Today Tonight Report on Steven Cooper’s Cape Bridgewater Acoustic Study
Cape Bridgewater Report
Channel 7’s Today Tonight
16 March 2015
[Click on the image above and click through for the Today Tonight video. Transcript appears below.]
Rosanna Mangiarelli: But we will start tonight with a wind farm war. Those who claim that turbines are having an impact on surrounding communities, versus those who say it’s all in the mind. Now the latest debate centres around a recent Australian study, whose author has found there is a link. While it’s being played down by the industry, those living near the wind farm tell a very different story. Rodney Lohse reports.
Lane Crocket, Pacific Hydro: … can’t identify any causal link between wind farms and health.
Steven Cooper: It depends upon what you define by causal. If you take it as patterns that relate to the hypothesis of different wind speeds orpower outputs, there was definitely a link.
Rodney Lohse: It’s the report that has the wind energy industry in aspin. Same report, two very different interpretations, all depending on what you have at stake.
Lane Crocket: There is nothing in this report to justify any form of compensation.
Steven Cooper: We’ve found certain wind speeds that related to the high levels of disturbance.
Rodney Lohse: According to medical authorities, wind farms are perfectly safe and cause no adverse health impacts. Yet here and overseas, people who live near them say they’re getting sick.
Norma Schmidt from Ontario: You’re not able to do anything. You’re not able to cook. You’re not able to clean. You’re not able to live. You’re not able to work.
Melissa Ware, Cape Bridgewater, Victoria: We’ve actually vacated the house and we’ve been away for about 3 months.
Wind farm victim: Ever since they started turning my ears have been hurting.
Rodney Lohse: But despite this, no one could prove what it was about wind farms that made those living nearby feel unwell. And so they have continued to be constructed in their thousands. Enter Steven Cooper and Pacific Hydro. Stephen Cooper is a acoustic engineer, recognised in this country as an expert in his field, involved in writing Australian standards on noise, especially for the aircraft industry.
Steven Cooper: When I started this study, I was utilising the results of testing in South Australia at the Waterloo wind farm, where residents could perceive the operation of the wind farm without seeing it or without hearing it. And I was linking that perception to what’s called infrasound, which is below the normal level of frequency of hearing.
Rodney Lohse: Pacific Hydro is an energy company owned by Australian superannuation funds and the operator of wind farms in Australia and overseas. Lane Crockett is executive general manager of Pacific Hydro.
Lane Crockett: If you go to the peak medical body they will tell you that there is no causal link between wind farms and health.
Rodney Lohse: It is a concept supported by Sydney University’s School ofPublic Health’s Professor Simon Chapman. Not a medical specialist, but an avowed enemy of wind farm critics.
Simon Chapman: You can see, I’ve put some examples of quotes there, conclusions, there’s no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.
Rodney Lohse: And so Pacific Hydro decided to stump up the money for another study.
Steven Cooper: There are sensations that are recorded … .. I was required to conduct noise and vibration measurements to determine certain wind speeds and certain sound levels that related to disturbances by six specific local residences.
Rodney Lohse: Steven Cooper was looking for a link between something happening at the wind farm and complaints by residents in three houses nearby, each with two residents. His theory, infrasound, low frequency noise below what can be heard, was impacting residents.
Steven Cooper: What you’re able to do when carrying out tests is that you can demonstrate people can feel infrasound at a level below when it becomes audible.
Rodney Lohse: Pacific Hydro has so far played down Cooper’s study.
Lane Crockett: In our view, the results do not demonstrate a strong enough correlation to support the conclusion of a causal link between the infrasound frequencies in existence, and residents’ observations.
Steven Cooper: We don’t have a correlation with the results because we don’t have enough data. There is definitely a trend. There is definitely a connection between the operation of the wind farm and what the residents were identifying as disturbances. And so it’s open to debate as to what a causal link is in terms of that data.
Rodney Lohse: But the people who were in the study, like Melissa Ware, say it’s sufficient proof to show this isn’t all just in their head.
Melissa Ware: We been talking about the noise and the vibration in our home for a long time, and to have Steven Cooper come and do such an intensive study means a lot to me and to the other residents.
Rodney Lohse: Although hearing impaired, Melissa says she can sense the turbines. Often the sensation drives her from her home.
Melissa Ware: The noise and the vibration come up through the pillow, worse than what, the impact’s worse than when you’re standing, just listening.
Rodney Lohse: For 2 months, the test subjects had to fill out diaries of what they felt, in particular, if they sensed anything, especially a sensation many said made them unwell. This was called “Sensation 5″. And Cooper then tried to correlate that to something possibly happening at the wind farm.
Steven Cooper: The sensation criteria came from a UK wind farm study, which was based on noise and then the word in the severity ranking changed from noise to vibration or sensation.
Rodney Lohse: As this was never a medical study, he can’t say the wind farm was making people sick. But at the exact time people were reporting “Sensation 5″, something was happening at the wind farm.
Steven Cooper: Severity 5 was classified as being a level that was harmful to a person’s health, or was causing them severe discomfort. The residents, in looking at the data, also added that “Sensation 5″ was a level at which they wanted to leave, or did actually leave their property.
Rodney Lohse: The study has already attracted a lot of attention, support and criticism.
Paul Barry: … and Sydney University’s Professor of Public Health, Simon Chapman, was even more damning, telling Media Watch …
Simon Chapman: Scientifically, it’s absolutely an atrocious piece of research, and it is entirely unpublishable other than on the front page of The Australian.
Rodney Lohse: Mr Cooper responded in this way to his main critic, Professor Chapman; and has commenced legal action against him.
Steven Cooper: As far as I understand, Professor Chapman is not a scientist. He is not an engineer. I’ve had eminent acousticians around the world who have can congratulated me on the work, have issued reviews to say that the work is of significance, is of benefit and is a step forward in trying to understand what wind farms are generating.
Rodney Lohse: Doctor Paul Schomer, the Standards Director for the Acoustical Society of America, is one of those acousticians.
Paul Schomer: I think it’s a very good study. It’s the only study in the world, that we know of that’s been done with the cooperation of a wind farm, and so was able to get data that no one else has been able to get.
Rodney Lohse: And its integral in showing a connection between infrasound and human impact.
Paul Schomer: It doesn’t quite form the link between medical issues, it forms the link that people are affected, not by hearing sounds, that there is a pathway to the peoples’ brain, other than hearing.
Rodney Lohse: Doctor Schomer was involved in a similar study in a community called Shirley, in Wisconsin in the United States.
Paul Schomer: Three families in Shirley that had moved out of their houses because of the sound, the problems with the, or I should say the infrasound.
Rodney Lohse: He hopes wind power has an important future in terms of meeting our energy needs, but he also says more needs to be done to understand how it impacts humans.
Paul Schomer: They don’t want to acknowledge problems, it really doesn’t matter what the problem was, it just happens to be infrasound.
Rodney Lohse: For Steven Cooper he says, now it’s time for a well funded medical study.
Steven Cooper: To do medical studies you need to have a character or a signature that you can apply to a wind farm to identify that the wind farm is operating, before you can do the medical studies. What has come out of this work, is that by use of the signature and a level and characteristic that I have determined, allows the medical researchers to now start that work.