Friday, 21 December 2012

Jones, Watts and the Health Effects of Coal Mining


On the 8th of September, 2012, Prime Minister Gillard's father passed away. 19 days later, conservative radio presenter Alan Jones declared that her father had 'died of shame', sparking national outrage and resulting in a significant loss of revenue for the radio station, as advertisers hurriedly distanced themselves from his show, and his persona. 
Fast forward just over two months, and Jones has not lost an ounce of joie de vivre. His show still consists largely of frothing, self-congratulatory bile, impossible to parody in all its gargantuan, spittle-ridden glory. A prominent climate skeptic and close friend to anti-wind groups, his show often features pieces critical of wind energy, including breathless segments on  'Wind Turbine Syndrome'. On the 8th of December, his show featured Dr Alan Watts, a NSW GP who is fiercely critical of wind energy, and of the wind industry. 

News photographers have a fondness for Alan Jones
The 20 minute segment, which can be endured at 2GB's website, was the usual whirling onslaught of suspected government conspiracies, eagerly repeated half-truths and and direct insults. 
In the first five minutes, Jones reads out some letters onto which he's been CC'd, filled with claims made by residents living near wind farms:
"Just before 4am, all of a sudden my head started to shake. I tried to focus on the ceiling, but my eyes were wobbling. I got up at 4am, and walked around the house, my whole body shaking and vibrating."
As per usual, the focus is on odd symptoms and anecdotal evidence, rather than research or investigation. Jones and Watts then move into attempting to justify their position with a few quotes:
@11:52
Jones: There are draft guidelines, which ignore infrasound measurement, and the World Health Organisation states "The evidence of low frequency noise is sufficiently strong to warrant immediate concern"
Watts: Correct
Jones: "Health effects due to low frequency components in noise are estimated to be more severe than for community noise in general"
Watts: That's right.
Jones: So where then is the precautionary principle which says until we can get answers, this has to stop
Watts: Well, it's not happening.

The two quotes come from page 35 of the World Health Organisation's 2001 report, a 161 page behemoth investigation into the effects of community noise, and suggested guidelines. The phrases 'wind farm' and 'wind farm' do not show up in the report. The full quote is as follows, with Jones' sections highlighted:
"The evidence on low-frequency noise is sufficiently strong to warrant immediate concern. Various industrial sources emit continuous low-frequency noise (compressors, pumps, diesel engines, fans, public works); and large aircraft, heavy-duty vehicles and railway traffic produce intermittent low-frequency noise. Low-frequency noise may also produce vibrations and rattles as secondary effects. Health effects due to low-frequency components in noise are estimated to be more severe than for community noises in general (Berglund et al. 1996)."
Wind turbines, as liberally described by Jones and Watts
The WHO is not referring to wind turbines. This simple nuance is happily ignored by both. It gets better. 

@12:22
Watts: Even our embarrassingly quiet New South Wales Department of Health says, and, I'll read: "There is increasing evidence internationally that environmental noise exposure may cause risk to public health and is recognised by international bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the US Centre for Disease Control. There is some suggestion of the long term effects of environmental exposure to noise on annoyance, sleep disturbance, children's performance at school, hypertension and ischemic heart disease " 
Jones: Frightening. Frightening
Google the quote, and the results mostly list different links to a letter penned by Alan Watts, sent to The Australian. Broaden your search terms and the source of the quote is revealed - a letter written by the NSW DOH regarding a mining development. 

The name of the mining company is Coalpac. Let that name ring for a while. Maybe say it out loud. 

Coal.......pac...

The quote is on page 3, and refers to the noise generating by blasting that is required in the process of mineral extraction. 

This is a picture of a wind turbine
Here's what the NSW DOH has to say on potential health issues from exposure to wind turbines, taken from their submission to the NSW government's proposed 2km setback for wind turbines
"NSW Health advises that there is currently no health evidence to support a generic 2 km separation distance from a proposed wind turbine. Mandatory enhanced assessment of potential impacts for neighbours within a 2km radius of proposed wind turbines needs to be justified on non-Health grounds"
Even more telling is the statement by the NSW DOH on the impacts of coal mining on communities, on the first page of the document referred to by Watts and Jones:
"Health impacts from coarse particulate matter emissions associated with mining operations are of concern to NSW Health......there is a growing body of evidence that populations subjected to elevated coarse particulate matter emissions from mines have an increased risk of adverse health outcomes, particular on the respiratory system"


@21:41:

Watts: There is sufficient anecdotal evidence and even some, um, scientific proof now, that there is a significant problem. We can no longer ignore this. 

I agree, Alan. The health effects of coal mining are well established. Shall we join forces? 

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