Background. Wind turbine noise exposure and suspected health-related effects thereof have attracted substantial attention. Various symptoms such as sleep-related problems, headache, tinnitus and vertigo have been described by subjects suspected of having been exposed to wind turbine noise.
Objective. This review was conducted systematically with the purpose of identifying any reported associations between wind turbine noise exposure and suspected health-related effects.
Data Sources. A search of the scientific literature concerning the health-related effects of wind turbine noise was conducted on PubMed, Web of Science, Google Scholar and various other Internet sources.
Study Eligibility Criteria. All studies investigating suspected health-related outcomes associated with wind turbine noise exposure were included.
Results. Wind turbines emit noise, including low-frequency noise, which decreases incrementally with increases in distance from the wind turbines. Likewise, evidence of a dose-response relationship between wind turbine noise linked to noise annoyance, sleep disturbance and possibly even psychological distress was present in the literature. Currently, there is no further existing statistically-significant evidence indicating any association between wind turbine noise exposure and tinnitus, hearing loss, vertigo or headache.
Limitations. Selection bias and information bias of differing magnitudes were found to be present in all current studies investigating wind turbine noise exposure and adverse health effects. Only articles published in English, German or Scandinavian languages were reviewed.
At present it seems reasonable to conclude that noise from wind turbines increases the risk of annoyance and disturbed sleep in exposed subjects in a dose-response relationship. There seems to be a tolerable limit of around LAeq of 35 dB. Logically, accepting higher limits in legislations may lead to increased numbers of annoyed subjects. It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that a cautious approach is needed when planning future wind farms. Furthermore, there is an indication that noise annoyance and sleep disturbance are related and that disturbed sleep potentially can lead to adverse health effects. These conclusions are, however, affected by a potential risk for selection and information bias even in the larger cross-sectional studies providing the current best evidence. The evidence for adverse health effects other than sleep disturbance is primarily supported by case-series reports which certainly may be affected by various sources of bias. Larger cross-sectional surveys have so far been unable to document a relationship between various symptoms such as tinnitus, hearing loss, vertigo, headache and exposure to wind turbine noise. One limitation causing this could be that most studies so far have only measured LAeq or Lden. An additional focus on the measurement of low-frequency sound exposure as well as a more thorough characterisation of the amplitude modulated sound and the relationship between objective and subjective health parameters could lead to different conclusions in the future. Finally, in regards to the objective measurement of health-related disorders in relation to wind turbine noise, it would be valuable to demonstrate if such health-related outcomes fluctuate depending on exposure to wind turbine noise.
Jesper Hvass Schmidt
Institute of Clinical Research, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
Department of Audiology and Department of ENT Head and Neck Surgery, Odense University Hospital, Odense, Denmark
Department of ENT Head and Neck Surgery & Audiology, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Copenhagen University, Copenhagen, Denmark
PLoS ONE 9(12): e114183. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0114183
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