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Appeal to North Country Public Radio  

Author:  | Environment, Health, New York, Noise

I want to start off by saying I support green energy and the move towards ending our dependence on fossil fuels as well as nuclear.

Clearly we need clean energy, as quickly as possible.

However, something needs to change in how we think about these goals and the routes we take to achieve them.

In rural areas around the country, industrial wind farms are cropping up, seemingly over night, invading the skyline of our most pristine and beautiful locations. These turbines are now tending toward the heights of 500 to 600 feet from base to the blade tip.

Locally, in Hopkinton and Parishville we are being threatened with 40 industrial turbines, 500 feet tall potentially within 2,500 feet of home.

There is a lack of ethics in how the companies operate and approach the communities. In 2009 the first lease was signed in Hopkinton, but many of us did not find out about this project until about 2 years ago. There was no notification through our local government, the secrecy was in part achieved through agreements that the company made within the project zone.

Because of this lack of community awareness, our town was not properly prepared as far as zoning including a wind law. Over the past couple of years our towns have been working to build up the wind laws to protect ourselves. However, there has been great pushback by Avangrid/Iberdrola and leaseholders.

Because of the lack of transparency and scientific knowledge, our wind laws may still not protect the towns from what could happen if the turbines come in.

In their relatively short life spans, the turbines damage things that aren’t replaceable, such as water quality. In Scotland at the Whitelee Wind Farm, Scottish Power (a subsidiary of Iberdrola) knew of contamination in private water supplies to homes. This contamination included E. Coli and other coliform bacteria which resulted in illness. Test results obtained by Dr. Rachel Connor showed high levels of trihalomethane, which research has linked to cancers, stillbirths, and miscarriages. Scottish Power Renewables admitted not notifying the appropriate authorities of the water contamination for 7 years, until it came to light following investigation by local residents. During the pile driving, other chemicals from manufacturing contaminate water supplies.

This is just one aspect of the health issues relating to industrial turbine farms.

A more controversial issue is the noise output of industrial-scale turbines, which produce not only audible noise but the more concerning inaudible low frequencies and infrasound.

Over the past year and a half I have read everything I could about wind turbines and their relationship to sound. It is more complex than the industry would have you believe. The sound produced by turbines is defined as the amplitude modulation of broadband aerodynamic noise created by the blades at the blade-passing frequency. This acoustic signal has both a high-frequency broadband character and low-frequency amplitude modulation. This is in part why the sound character overshadows the existing noise profile of these rural areas.

Being that most noise standards are set using the dBA scale (which deals mainly with human conscious threshold of hearing), sounds that are inaudible but otherwise sensed are not being measured or acknowledged.

Many scientists and experts, including Dr. Nina Pierpont, the author of Wind Turbine Syndrome, A Report on a Natural Experiment, has documented case reports of patients suffering from what has now been coined wind turbine syndrome. This syndrome produces several symptoms related to the vestibular system’s organs – such as disturbed sleep, headaches, tinnitus, a sense of quivering or vibration, nervousness, rapid heartbeat, nausea, difficulty with concentration, memory loss, and irritability.

During my research, I have come to a deeper understanding of the complexity of these health affects and the connection between wind turbine syndrome and vibroaccoustic disease. I have been in contact with Dr. Mariana Alves-Pereira in Portugal, who holds degrees in physics, biomedical engineering, and environmental science. She and her team have been researching vibroacoustic disease since 1980.

Quoting from The Clinical Stages of Vibroacoustic Disease, by Nuno Castelo Branco:

This disease is an effect of exposure to low-frequency noise and infrasound.

  • Stage I, mild signs (behavioral and mood associated with repeated infections of the respiratory tract, example – bronchitis
  • Stage II, moderate signs (depression and aggressiveness, pericardial thickening and other extra-cellular matrix changes, light to moderate hearing impairment, and discrete neurovascular disorders)
  • Stage III, severe signs (myocardial infarction, stroke, malignancy, epilepsy, and suicide).

Now, in the Guidelines for Community Noise, the World Health Organization includes advice on noise levels in hospitals and suggests that, because patients are less able to cope with the increased stress levels generated by excess environmental noise, the sound level in hospitals should not exceed 35 dBA for areas where patients are treated or observed, with a corresponding max of 40 dBA [4]. The WHO guidelines for community noise recommend less than 30 A-weighted decibels (dBA) in bedrooms during the night for sleep quality and less than 35 dB(A) in classrooms to allow good teaching and learning conditions.

The background rural ambient noise is around 20-25 dBA. An increase of 3 dBA is noticeable and an increase of 10 dBA is perceived as a doubling in loudness.

To put this in context: Currently our town is reviewing the Wind Advisory Board’s recommendations of 35-40 dBA at night.

Some of our town board members have pushed for 45 dBA night and day. With the knowledge that 25 to 45 dBA is a quadrupling of our ambient nightime noise we can conclude that 45 dBA will lead to lack of seep and potentially adverse health affects.

People in other towns have had to abandon their homes to escape these noise effects of turbines.

Earlier this year, I heard testimony from Kevin Segourney, a science teacher from Chateaugay. He lived 1,800 to 2,600 feet from 482-foot turbines in the Jericho Wind Farm. He was living with sound levels above the allowable 50 dBA (which the town of Chateaugay had deemed to be acceptable and legal). However, the low frequencies and infrasound were not taken into account.

In 2014 Steve and Luann Therrien abandoned their home of two decades because of the sound and vibrations from the power plant in Sheffield, Vt. The whole family developed problems sleeping and other health ailments.

After the property went up for tax sale, Energize Vermont payed off the family’s back taxes with an agreement to use the property as the Vermont Center for Turbine Impact Studies. They will be conducting research on the effects that the wind turbines have on the environment, wildlife, and the residents. The research teams will also assess the performance of state regulators in their efforts to monitor and enforce wind turbine standards.

In 2014, the Board of Health in Brown County, Wisconsin declared a local industrial wind plant to be a health hazard in a unanimous vote. This ruling was based on a year-long survey with documented health complaints and demonstrated that low-frequency noise and infrasound were emanating from the turbines and detectable inside homes within a 6.2-mile radius of the industrial wind plant.

Industrial wind turbines are causing complaints worldwide, and the documentation is growing. Part of the reason for the lag in recognition is due to the lax monitoring. Basically the companies monitor themselves. There is no real way to ensure they are in compliance with the wind laws and sound limits. There is no entity to protect us when the company is out of compliance, as they have been in many other wind farms across the country.

The companies would like you to believe this is all debatable, but as someone who has read hundreds of papers, articles, peer-reviewed scientific data, and reports on the effects of wind turbines on human and animal health, I can say that this needs to be acknowledged by government agencies and reported on by the media.

Clearly there is an issue here, yet it is not being discussed openly. There is a NIMBY (not in back yard) stigma attached to anyone who dares reject the idea of a having a power plant in their back yard. When discussing this with people in the communities surrounding the project, there is a disbelief and skepticism that is coupled with judgment.

Our communities need the help of surrounding towns to support them through this project to ensure the right thing happens.

There are children who will live less than a half-mile from these turbines. Parents deserve the right to question the ethics and morality of this project.

These things are being diminished under the guise of the greater good. I argue that it is not for the greater good to implement projects that might harm the very nature and people we are trying to protect. There have been studies on the adverse health affects experienced by badgers, geese, minks, and other animals living within close proximity to turbines – who will protect them?

So is it ethical to keep covering every sacred space with these turbines for power production? Knowing they could actually set us back environmentally while simultaneous accumulating casualties.

I personally believe in the precautionary principle which is defined as:

When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm.

I think if we brought this principle into the planning process of every aspect of our economy, our environment would be in better shape. I am hoping to shed light on this local issue so people will demand protection for our towns and help us avoid the problems reported in other towns with industrial turbines.

I am asking North Country Public Radio to investigate this issue and help us prevent the loss of habitat, the loss of quiet spaces, and the slew of potential adverse health effects.

Thank you.

Janice Pease
July 28, 2017

[Pease presented a 5-minute version of this appeal in person at an NCPR Executive Session and provided this write-up to their investigative reporter.]

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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