Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Unhealthy claims blowing in the wind
13 May 2011

Recently, health concerns have been raised in some rural Australian communities that are situated near wind farms. These claims of adverse health effects as well as economic and social from wind turbine installations generated a level of speculative discussion that eventually led to a Senate Inquiry, a move initiated by Family First Senator Steve Fielding, to investigate the issue.

This seems anachronistic, considering the enormous burden of ill health and premature deaths borne by those communities who live near coal mines and power stations, which has been serially ignored by successive governments.

The impact of air pollution from burning fossil fuels on climate change, and the ensuing health effects, are both long term and cumulative. A recent study from Harvard Medical School has found that the costs to US residents of burning coal amounts to between $US300 $US500 billion dollars annually, or around $US1000 for every citizen. Previous studies, such as ExterneE (2005) in Europe, have arrived at similar conclusions. The figures in Australia are likely to be broadly similar.

There are many contributing factors, but the single largest is that of illness and mortality arising from air pollution. Health effects, mediated primarily by airborne small particulates (PM2.5), SO², NOx, volatile organic compounds and Ozone, include asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, heart attacks, arrhythmias and disproportionally affect children and those with pre existing illness. The US study's "best estimate" for damages due to air quality adds 9.3¢kW.

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