Resource Documents: Wind turbine syndrome (5 items)
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Author: Punch, Jerry; James, Richard; and Pabst, Dan
Most of us would agree that the modern wind turbine is a desirable alternative for producing electrical energy. one of the most highly touted ways to meet a federal mandate that 20 percent of all energy must come from renewable sources by 2020 is to install large numbers of utility-scale wind turbines. Evidence has been mounting over the past decade, however, that these utility-scale wind turbines produce significant levels of low-frequency noise and vibration that can be highly disturbing to nearby residents.
None of these unwanted emissions, whether audible or inaudible, are believed to cause hearing loss, but they are widely known to cause sleep disturbances. Inaudible components can induce resonant vibration in solids, liquids, and gases—including the ground, houses, and other building structures, spaces within those structures, and bodily tissues and cavities—that is potentially harmful to humans. The most extreme of these low-frequency (infrasonic) emissions, at frequencies under about 16 Hz, can easily penetrate homes. Some residents perceive the energy as sound, others experience it as vibration, and others are not aware of it at all. Research is beginning to show that, in addition to sleep disturbances, these emissions may have other deleterious consequences on health. It is for these reasons that wind turbines are becoming an important community health issue, especially when hosted in quiet rural communities that have no prior experience with industrial noise or urban hum.
The people most susceptible to disturbances caused by wind turbines may be a small percentage of the total exposed population, but for them the introduction of wind turbines in their communities is not something to which they can easily become acclimated. Instead, they become annoyed, uncomfortable, distressed, or ill. This problem is increasing as newer utility-scale wind turbines capable of generating 1.5-5 MWatts of electricity or more replace the older turbines used over the past 30 years, which produced less than 1 MWatt of power. These large wind turbines can have hub heights that span the length of a football field and blade lengths that span half that distance. The increased size of these multi-MWatt turbines, especially the blades, has been associated with complaints of adverse health effects that cannot be explained by auditory responses alone.
For this article, we reviewed the English-language, peer-reviewed literature from around the world on the topic of wind-turbine noise and vibration and their effects on humans. In addition, we used popular search engines to locate relevant online trade journals, books, reference sources, government regulations, and acoustic and vibration standards. We also consulted professional engineers and psychoacousticians regarding their unpublished ideas and research. …
Audiology Today, Jul-Aug 2010
Download original document: “Wind-turbine noise: What audiologists should know”
Author: Pierpont, Nina
My name is Nina Pierpont. I am a physician in Malone, NY, and author of a book called Wind Turbine Syndrome: a Report on a Natural Experiment, published in December 2009.
My M.D. is from the Johns Hopkins University. My PhD, in population biology, is from Princeton University. Population biology has extensive overlap with epidemiology. In fact, one of my doctoral committee members, Robert May, is a prominent theoretical epidemiologist, who subsequently became president of the Royal Society of London and scientific advisor to the Queen of England. He pronounced my Wind Turbine Syndrome study to be “impressive, interesting, and important.”
A PhD in science is a research degree. I was specifically trained to do research on free-living, uncontrolled animal populations, including methods for structuring observations to turn the observations into quantitative and analyzable data. I used this research training in my study of wind turbine health effects, to structure and analyze the information I gathered from affected people. I used my classical medical training from Johns Hopkins to actually gather the information. A good patient history, we were taught (and my experience has borne out), provides a doctor with about 80% of the information he needs to diagnose a problem. I conducted thorough, structured clinical interviews of all my study subjects, directly interviewing all adults and older teens, and interviewing the parents of all child subjects.
My bachelors degree, also in biology, is from Yale University. I am a board-certified pediatrician and have had postgraduate training in behavioral medicine. I have been a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University School of Physicians and Surgeons.
Wind turbine syndrome. I introduced this term in testimony before the Energy Committee of the New York State Assembly in 2006. The National Academy of Sciences cited my testimony in their 2007 report, Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects, and asked for more information about the physical effects I described.
A syndrome, medically, is a consistent collection of signs and symptoms. This is what I observed in people exposed to large, 1.5 to 3 MW wind turbines constructed since 2004. The first purpose of my study was to document the consistency of symptoms or problems among affected people, and to show, by a simple, practical method, that these symptoms are due to wind turbines. I will come back to this in a moment. The second purpose was to examine why, given the same exposure, some people are more affected than others.
I did not, and could not given my limited resources, study what proportion of people are affected or how much exposure is needed to affect people. However, I have some preliminary data on proportion of people affected.
I called my study a case series. I knew it was more than a case series, however, and described what else I did with regard to subject selection and data gathering. Recently an interested epidemiologist has provided the terminology for what I actually did. I chose families who had at least one severely affected adult family member, and who had done two things: first, they had gone away from their homes and the wind turbines and seen their symptoms go away, and had come back and seen the symptoms return, generally several times. In epidemiology this is called a “case-crossover” design. It’s very useful in situations like this one when both the exposure and the disease are transitory.
Second, I chose families who had spent or lost a lot of money to get away from the turbines, by selling their homes for reduced amounts, renting or buying a second home, renovating their homes in an attempt to keep out the noise, or outright abandoning their homes. I know of active legal cases in at least three states and two provinces in which the homeowner, after home abandonment, is suing either the wind turbine company or a state regulatory agency for recompense. In epidemiology, this is called a “revealed preference measure.” The people who are suffering show by their actions that their health problem is worth more than the many thousands of dollars they have lost in trying to escape the exposure, and thus distinguishes their experiences from what might be dismissed as subjective or fakery.
My study had 38 subjects, in 10 families located in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Italy. I have interviewed further families in the US and Canada and have a larger case-crossover study paper in preparation.
The symptoms caused by turbine exposure are as follows:
- Sleep disturbance, with a special kind of awakening in a state of high alarm. This applies to both adults and children. Severe sleep deprivation.
- Headaches. Exacerbations of migraines, brought on by either noise or by light flicker. This refers to the strobe-like effect in rooms when turbine blade shadows repetitively pass over a window. People without a history of migraine also got severe headaches from turbine exposure.
- Pressure and pain in ears and eyes. Tinnitus or ringing in the ears. Distortions of hearing. Buzzing inside the head.
- Dizziness, vertigo, unsteadiness, and nausea, essentially seasickness on land.
- Sensations of internal pulsation or movement, in the chest or abdomen, associated with panic-like episodes, in people who had no previous episodes of panic. These episodes occurred while awake or asleep, awakening the affected people from sleep.
- Problems with memory and concentration. Irritability and loss of energy and motivation. School and behavior problems in children. Increased aggression in both adults and children.
In the book, I document these symptoms for all study subjects, in 66 pages of structured, before-during-after accounts divided for each subject into organ systems or functions, such as sleep, headache, cognition, mood, balance and equilibrium, ears and hearing, eyes and vision, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory, etc.—before-during-after for each category. It is critical that I interviewed people as much about their past medical history as about their current symptoms, to distinguish which symptoms were actually due to the exposure, and to identify the subjects’ risk factors for experiencing certain symptoms.
I then examined the relationships between medical factors before exposure and the tendency of subjects to have certain symptoms during the exposure, using simple and straightforward statistics. This was one of the reasons that I collected information on all family members, not just the most affected, so that I would have some equally exposed but less affected people in the sample, who had been gathered according to a consistent rule (collect data on all family members without regard to symptoms present or absent).
I found strong and statistically significant relationships:
- Between the panic-internal pulsation symptoms and pre-existing motion sensitivity,
- Between severe headaches during exposure and pre-existing migraine disorder, and
- Between tinnitus during exposure and previous inner ear damage from noise or chemotherapy.
Equally as significant, I found no statistical association between pre-existing mental health disorder and the tendency to get panic-like episodes during exposure.
From these results I hypothesize about physiologic mechanisms for the effects, using an extensive review of the literature on low-frequency noise effects and on the neurophysiology of the balance system. This part, on how the wind turbines may be exerting their effects, is hypothetical. It is a proposal that inner ear specialists find it very interesting, but it is still hypothetical.
What is not hypothetical is that the turbines cause the symptoms (case-crossover design) and that the degree of illness caused is of such magnitude that people spend or forfeit many thousands of dollars to avoid the exposure (revealed preference data).
To get a preliminary idea of the proportion of people who may be affected, local affected residents around the Waubra wind farm in Victoria, Australia counted the numbers of households with affected people who had made their symptoms publicly known, the numbers of households that had abandoned their homes, and the total number of households within a radius of 3.5 km, the maximum distance at which there were affected people in this setting.
There were 153 total households. Two households had moved completely and a third was staying elsewhere because of their symptoms, or about 2% of households moved. An additional 19 households, another 12%, were affected but remained in their homes despite their chronic insomnia, etc.
My study has attracted attention. The American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations published a critique without reading the study, since its paper was released within days of my book’s publication. The British Wind Energy Association has also issued a critique.
Carl V. Phillips, a Harvard-trained PhD in public policy and epidemiology, states that these and other industry-commissioned critiques “don’t represent proper scientific reading” of the evidence that there is a problem, my study among them. Quoting from his testimony last week before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, “The reports that I have read that claim there is no evidence that there is a problem seem to be based on a very simplistic understanding of epidemiology and self-serving definitions of what does and what does not count as evidence.” He explains in a more detailed written report “why these claims, which probably seem convincing to most readers” at first glance, “don’t represent proper scientific reading.” He points out that “the conclusions of the reports don’t even match their own analyses. The reports themselves actually concede that there are problems, and then somehow manage to reach the conclusion that there is no evidence that there are problems.”
One industry critiques states that people become ill around wind turbines by power of suggestion, and that I was the person doing the suggesting. I was not: people became ill, made their decisions, and temporarily left their homes or moved out or renovated their houses before I ever found them. I found them because they had in some way made public what they had done. When I found myself interviewing people who had not connected certain symptoms to the turbines and had not spent significant time away from their homes, I did not offer interpretations or advice or persist in questioning in those areas, nor did I include these families in the study.
The adults in the 10 families in my study are all practical, regular people. There are three fishermen, two teachers, two nurses, a physician, a home health aide, a farmer, a professional gardener, a computer programmer, a milk truck driver, and a number of homemakers. There were several retired disabled people. People like this don’t disrupt their lives and spend or forfeit thousands of dollars for imaginary illness. Again, the “revealed preference measure” shows us what is not purely subjective or fakery in the accounts of illness.
With regard to my mechanistic proposals, these have been taken up by the cochlear physiology laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. Professors Alec Salt and Timothy Hullar have just published a paper in the journal Hearing Research regarding physiologic mechanisms by which the low-frequency noise affects the inner ear, both the cochlea (hearing organ) and the vestibular (balance) organs. One possible mechanism is by low-frequency noise inducing endolymphatic hydrops, or increased pressure and distortion of membrane positions and tension within the inner ear (as in Ménière’s disease). There are also differences in the functioning of inner and outer hair cells in the cochlea that may prevent us from hearing low-frequency noise that is indeed having a physiological effect on the ear. Dr. Salt had already found effects of low-frequency noise on the inner ear experimentally, and explicitly incorporates references to wind turbine low-frequency noise and to my research in his paper. This being an area of active research and new findings, one cannot rely on the out-of-date assumption that if people can’t hear a sound, it cannot have any other effect on them—one of the premises wind industry consultants rely on to assert that the low frequency noise produced by wind turbines is at too low a level to have any physiological effects. This premise is out of date.
[Attached PDF includes references]
Download original document: “Presentation to the Hammond (NY) Wind Committee”
Author: Pierpont, Nina
The core of the book is a scientific report presenting original, primary research on symptomatic people living near large industrial wind turbines (1.5-3 MW) erected since 2004. The findings:
1) Wind turbines cause Wind Turbine Syndrome. We know this because people have symptoms when they are close to turbines and the symptoms go away when they are away from turbines. The study families themselves figured out that they had to move away from turbines to be rid of their symptoms, and nine out of ten have moved. Some sold and some abandoned their homes.
2) The symptoms are sleep disturbance and deprivation, headache, tinnitus (ringing in ears), ear pressure, dizziness, vertigo (spinning dizziness), nausea, visual blurring, tachycardia (fast heart rate), irritability, problems with concentration and memory, and panic episodes associated with sensations of movement or quivering inside the body that arise while awake or asleep.
3) People with pre-existing migraine disorder, motion sensitivity, or damage to inner ear structures (such as hearing loss from industrial noise exposure) are more susceptible than other people.
4) Symptoms are not statistically associated with pre-existing anxiety or other mental health disorders.
5) The symptom complex resembles syndromes caused by vestibular (inner ear balance organ) dysfunction. The proposed mechanism is disturbance to balance and position sense by noise and/or vibration, especially low frequency components of the noise and vibration.
6) An extensive review of recent medical literature reveals how balance-related neural signals affect a variety of brain areas and functions, including spatial awareness, spatial memory, spatial problem-solving, fear, anxiety, autonomic functions (such as nausea and heart rate), and aversive learning. These known neural relationships provide a robust anatomic and physiologic framework for Wind Turbine Syndrome.
7) Medical and technical literature on the resonance of sound or vibration within body cavities (chest, skull, eyes, throat, ears) is reviewed, because study subjects experience these effects.
8) Published studies of documented low-frequency noise exposure (both experimental and environmental) are reviewed. These demonstrate effects on people similar or identical to Wind Turbine Syndrome. A study from Germany in 1996 may indeed be Wind Turbine Syndrome.
9) Recent mail-in survey studies of people who live near wind turbines in Sweden and the Netherlands show that people are severely annoyed at noise from wind turbines at much lower A-weighted noise levels than for traffic, train, or aircraft noise.
10) Published literature documenting the effects of environmental noise on cardiovascular health and children’s learning are reviewed. For health reasons, the World Health Organization recommends lower thresholds for nighttime noise than are currently observed in most countries – especially when the noise has low-frequency components.
11) Wind Turbine Syndrome gives a name and medical description to a set of symptoms severe enough to drive people from their homes, and establishes medical risk factors for such symptoms. This study and other studies reviewed in the report indicate that safe setbacks will be at least 2 km (1.24 miles) and even farther for larger turbines and in more varied topography. Further research is needed to clarify physical causes and physiologic mechanisms, explore other health effects of living near wind turbines, determine how many people are affected, and investigate effects in special populations, including children.
Author: Pierpont, Nina; et al.
[Click here to read “H.677, an act relating to wind energy plants”]
February 10, 2010
Rep. Tony Klein
Vermont State House of Representatives
115 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05633-5301
Dear Representative Klein,
I am writing to express support for H.677, sponsored by Representative Potter and others, which (among other things) creates siting, setback, and noise requirements for industrial wind turbines in the good State of Vermont.
With increasing interest in building commercial-scale wind turbines in Vermont, it is imperative the Vermont legislature acts to ensure that these projects protect the health and safety of residents in communities where turbines are being proposed. As the saying goes, if you’ve got your health, you’re okay. Conversely, if you don’t, you’re not okay.
H.677 provides reasonable, clinically and scientifically-based protections against noise, vibration, and shadow flicker from industrial turbines. As a physician who has intensively studied health impacts from turbine noise, vibration, and shadow flicker, I can provide ample documentation from people all over the world who have suffered because of turbines placed too close to where they live, work, and recreate. My research, along with that of others, is building a formidable body of scientific and clinical literature demonstrating the necessity of protections that are written into H.677-protections the wind industry steadfastly refuses to acknowledge. The symptoms that people report follow a common pattern, or cluster, which I call “Wind Turbine Syndrome.” These are the most prominent:
- sleep disturbance
- ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus)
- ear pressure
- dizziness and vertigo
- visual blurring
- racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
- problems with concentration and memory
- panic episodes associated with sensations of internal pulsation or quivering, which arise while awake or asleep
People suffering from these health effects were, in nearly all cases, supportive of these wind energy projects. Let me be clear on this. Moreover, they were assured that as the closest neighbors they would not experience any disturbance or illness. Of the 10 families (38 individuals) included in my “Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment” (Santa Fe, NM: K-Selected Books, 2009), 9 families have had to leave their homes, and the tenth has sued and is living in misery. Mind you, this is just the families in my report; I have since learned of numerous people, globally, who suffer from Wind Turbine Syndrome and are being forced to leave their homes. My phone and email in-box are loaded with these complaints.
Let me emphasize, people abandon their homes (as in, lock the door and leave) because they find them unlivable. I explain in 300 pages (see above) the likely pathophysiology of their illness, showing in detail that these unfortunates are not fabricating their illness-this is not something “psychosomatic”-but genuinely suffering from genuine, and genuinely serious illness. Whether the precise pathophysiological mechanism I lay out is correct or not, there is no serious dispute among medical doctors that these people suffer from bona fide and serious illness-and that its cause is the wind turbines, and that this constellation of illness disappears when these people remove themselves from the vicinity of the turbines. I repeat, there is no serious clinical dispute about this.
A few have been “lucky” enough to be bought out by the offending wind company which, then, has them sign a gag agreement not to discuss publicly their case. The rest must suffer with the additional insult of official denial and even contempt.
This needs to stop. It can be stopped by adequate setbacks and noise limits as specified in H.677.
I urge the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee to schedule hearings on the bill this year.
I am willing to testify (depending on my schedule, either in person, by teleconference, web camera, or in writing) about the scientific and clinical evidence behind my support of H.677.
Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD
Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics
Co-signed by the following:
George Kamperman, PE
President, Kamperman Associates, Inc.
Board-Certified Member of Institute of Noise Control Engineers
Fellow Member of Acoustical Society of America
Member of National Council of Acoustical Consultants
F. Owen Black, MD
Fellow of the American College of Surgeons
Director of Neurotology Research
Balance & Hearing Center North West
Legacy Health System
[“Dr. Black’s research focuses on disorders of the human vestibular system and the effects of microgravity on human postural control, with a major emphasis on the role played by otolith function. A component of his work is investigating how visual cues, which the brain receives from the eyes, work with the inner ear to help control balance. … He regularly travels to the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to meet with his NASA collaborators, and serves on the medical advisory team for the space shuttle program. These studies are leading to a further understanding of the human vestibular system and its role in spatial orientation, equilibrium, balance, and debilitating disorders such as motion sickness that will lead to new diagnostic and therapeutic methods.” (from Dr. Black’s resume)]
Joel F. Lehrer, MD
Fellow of the American College of Surgeons
Board-Certified Otolaryngologist and Head and Neck Surgeon
Served on Hearing and Equilibrium Subcommittee of the American Academy of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery
Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology, University of Medicine & Dentistry of NJ
(also of Halifax, VT)
Stanley M. Shapiro, MD
Fellow of the American College of Cardiology
Board-Certified Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Diseases, and Nuclear Cardiology
Champlain Valley Cardiovascular Associates
[Dr. Shapiro was asked to join this list of signatories because of his expertise in the cardiac aspects of sleep deprivation, one of the most prominent symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome.]
Download original document: “Letter in support of wind turbine setback bill in Vermont”