Sickness blamed on silent wind-farm vibrations is caused by bad PR rather than solid science, New Zealand research shows.
Negative lobbying about the health effects of inaudible sound from wind farms leads to more reporting of symptoms, a new University of Auckland study has found.
Anti-wind farm activists claim bad vibrations from the low-frequency hum can cause everything from nausea and headaches to hot flushes and insomnia, but the study shows that bad publicity is at the heart of the problem.
"It's scaremongering in the sense that the symptoms are common in the community," lead author Keith Petrie, a health psychology professor, said.
"If you went round the office and said to people the new wi-fi system is causing symptoms, they would get a focus and will attribute symptoms they normally get to that environment."
Wind farms have been blamed for a range of common ailments, including itchiness, nausea, ringing in the ears and tiredness.
The effect was tied into people's concerns about modern technology and was made worse by media reports on claims of ill health from wind farms, the study said.
People's anxiety then increased, which in turn ramped up a focus on the symptoms and health problems.
In the study, 54 university students were split into two groups. One group was shown television footage of first-hand accounts by lay-people linking wind farms to health problems.
The other group was shown footage from experts giving the scientific position that wind-farm infrasound had no health effects.
Both groups were then subjected to 10 minutes of infrasound and 10 minutes of "sham" infrasound, or silence. In both cases, the students were told they were being exposed to real infrasound.
The "high expectancy" group shown negative footage showed significantly more concern than the other group, and later reported more symptoms.
"It increased people's expectations about symptoms and the health problems they report," Dr Petrie said.
Auckland University of Technology psychoacoustics lecturer Daniel Shepherd said that although he knew of no-one in New Zealand who had suffered health problems from wind-turbine infrasound, the issue was hotly contested in the scientific community.
The debate was not "black and white" and scientists needed to research whether infrasound was caused by the "voodoo effect" of bad publicity or the hum, he said.
- The Dominion Post