x patients come and complain about this. Have you had the same?’ Then you can go and do something. How would you do that?

Dr Crisp —In terms of identifying cases, that is one thing. But you cannot draw any conclusions from it.

Senator ADAMS —I realise that; but what about as a collective?  You have to have a plan. You have been given the dollars to do the research.

Dr Crisp —Immediately you do that you actually distort any further research because if you go out recruiting and trying to case find you can potentially change the results.

Senator ADAMS —But these people have come to you as patients.

Dr Crisp —Yes. Identifying those things is all well and good, and that is fine. But in terms of what you can do with that information, I do not know—other than notify. I do not think there is anything else you can do with that information. It is a case series.

Senator BOYCE —The National Health and Medical Research Council statement says that people who have experienced any health problems and are living near turbines should consult their GP promptly. They go on to say that in doing so they will contribute to the body of knowledge to inform future health and medical research on this issue. That would strike me as a rather slow and haphazard way to contribute to the body of knowledge on further medical research. Would you agree?

Dr Crisp —Absolutely. It is a muddled statement, actually, and I would not agree with it. I would probably suggest that if people get these symptoms that they ascribe to, whatever they may be, they should go and see their doctor. It would be quite nice to know what they are due to. Are they due to this? Is there some way of reassuring people to do x, y and z? That is correct, but to then go and inform research is invalid. It is haphazard because some people may report and some may not. It depends on the perspective of the doctor as to whether they think things should be reported. It is not a good way to collect evidence except in the very early stages of identifying things. But the thing we are looking at has already been identified, if you like—unless we are looking for something new. Look at smoking. That is a good analogy. First of all there were case series of doctors saying, ‘I have seen all these smokers with lung cancer; is something going on?’ Then there was further case control studies and bigger and bigger studies whereby you can then establish causality through the statistical difference between people who are exposed and nonexposed. There is no point in doing more and more case studies. You will never get any further. I think that is what you are getting at; I am not sure. I do not see that a GP saying, ‘Look, there is somebody with these symptoms,’ is going to help. It does not quantify anything. It is quantification we need now; not identification. Is that useful?

CHAIR —I still get the sense there is a slight case of talking at cross-purposes here. What you are saying is that you will keep collecting information but that is not going to prove anything. What you do then is go to the sort of study that Professor Wittert was talking about earlier. Is that what you are saying?

Dr Crisp —Yes. There is no point is doing more. The other thing is that I can tell you categorically that most of the information will remain in the local doctor’s notes and go nowhere. So it is a lost resource in any event. Unless you make things notifiable or on a population basis—

CHAIR —Senator Adams, were you also then asking what you thought about the design of the study that Professor Wittert was talking about?

Senator ADAMS —Yes, I was.

Dr Crisp —You have to look at a study that is set up to look at a representative group of the population—a number. If you do things like a cohort study you can select a group that is exposed and a group that is not exposed to the thing that you are looking for, and then you can do that either as a cross-sectional or a longitudinal study to look at what happens to people over time or what the prevalence of something is within a community. Those studies would be of value, but not case series.

Senator ADAMS —The blood pressure is one way, but what other symptoms would you look at?

Dr Crisp —I think that is a good question because one of the problems at the moment with the proposed syndrome is that it does not have any specific or identifying features. If you are looking for something in a population, the specificity is going to be determined by how unique those things are. For example, if you are looking for mesothelioma related to asbestos, it is relatively easy because mesothelioma is not a common disease. When you find it, it has a high specificity for that. If you start to look for people who have raised blood pressure it is going to be really hard because most of the population over a certain age have raised blood pressure.

Senator ADAMS —Yes, they have, but is there anything else from the reading you have done, even though with these doctors—

Dr Crisp —No.

Senator ADAMS —So that is the only thing that you can do research on?

Dr Crisp —The problem is that the symptoms are, in large part, subjective. The nice thing about blood pressure is that it is objective. Although obviously there are problems in measuring blood pressure, it is still an objective measurement; whereas, when people say, ‘I’m dizzy’ or ‘I’m light-headed’ or these things, you cannot measure them. If you are looking for things in trials it is much easier and better to have things that are measurable rather than things that are not. Particularly with things like dizziness or fatigue, at any one time they are probably present in 20 to 30 per cent of the population to some degree. It makes doing trials much more difficult if you are looking for things that already exist in large numbers. Statistically speaking, you want a marker or something that is much more specific to a syndrome. A problem in wind turbine syndrome is that none of the symptoms are in any way specific to that syndrome; they are already common within the community.

Senator BOYCE —You pointed out that Doctors for the Environment is a group of medical doctors. Could you tell us about the processes that you use to develop your policies in environmental areas, which are obviously not areas where you have internal expertise?

Dr Crisp —We also have a panel of experts who are affiliated with Doctors for the Environment in a wide range of scientific areas. In terms of determining our policies, they tend to be limited to the health effects that are already published in the literature. So all we are really doing is taking a view. As doctors we are able to examine and assess trials and health information, and provide some advice and policy based on that. So we are largely limited to those areas.

Senator BOYCE —Would you see yourselves as having a bias towards physical health effects or would mental health effects be equally covered by your work?

Dr Crisp —Equally—we have a holistic look at health. As I mentioned, we have doctors from all specialities. From physical medicine to psychiatry and other areas of medicine, they are all represented.

Senator BOYCE —I have one other question. Some of the community organisations and activist groups are against renewable energy. The suggestion has been made that they could be being funded or influenced, wittingly or unwittingly, by opponents of renewable energy—industries that are competitors, for example. Are you able comment in anyway through the work of Doctors for the Environment on that?

Dr Crisp —Not through the work of Doctors for the Environment. I would agree that they could be. I have not specific knowledge on funding or other arrangements. I have seen that there have been some reports of some particular groups who obviously have an agenda in this regard, but not from the aspect of Doctors for the Environment.

Senator FIELDING —In your paper you have referenced Salt and Hullar?

Dr Crisp —I remember reading the paper.

Senator FIELDING —Can you tell what their conclusion was?

Dr Crisp —From memory, the Salt papers looked at a chinchilla or guinea pig model in terms of exposure through bony conduction for high sound level infrasound to determine whether there was evidence of stimulation of the hearing apparatus, cochlea and vestibular. From reading it, and it is not one of the ones I have read most recently—

Senator FIELDING —It was peer reviewed, wasn’t it?

Dr Crisp —I believe so. I think that they were looking at high volume or high sound level stimulation in a chinchilla model.

Senator FIELDING —You would be aware that they say, ‘This raises the possibility that exposure to the infrasound component of wind turbine noise could influence the physiology of the ear.’

Dr Crisp —At high volumes perhaps.

Senator FIELDING —They have raised wind turbines.

Dr Crisp —Yes, they may have, but I would not necessarily agree with that conclusion. I think that if you look at the earlier part of those trials they actually used much higher sound levels. I think they are extrapolating. They are saying that at very high sound levels in the chinchilla model you can see some evidence of reception so it may be having an effect. If you say, ‘I am going to extrapolate that down to a lower level in a human model,’ I think that is conjecture.

Senator FIELDING —It may be worth reading it again. The paper was: Responses of the ear to low frequency sounds, infrasound and wind turbines. So they did a fair bit of work in 2010.

Dr Crisp —But what were the volume levels they used in it? I think they were 100 decibels plus.

CHAIR —Could I ask you to take it on notice to relook at that paper to see if what you have just said is accurate? Tell me off if I am paraphrasing you wrongly but I think you said that they had taken an instance where there had been a high level of sound and inferred that if wind farms were producing high levels of sound they could have an impact.

Dr Crisp —I am quite happy to take that on notice and provide a response. I suppose the other thing from that point of view is that it is quite right for researchers to raise possibilities. It is quite right for researchers to say, ‘We found this and maybe there is something further.’ There is nothing wrong with that. They are not concluding that that is the case; they are just saying that maybe that is something that could be investigated further as a researcher.

CHAIR —I have one more question. If you could answer it now that would be good, but if it is going to take a bit of time could you take it on notice. While we are on the papers that you have referenced here, what papers would you direct us to if we are looking for really good research papers on the impacts of infrasound and low frequency sound?

Senator MOORE —Essential reading.

Dr Crisp —I will take that on notice. I do remember reading several things but I could not accurately place where the best ones were.

CHAIR —If you could take that on notice, that would be great. Thank you very much, Dr Crisp.

Proceedings suspended from 12.49 pm to 1.50 pm