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Global Wind Industry and Adverse Health Effects: First International Symposium 

Author:  | Health, Human rights, Maine, Noise, Ontario, U.S., Wildlife

Abstracts from the international symposium held October 29-31, 2010, Picton, Ontario, Canada, by courtesy of the Society for Wind Vigilance, Ontario. Click on a title to download the complete presentation. Or click here to download them all in a 16-MB zip file.

FRIDAY 7:00-9:30 pm

Session I: No Rules, No Caution, No Accountability

Orville Walsh
[ view online ]
Abstract: The rapid expansion of the wind energy industry globally has resulted in governmental authorities at different levels responding to opposing pressures to create or modify regulations and planning guidelines for the siting of utility scale wind turbines. Siting guidelines for health, safety, cultural and natural heritage were reviewed and compared. The results indicate wide ranges of siting standards are being adopted. Government authorities have employed a variety of criteria, resulting in significant variation in the spatial separation between wind turbines and sensitive areas as well as the intensity of the development. Separation distances in many jurisdictions are less than those recommended by health professionals suggesting some in the population are at risk. Current trends in government planning and regulations are discussed.

John Harrison, PhD
[ view online ]
Abstract: The setback of wind turbines from homes and other sensitive receptors is determined by national and local regulations. These regulations specify a maximum noise level at the receptor and make use of sound propagation models. The models account for spherical spreading of the sound generated by the turbine, refraction of sound by wind speed and temperature gradients, absorption of sound energy by the atmosphere and the ground, and reflection of sound by the ground. In practice, the resulting setbacks result in considerable annoyance, sleep deprivation and consequent health problems for a significant proportion of people living among the turbines. The talk will review deficiencies in the regulations and limitations in the modelling.

Rick James, INCE
[ view online ]
Abstract: What was learned in the 1980’s was forgotten in the 1990’s and set the stage for the Wind Turbine Boom of the 2000’s. But the pillars of the position, that wind turbines are safe for use near people’s homes, are falling. An overview of the key arguments presented by the wind industry’s trade associations and their representatives who support their position will be discussed.

SATURDAY 8:30-10:00 am

Session II: What Clinicians Need to Know

Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD
[ view online ]
Abstract: Wind Turbine Syndrome. Consider that no government, and certainly no health agency, anywhere on the face of the earth believes in it. Nor does the wind energy industry, which ridicules it as preposterous, telling sufferers they’re hysterical and making up their symptoms. Primary care physicians generally look the other way and plead ignorance or indifference. The media, meanwhile, treats it as an entertaining sideshow. How does one perform credible clinical research in the face of such massive and systematic denial, cover-up, and apathy? Where the research population is often silenced by “confidentiality clauses” or the fear of alienating neighbors and relatives – and potential buyers – should they reveal that their homes are acoustically toxic and, frankly, uninhabitable. Welcome to the past six years of my life. This morning I’m going to explain how I navigated this surreal landscape, employing the instruments of population biology, clinical medicine, and ethnography – along with the services of a first rate guardian angel.

Alec Salt, PhD Cochlear Physiology, MSc, BSc Biology
[ view online ]
Abstract: The ear is far more complex than a microphone. It actively amplifies high frequency sounds, so you hear them better, and likely works to actively cancel out infrasonic sounds, so that you don’t hear them. So, it is wrong to regard the ear as insensitive to infrasound. Indeed, measured electrical responses from the ear with infrasound can be larger than those for sounds in the acoustic range and these responses may alter function in a variety of ways. They may also be transmitted to the brain by subconscious pathways that do not represent “hearing”, but affect some people in other ways, such as by causing the sensation of “fullness” or perhaps disturbing sleep. It is therefore physiologically possible that prolonged exposure to the moderate levels of infrasound generated by wind turbines could have detrimental effects on people, mediated by unheard physiological changes in the ear. This work supported by NIDCD/NIH, grant number DC01368, 2005-2010.

SATURDAY 10:30-12:00 am

Session III: Cause and Effect

Arline Bronzaft, BA, MA, PhD
[ view online ]
Abstract: Research linking loud sound to hearing loss in youngsters is now widespread, resulting in the issuance of warnings to protect children’s hearing. However, studies attesting to the adverse effects of intrusive sounds and noise on children’s overall health and psychological well-being have not received similar attention. This, despite the fact, that many studies have demonstrated that intrusive noises, e.g., from passing traffic or overhead aircraft, adversely affect children’s cardiovascular system, memory, language development and learning acquisition. While some American schools have received funds to abate noises from intrusive aircraft, many schools still expose children to the noises from passing traffic and overhead aircraft. Additionally, homes and schools expose youngsters to the impacts of interior noises as well. Discussion will center on the harmful effects of noise on children, what has been done to remedy the problem, and what needs to be done further to lessen the impacts of noise, including low-level vibrations.

Christopher Hanning, BSc, MB, BS, MRCS, LRCP, FRCA, MD
[ view online ]
Abstract: The most common complaint of those exposed to industrial wind turbine noise (WTN) is sleep disturbance. Many of the other symptoms, fatigue, headache, nausea, memory problems and tiredness are probably secondary to sleep disturbance. Sleep is by the brain and for the brain. It’s principal purpose seems to be the consolidation of memory. Loss of sleep, in the short term, causes daytime sleepiness, fatigue, problems with memory and thought processes and, in the longer term an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. There is now a large body of evidence proving beyond any reasonable doubt that sleep is disturbed and health impaired by wind turbines at distances up to 2km, at noise levels claimed to be safe by the industry.

SATURDAY 12:30-1:30 pm

Session Working Luncheon

Robert Bryce
[ view online ]
Abstract: Over the past decade, the global wind sector has experienced phenomenal growth thanks largely to the industry’s ability to portray itself as “green.” But that growth will be difficult to sustain for several reasons: the industry has overstated its ability to deliver meaningful savings with regard to carbon dioxide emissions; it faces a growing backlash from landowners irritated by noise and flicker caused by the turbines as well as from ratepayers who are learning the high costs of “green” energy; and finally, the industry must compete, particularly in the US and Canada, with low natural gas prices for the foreseeable future.

SATURDAY 2:00-3:30 pm

Session IV: Research and Motion

Michael A. Nissenbaum, MD
[ view online ]
Abstract: In the Real World: Adverse Health Effects Related to Industrial Wind Turbines – Controlled Studies at Mars Hill and Vinalhaven, Maine. Following reports of adverse health complaints among residents of Mars Hill, Maine, a pilot study was undertaken to provide information to the Public Health Subcommittee of the Maine Medical Association in the first half of 2009. This represented the world’s first controlled study of adverse health effects related to industrial wind turbines. Adverse effects are real, and significant. The findings from this pilot study will be discussed. Since the pilot study was completed, a larger, more detailed and standardized controlled study has been undertaken at Mars Hill and Vinalhaven, Maine, utilizing validated questionnaires. Preliminary findings from these will be presented.

Carl V. Phillips, PhD
[ view online ]
Abstract: The claim that there is no evidence of negative health effects from wind turbines near residences is clearly false since there are ample credible reports of people experiencing problems. Many of these offer compelling case- crossover data, with individuals experiencing changes in symptoms when changing the exposure. But to the extent that we do not have as much data as would be ideal – which is certainly the situation – the problem is the failure to carry out the optimal studies. Obviously the lack of evidence resulting from the lack of studies is not informative. We should demand affirmative evidence about what risk exists, and make decisions that admit and consider whatever is found. Industry should pay for independent research but failing that, creative solutions are called for. I hope to develop a self-administered research tool for collecting case-crossover data that could be used by any interested community.

SATURDAY 4:00-5:30 pm

Session V: The Consequences – Violation of Social Justice

Carmen Krogh, BSc Pharmacy
[ view online ]
Abstract: “I trusted the wind energy companies.” “I can’t believe the government is doing this to me.” Those experiencing symptoms feel victimized by the very systems that would normally protect them. The lack of social justice hurts deeply. Many families are affected by the industrial wind turbines sited too close to their homes. In some cases Ontario families have abandoned their homes to protect their health. Some have had to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition of a buy out of their homes by the wind developer. Their grief is exacerbated by the emotional toll, disturbed living conditions, loss of enjoyment of their homes and property, and financial loss and the negative impact to the health of their families.

Eric K. Gillespie, LLB
[ view online ]
Abstract: The advent of large-scale industrial wind turbine (IWT) projects has brought with it many legal challenges but also opportunities. Families, communities and municipalities are more aware of the risks posed by IWTs. At the same time, legal options are starting to be pursued that may lead to local resolutions of issues, or potentially provincial, national or even international changes. These legal strategies include (i) private litigation brought by individuals, (ii) public interest litigation raising broader issues; (iii) by-laws, resolutions and other steps taken by local government, and (iv) administrative hearings outside of the court system. All of these areas will be reviewed, using Ontario as a case study but with examples of how communities around the world are also responding.

SUNDAY 8:30-10:00 am

Session VI: Social Marketing – Disinformation

Dale Goldhawk, Broadcaster
[ view online ]
Abstract: I believe that advocacy journalism, used sensibly and carefully, backed up by proven facts and presented with passionate conviction, can influence and even change public policy. I am in my 43rd year as a journalist and have seen it happen countless times. And it happens at any stage in a war against policy, dumb laws and stubborn champions of bad ideas. Advocacy journalism was a major triggering factory that stopped a dump site project, even after the hole had been dug, getting ready for the garbage that never came. And this was a project where we were told it was a “done deal” and that nothing could be done to stop it. There are no done deals with projects that are counter to the best interests of people – and that includes wind turbines. Advocacy journalists would do well to remember the prescriptive words of Mohandas Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Ross McKitrick, PhD
[ view online ]
Abstract: This presentation will look at the evidence regarding the health effects of coal-fired power generation in Ontario. The Ontario government maintains that the risk is large enough to necessitate shutting down the two major coal-fired generating stations in Southern Ontario and replacing them with, among other things, wind turbine installations. I will explain the nature of the Lambton and Nanticoke generating facilities and the network of thermal power plants in the northeast corridor of which they are a part. I will also explain their air pollution control features and the potential effects on Southern Ontario air quality from eliminating these plants, as estimated in the province’s own cost- benefit analysis. I will then discuss observed air pollution trends in Ontario since the 1960s and show that the claims that current air pollution levels result in thousands of cases of illness and death are not supported in up-to- date, peer-reviewed literature.


Brett Horner, BA, CMA

Barbara Ashbee
Conclusion: Government Policy for Renewable Energy implementation overrides adverse health concerns. Until 3rd-party human health research is conducted to determine safe setbacks and noise levels from industrial wind turbine facilities, including risks of electrical pollution, further development should cease and existing sites mitigated or decommissioned.

Barbara Ashbee and contributors globally
These comments are a compilation drawn from personal communications and interviews of those suffering ill health from the onset of industrial wind turbine operations. Their frustration and loss of social justice is apparent. Any compassionate member of society cannot help but be moved.

Elizabeth E. Wheatley, PhD
AN INTEGRATIVE CURRICULUM FOR THE WINDS OF CHANGE: Advancing Critical Thinking About the Michigan Wind Rush
[ view online ]
The Global wind industry is colonizing more and more of rural, wild, and coastal America with its expansive fleet of colossal, propeller-style wind turbines. Michigan has emerged as a favored target among wind developers for further deployment of industrial wind zones, given its legislative mandates for ever-increasing production of “renewable” energy, its vast swaths of agricultural land, extensive coastlines, and the absence of statewide health or safety regulations pertaining to wind energy generation. This presentation summarizes a university-level integrative curriculum designed to inspire and encourage undergraduate students’ critical thinking about the implications of wind energy development for Michigan citizens and communities. The curriculum addresses cultural, political and economic forces shaping wind energy development in Michigan, compares various forms of electricity generation methods and their impacts on humans, animals, and ecosystems; and reviews the emerging evidence of adverse health effects of industrial wind turbines in light of sociological theories of reflexive modernization as well as “popular” epidemiological struggles over socially contested environmental disease. The curriculum is a work in progress and is offered in two parts. Each part of the curriculum is offered as one of several themes addressed in two courses I teach: Part I: Social Problems; and Part II: Sociology of Health Care.

Lorrie Gillis, Protocol Administrator, and Carmen Krogh, BScPharm
THE RELATIONSHIP OF INCREASED MOOD ALTERATIONS AND INDUSTRIAL WIND TURBINES: Implications and Social Justice (WindVOiCe – Wind Vigilance for Ontario Communities)
[ view online ]
Industrial wind turbine projects became operational in rural Ontario, Canada, in 2005. Within a short period of time, residents near the projects reported noticing adverse health effects. By 2008, reports of health problems became more common and had been associated with the advent of Industrial Wind Turbines. In some cases Ontario families have abandoned their homes to protect their health. Government vigilance and long term surveillance programs for industrial wind turbines do not exist in Canada. Volunteers in various affected communities organized and funded an Ontario-based vigilance health survey to capture and document the array of adverse health effects being reported. Reports are now being received from other jurisdictions. Wind Vigilance for Ontario Communities (WindVOiCe) is a community-based self-reporting health survey based on the principles of Health Canada’s Canada Vigilance Program designed to monitor suspected drug reactions. This survey is ongoing. WindVOiCe respondents report altered quality of life. Sleep disturbance is the most common health complaint. Other symptoms include but are not limited to inner ear problems, cardiac concerns, and headaches. Respondents report in the comments section of the survey, anger, frustration, and loss of cognitive functions such as inability to concentrate, ‘foggy thinking’ and short term memory loss. Depression anxiety and stress are common. The symptoms of adverse health effects reported are consistent with other surveys and research conducted by clinicians such as Harry, Pierpont, Nissenbaum. Parents have responded on behalf of their children and indicated adverse reactions such as vomiting, nausea, nose bleeds and headaches. In the comments section of the survey, some respondents describe their emotional toll. They describe disturbed living conditions, loss of enjoyment of their homes and property, and financial loss due to the negative impact to the health of their families which further contributes to increased stress levels. Informal discussions with respondents indicate some family members grieve deeply. These include those who suffer adverse health effects, those who had to abandon their homes, and those who had to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition of a buy out of their homes by the wind developer. They feel victimized by the very systems that normally would protect them. The lack of social justice hurts deeply.


Bob Thorne
[ view online ]
Conclusions: Personal perception of a sound is investigated through assessment of personal noise sensitivity, personal perception of the characteristics of the sound and observable adverse health effects. Noise includes vibration in any form that can be “felt” by a person. There is, in my opinion and despite the differences in opinion as to cause, considerable agreement between the parties – residents, clinicians and acousticians – as to observable health effects from unwanted sound. There are clear and definable markers for adverse health effects before and after the establishment of a wind farm and clear and agreed health effects due to stress after a wind farm has started operation. It is the mechanism of the physical or mental process from one to the other that is not yet defined or agreed between affected persons, clinicians and psychoacousticians. There has, however, been considerable work recently (May-June 2010) on the possible mechanism between infrasound and adverse health effects.

Christopher Hanning, BSc, MB, BS, MRCS, LRCP, FRCA, MD
[ view online ]
Summary: Section 1 sets out my expertise in sleep medicine and physiology, my brief from CFA, the scope of the report and source material. Section 2 reviews the basic physiology of sleep. Noise can disturb sleep by causing awakenings, which are remembered and arousals, which are not recalled but are more likely. Both disrupt sleep making it unrefreshing. Research on the effects of wind turbine noise has concentrated on remembered awakenings and has thus underestimated the effects. Inadequate or poor quality sleep has many health consequences apart from daytime sleepiness and fatigue. These include obesity, poor memory, increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly may be at greater risk. Section 3 reviews research on wind turbine noise, sleep disturbance and health. These include the major contributions of van den Berg and Pedersen and the dose-response relationship derived from their data. Also considered are the Salford study and the Hayes McKenzie Partnership study commissioned by the DTI. Recent major reports by WHO and RIVM are reviewed, both of which mandate lower night time noise levels than are permitted by ETSU-R-97. Predicted external turbine noise should not exceed 35dB to avoid disturbance to sleep and 40dB to avoid risks to health. Experience of existing wind farms mandates a setback of at least 1.5km in order to avoid disturbance to sleep. It is concluded that there is compelling evidence that wind turbine noise can and does disturb sleep and impair the health of those living too close and that current guidance is inadequate protection. Section 4 reviews the means of mitigating wind turbine noise to prevent sleep disturbance. It is concluded that external turbine noise levels of less than 35dB(A) or a setback of at least 1.5km of the turbines is necessary to prevent unacceptable levels of sleep disturbance and potential risk to health. Section 5 reviews UK planning guidance and argues that the evidence presented constitute material considerations. Section 6 presents the conclusions of the report. Section 7 lists the documents cited in support of this paper.


Bob Thorne
[ view online ]

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

The copyright of this material resides with the author(s). As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Queries e-mail.

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