By Leah McDonald
WIND farms can contribute to people getting diseases such as cancer and heart attacks, two leading Irish health experts have warned.
They say that noises emitting from turbines lead to sleep deprivation that can cause cancer and heart disease, along with a number of other illnesses.
Professor Graham Roberts, head of the Department of Endocrinology at University Hospital, Waterford, and Professor Alun Evans, an expert in public health at Queen’s University, Belfast, met Alan Kelly yesterday to warn the Environment Minister that the current guidelines in Ireland are a cause for alarm.
The rules allow turbines and power lines as close as 500 metres to a family home, while international standards demand they should be at least 2km away.
Prof Evans, recently wrote a report pointing to ‘serious adverse health effects associated with noise pollution generated by wind turbines’.
The risks were due to sleep disturbance and deprivation with loud noise being one of the main causes.
He pointed out that sleep deprivation is associated with memory impairment in children and disturbed cognitive function in adults.
He told the Irish Daily Mail yesterday that distances between homes and turbines should be increased.
He said: ‘The bad effects of low frequency noise has been known for at least 40 years, the thing is 500 metres does not protect people. It is insufficiencies.’
He warned that there is evidence that the ‘infrasonic signatures’ that cause the damage can be picked up from 50 miles way, adding: ‘It is a serious problem. It doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Something like a quarter of people are more susceptible.’
Memory damage to children
Prof Evans explained: ‘It is a problem, the big thing being noise and sleep deprivation. Once you deprive people of sleep you make them more liable to become overweight and you delay their learning because while we sleep we reinforce memory.
‘Depriving people of sleep is not a good idea, overweight children become obese adults and obese adults are far more likely to [develop] a whole range of diseases particularly cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.’
He added that the noise doesn’t have to have a direct effect to cause a problem. ‘It can be indirect but it is still very important,’ he said. ‘And you can prevent diseases by preventing the more distant causes.’
And in his recent report, Dr Evans said that there had been no proper cost-benefit analysis in Ireland before the widespread introduction of wind power.
Both he and Dr Roberts believe there are fundamental technical errors in reports on current wind farm and power-line projects here.
They are concerned over the consultation process with the public.
Some parents of autistic children have particular fears about the effects turbines and high-voltage pylons have on their quality of life.
John Callaghan has objected to wind farms in Co. Meath, which he fears will affect the environment and health of his autistic son.
The engineer, who has studied renewable energy at postgraduate level, said his seven-year-old son is autistic and very sensitive to noise and says he has ‘grave concerns’ about the impact of the proposed wind farm on his son, himself, his family and the local area, including wildlife, heritage and the cultural landscape.
The meeting between the professors and the minister was organised by community campaigner David Reid of the Westmeath Alliance. Mr Reid said there are significant concerns about noise pollution for people living close to wind turbines. He said the World Health Organisation refers to this as ‘environmental insomnia’, if the noise is above a certain threshold.
However, last year, a review of 500 international studies could find no proof of adverse health effects caused by exposure to electromagnetic radiation.
Pylons and mobile phones emit electromagnetic radiation and some experts believe that high levels of exposure to this radiation could seriously affect our health, possibly causing cancer.
But the EU experts said they could not find a direct link between electromagnetic fields and childhood leukaemia, despite evidence of a slightly higher risk of incidence.
And Kenneth Matthews, CEO of the Irish Wind Energy Association, said: ‘Significant evidence, both at home and abroad, tells us that wind energy is not harmful to people.
‘We would be keen for any debate on this matter to be based on fact and the examination of credible evidence so not to cause completely unwarranted concern to the general public which could threaten one of Ireland’s indigenous industries.
‘The fact is there is no credible evidence showing a link between wind turbines and adverse health effects, and have been a number of comprehensive studies carried out internationally in recent years which clearly conclude that wind turbines are not harmful to people. The reality is, clean wind energy is delivering for Ireland, reducing our 85 per cent dependency on expensive foreign energy imports, promoting investment and jobs, and helping protect our environment for the future.’
The Environment Department has commissioned a study to review and report on international developments on the potential health effects of electro-magnetic fields.
In a statement yesterday, the department said representatives from a number of departments, with national and international experts, are overseeing the study which is being undertaken by RIVM, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.