Maria McCaffery: Wind power is safe, unlike this flawed medical research

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Wind turbines are safe. That is the conclusion of every reputable scientific study conducted into the impact of wind turbines on human health, based on a range of international research.

In 2004, a World Health Organisation report categorically showed that wind power was one of the most benign forms of electrical generation in terms of direct and indirect health effects. However, despite this wealth of scientific evidence, the myth persists that wind energy is harmful. The latest claims come from Dr Nina Pierpont, who alleges that wind turbines cause ailments ranging from sleeplessness to tinnitus.

Despite a veneer of scientific respectability, Dr Pierpont's findings, contained in her self-published book, are not endorsed by academics who specialise in low-frequency sound. The work flies in the face of decades of established medical research. It cites Manchester University's recent research into the workings of the human ear. However, the author of that research, Dr Neil Todd, wrote in this paper last week: "Our work does not provide the direct evidence suggested .... I do not believe that there is any direct evidence to show that any of the above acoustico-physiological mechanisms are activated by the radiations from wind turbines."

Given the lack of robust evidence to support Dr Pierpont's work, it is surprising that her assertions have received coverage in the UK's media, not least in the pages of The Independent on Sunday. Bad science is not just misleading; it can be damaging and disruptive, as the MMR and autism débâcle has clearly shown.

The recent report on Dr Pierpont's new book aired her familiar argument that a new condition "wind turbine syndrome" is causing a rash of local illnesses. In response, the main NHS website stated: "This study provides no conclusive evidence that wind turbines have an effect on health or are causing the set of symptoms described here as 'wind turbine syndrome'" – explaining that "the study design was weak, the study was small and there was no comparison group".

Dr Pierpont's findings are based on a sample of only 38 self-selected people in 10 families based at wind energy projects. Furthermore, her findings have not been through any process of independent peer review by recognised experts in the field.

Dr Pierpont is a known campaigner against wind energy in North America. Until her work is published in a reputable medical journal and is reviewed by independent qualified experts it will be hard to view her allegations as anything other than yet another scare story peddled by the opponents of wind power.

Unsupported health scares are not the only myths which are used to undermine the case for wind energy. The opponents of wind energy continually promote a series of inaccuracies, half-truths and lies.

If the UK is to meet its commitment to reducing our carbon emissions and tackling climate change, then we have to transform the way we produce and use our energy. That means we need to expand our use of renewables, especially wind energy.

No form of energy is perfect; wind power, like any other technology, must overcome its own obstacles and objections. The energy debate, including that surrounding the expansion of wind energy must be based on facts, not myths. Opponents of wind energy must not be allowed to continue to cloud the debate with such egregious misinformation and distortions.



Maria McCaffery is chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association

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