[as deleted from Wikipedia, 15 August 2009, updated to January 2011]
Health Effects of Wind Power
The effect of noise from large wind turbines (over 200 feet high to the extent of the blades) is often a highly contentious issue when they are sited near homes. Sound power levels of 105 dB(A) at moderate wind speeds (e.g., 8 m/s [18 mph]) are typical for wind turbines of 1-2 megawatts capacity. Potential annoyance in rural areas, where there is a greater expectation of quiet, especially at night – when the ambient sound level may be 25 dB(A) or even less – is one issue. The possibility of sleep disturbance raises another issue, as it can lead to stress and ill health. Noise limits and setbacks between wind turbines are homes are therefore necessary, but determining what those limits and setbacks should be – considering not only distance, but also topography, ground cover, atmospheric conditions, and existing ambient sound levels – pits wind energy developers, who have limited areas of land to work with, against the concerns of neighboring residents.
Several physicians have speculated that there are links among some symptoms – ranging from headaches and tinnitus to vertigo and memory problems – in people who live near large wind turbines. This theory was first advanced by British physician Amanda Harry. It was subsequently given the name “wind turbine syndrome” and a possible pathophysiological explanation by New York physician Nina Pierpont.
Pierpont speculated that the symptoms are caused chiefly by low-frequency noise and vibration, as well as shadow flicker, from the wind turbines affecting the body’s various balance organs, including the utricle and saccule (vestibular organs) of the inner ear. British sleep expert Christopher Hanning, however, has noted that sleep deprivation can cause most of the symptoms.
Both Harry and Pierpont based their research on informal surveys and have called for large-scale government-sponsored epidemiological and other studies to define and quantify the extent of wind turbine–related illnesses.
Wind Turbine Syndrome
Nina Pierpont lists the following symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome:
- sleep disturbance
- tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears)
- ear pressure
- dizziness (vertigo, lightheadedness, sensation of almost fainting, etc.)
- vertigo (sensation of spinning, or the room moving)
- visual blurring
- tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
- problems with concentration and memory
- panic episodes associated with sensations of internal pulsation or quivering, which arise while awake or asleep
It needs to be emphasized that existing case series are not case-control studies. They consist of self-selected groups and rely on the subjects’ recall of their health status before the turbines began operating and on their reports that symptoms were relieved when leaving the area of the wind turbines.
Dr. Amanda Harry, in a February 2007 article titled “Wind Turbines, Noise and Health”, wrote of 39 people, including residents of New Zealand and Australia, who suffered from the sounds emitted by wind turbines.
Dr. Nina Pierpont interviewed 10 families living near large (1.5-3 megawatts) wind turbines, for a total of 38 people from infants to age 75. People in these families had noticed that they developed new symptoms after the turbines started turning near their homes. They noticed that when they went away, the symptoms went away, and when they came back the symptoms returned. Eight of the 10 families eventually moved away from their homes because they were so troubled by the symptoms.
Dr. Michael A. Nissenbaum, a radiologist at the Northern Maine Medical Center, conducted interviews with 15 people living near the industrial wind energy facility in Mars Hill, Maine. The purpose of the interviews was to investigate and record the health effects on those living within 3,500 feet of industrial-scale turbines.
On March 25, 2009, Nissenbaum presented his preliminary findings before the Maine Medical Association. The data, which he characterized as alarming, suggest the residents are experiencing serious health problems related to shadow flicker and noise emissions from the turbines near their homes. The onset of symptoms, including sleep disturbance, headaches, dizziness, weight changes, possible increases in blood pressure, as well as increased prescription medication use, all appeared to coincide with the time when the turbines were first turned on (December 2006). On September 17, 2009, Nissenbaum testified to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection on behalf of an appeal of the approval of the Record Hill wind energy project in Roxbury. In his affidavit, Nissenbaum states that he is “preparing a formal study, which includes a control group, on the subject for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal. The draft will be sent to the New England Journal of Medicine”. At its annual meeting, September 11-13, 2009, the Maine Medical Association approved a resolution “to bring to the public’s attention the scientific information of known medical consequences of wind development” and to “encourage performance of studies on health effects of wind turbine generation by independent qualified researchers at qualified research institutions”. The same resolution was adopted by the Maine Osteopathic Association board of directors on Sept. 25.
On April 22, 2009, Dr. Robert McMurtry, former Dean of Medicine of the University of Western Ontario, released a survey conducted on the various wind facilities in Ontario. Of the 76 respondents in the community-based self-survey, 53 people living near different wind power plants reported that industrial wind turbines were having a significant negative impact on their lives. The adverse effects ranged from headaches and sleep disturbance to tinnitus (ringing in the ear) and depression.
In Japan, more than 70 people living near wind turbines have reported ill health. They include residents in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture; Higashi-Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture; Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture; and Minami-Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture. The Japanese Ministry of the Environment is now studying international data showing a potential link between wind turbines and health problems in surrounding areas to determine a plan of action for Japan. It has also started measuring low-frequency sounds around some wind farms.
Low-frequency noise is known to cause “extreme distress to a number of people who are sensitive to its effects”. Low-frequency noise disturbance has been documented as an effect from wind turbines.
Wind Turbine Syndrome, Vibroacoustic Disease, or Sleep Deprivation
Wind Turbine Syndrome is not the same as Vibroacoustic Disease. The proposed mechanisms are different, and the noise amplitudes may be different as well.
Wind Turbine Syndrome, according to Pierpont, is essentially low-frequency noise or vibration tricking the body’s balance system into thinking it’s moving. The process is mediated by the vestibular system, i.e., by disturbed sensory input to eyes, inner ears, and stretch and pressure receptors in a variety of body locations. These feed back neurologically to a person’s sense of position and motion in space, which is in turn connected in multiple ways to brain functions as disparate as spatial memory and anxiety. New discoveries about the high sensitivity of the vestibular system of the human inner ear to noise/vibration were published in Neuroscience Letters in 2008.
Vibroacoustic Disease, on the other hand, is hypothesized to be caused by direct tissue damage to a variety of organs, creating thickening of supporting structures, particularly in the heart and lungs, and other pathological changes. The suspected agent is high-amplitude low-frequency noise.
British sleep expert Christopher Hanning has noted that sleep deprivation, including arousal from deep to more shallow sleep, can cause many of the symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome and that the evidence that wind turbine noise emissions cause sleep disturbance and ill health is in no doubt. Dutch researchers reported in Nature Neuroscience that mild sleep disruption, rousing the sleeper from deep to shallow sleep, negatively affected memory retention.
Scientific and clinical acceptance
Although Pierpont’s book includes reviews and notices from several practitioners in related fields, there are as yet no reports in the peer-reviewed clinical literature linking wind turbines to these or any other symptoms.
Residents of the U.K. presented their experience of ill health living near an wind energy facility at the juried Second International Wind Turbine Noise Conference in Lyon, France, September 20-21, 2007, organized by the Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE)/Europe. Researchers in Portugal reported at the same conference that the conditions for Vibroacoustic Disease, in which low-frequency vibrations affect heart and lung tissues, were found in homes near wind energy facilities.
A report by the Minnesota Department of Health found that “Wind turbines generate a broad spectrum of low-intensity noise” and:
- “Sleeplessness and headache are the most common health complaints and are highly correlated (but not perfectly correlated) with annoyance complaints. Complaints are more likely when turbines are visible or when shadow flicker occurs. Most available evidence suggests that reported health effects are related to audible low frequency noise. Complaints appear to rise with increasing outside noise levels above 35 dB(A). It has been hypothesized that direct activation of the vestibular and autonomic nervous system may be responsible for less common complaints, but evidence is scant.
A paper by the U.S. National Research Council noted, ‘Low-frequency vibration and its effects on humans are not well understood. Sensitivity to such vibration resulting from wind-turbine noise is highly variable among humans. Although there are opposing views on the subject, it has recently been stated (Pierpont 2006) that “some people feel disturbing amounts of vibration or pulsation from wind turbines, and can count in their bodies, especially their chests, the beats of the blades passing the towers, even when they can’t hear or see them.” More needs to be understood regarding the effects of low-frequency noise on humans.’
A European Union–sponsored report from The Netherlands found that “the sound of wind turbines causes relatively much annoyance. The sound is perceived at relatively low levels and is thought to be more annoying than equally loud air or road traffic”. Although only 9% of the respondents in the Dutch study lived with an estimated outdoor noise level of more than 45 dBA, there was a significant level of sleep disturbance and annoyance, and the authors noted that “annoyance with wind turbine noise was associated with psychological distress, stress, difficulties to fall asleep and sleep interruption”, which they described as a health effect.
Similarly, an earlier Swedish study stated, “Annoyance is an adverse heath effect.”
A review by the Chatham-Kent (Ontario) Public Health Unit concluded that “opposition to wind farms on the basis of potential adverse health consequences is not justified by the evidence.” The review noted, “A wind turbine setback at 750 meters [2,461 feet] emits noise comparable to a kitchen refrigerator [50 dB].” A critique by Wayne Gulden found that only one of the peer-reviewed sources cited in the Chatham-Kent review actually addressed the issue and that it did not support a firm conclusion.
The Japanese Environment Ministry will begin a “major study into the influence of sounds of wind turbines on people’s health” in April 2010, because “people living near wind power facilities are increasingly complaining of health problems”. They plan a four-year examination of all 1,517 wind turbines in the country.
An international symposium on adverse health effects from wind turbines was held in Picton, Ontario, October 29-31, 2010.
The wind industry insists that no problem exists or that it is so rare as to be of little consequence. The Canadian Wind Energy Association, for example, cites several papers, including two in peer-reviewed journals, one by an acoustician who consults for the wind power industry and the other a general comparison by two economists of existing electricity generation technologies, finding “no evidence linking wind turbines to human health concerns”. According to an analysis of those papers by the advocacy group Wind Concerns Ontario, the articles do not in fact “conclude that there is no evidence that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health”. The 2008 European Union–sponsored report from The Netherlands found that “the sound of wind turbines causes relatively much annoyance. The sound is perceived at relatively low levels and is thought to be more annoying than equally loud air or road traffic”.
In the United States, George Kamperman, INCE Board Certified noise control engineer, and Rick James, INCE Full Member, have documented significantly increased levels and the unique character of noise from industrial-sized wind turbines. To ensure the World Health Organization recommendation of less than 30 dB(A) inside a bedroom and that low-frequency noise (as measured in dB(C)) should not be 20 dB above the dB(A) level, they recommend that large wind turbines be sited at least 2 kilometers from homes. Similarly, the U.K. Noise Association and the French Academy of Medicine recommend a distance of 1 mile or 1.5 kilometers, respectively.
In Ontario, Canada, to ensure the Ministry of Environment’s noise guidelines limiting the level 30 meters outside a dwelling or campsite to 40 db(A), proposed regulations set a minimum distance of 550 meters (1,804 feet) for a group of 1 to 5 relatively quiet (102 dB(A)) turbines within a 3-kilometer (1.86-mile) radius, rising to 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) for a group of 11 to 25 noisier (106-107 db(A)) turbines. Larger facilities and noisier turbines would require a noise study. In December 2008, Prince Edward County, on the shores of Lake Ontario, passed a resolution calling for provincial and federal studies of low-frequency noise and electric disturbances from wind turbines with the aim of creating adequate siting guidelines to protect human health. The resolution was adopted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in October 2009.
On December 16, 2009, the Parliament of New South Wales, Australia, issued the final report of their “Inquiry into Wind Farms”, concluding: “Recommendations to address the issues raised during the Inquiry include implementing a minimum setback of two kilometres.”
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- ^ a b c d Pierpont, Nina (2009). Wind Turbine Syndrome. Santa Fe, NM: K-Selected Books.
- ^ a b Nissenbaum, Michael (March 2009). “Mars Hill Wind Turbine Project Health Effects – Preliminary Findings”.
- ^ a b McMurtry, Robert (April 22, 2009). “Deputation to the Municipality of Prince Edward County”.
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- ^ Environmental Health Division, Minnesota Department of Health (May 22, 2009). “Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines”
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