Wind Turbine Noise and Human Health: A Four-Decade History of Evidence that Wind Turbines Pose Risks
The primary aims of the linked article are to provide our reference sources for much of the information in that earlier series [background, evidence, and how the ear and brain process infrasound], as well as to update that information. We do so by addressing 12 specific position statements frequently made by the wind industry, its trade associations, and other surrogates. We address these position statements, many of which are revealed to be little more than unfounded talking points, by a comprehensive review of the literature, including that from industry proponents and from those who are independent of the industry.
This article is the culmination of about 15 years of our combined experience with wind turbine noise issues. We first submitted an article resembling the current one to an international journal, Noise & Health, where it received multiple reviews by a single reviewer. We addressed all but two of that reviewer’s criticisms, namely that the manuscript was too lengthy for publication in the journal and the reviewer’s insistence that we accept the notion that infrasound at levels produced by wind turbines cannot cause adverse health effects. Underlying that reviewer’s position was the belief that “What you can’t hear, you can’t feel.”
In fact, decades of research have shown that the dynamically amplitude-modulated short bursts of energy, or pressure pulsations, are a characteristic of all modern industrial wind turbine emissions. These pressure peaks can be perceived by humans at levels far below the commonly accepted thresholds of perception and can lead to adverse symptoms such as sleep disturbance, headaches, tinnitus, ear pain, vertigo, and nausea.
The editor of Noise & Health offered an additional review cycle by a second reviewer. We chose instead to withdraw the manuscript from consideration because we were unwilling to either shorten it considerably or to mischaracterize the literature on the subject at hand.
We are grateful to Hearing Health & Technology Matters for allowing us to share this information through its widely accessible website.
This paper has been reviewed both by the anonymous Noise & Health reviewer and by three other reviewers who have substantial professional experience in the area of wind turbine noise. We gratefully acknowledge the helpful contributions of Keith Johnson, Esq., Michael Nissenbaum, MD, and Daniel Shepherd, PhD.
Mr. Johnson provided a review from the perspective of an attorney who represents interveners in wind turbine siting cases. Dr. Nissenbaum provided a review from the perspective of a medical professional and expert in how ionizing and non-ionizing radiation affects humans. Dr. Shepherd provided a review from the perspective of a psychoacoustician with experience in how wind turbine sound affects people. Each of these reviewers’ comments on earlier versions of our manuscript led to the final document. The opinions or assertions contained herein, however, are the personal views of the authors and are not to be construed as reflecting the views of Michigan State University or Central Michigan University.
The article’s unusual length stems not only from the number of topics covered, but also from our desire to quote literally and liberally from researchers and others on matters related to some of the key points in support of the link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects. Given the length, interested readers will likely require multiple sessions to read the article in its entirety.
Even though wind turbine noise does not normally cause hearing loss, we believe that audiologists, particularly those interested in community noise, should embrace the notion that all forms of noise, if sufficiently intense and prolonged, can be detrimental to public health. Audiologists should also be sensitive to the non-auditory aspects of acoustic energy, including dynamically modulated infrasound and low-frequency sound.
It is worth noting that two of the seven co-authors of the original white-paper report of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), which promoted the idea that wind turbines were harmless, were audiologists. We believe that the basic conclusions of that paper, which was not peer reviewed and written by a panel hand-picked by wind industry trade associations, unjustifiably favored the wind industry. It is particularly noteworthy that those major wind industry associations have acknowledged the audiology profession as having a credible say on the issue of wind turbine noise.
Interestingly, now that the tide is turning against the wind industry in many ways and in many places, its advocates are trying to discredit the views of audiologists, physicians, acousticians, and others who speak out in opposition of wind-energy development in populated areas. Concerned audiologists, especially those with expertise in cochlear and vestibular responses to noise and vibration, need to be heard on this issue.
Finally, let it not be said that either of us believes in making any less than the best possible effort to develop clean and efficient sources of energy. Rather, we hope that our article will be instrumental in promoting public health through a better understanding of the issues underlying the potentially harmful effects of audible and inaudible noise from industrial wind turbines when the turbines are sited too close to where people live and work.
Jerry Punch, Professor Emeritus, Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, Michigan State
University, East Lansing
Richard James, E-Coustic Solutions; and Adjunct Professor, Department of Communication Disorders,
Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant
Many expert-review panels and some individual authors, in the U.S. and internationally, have taken the position that there is little literature to support concerns about adverse health effects (AHEs) from noise emitted by industrial wind turbines (IWTs). In this review, we systematically examine the literature that bears on some of the particular claims that are commonly made in support of the view that a causal link is non-existent. Investigation of the veracity of those claims requires that multiple topics be addressed, and the following specific topics were targeted for this review: (1) emissions of infrasound and low-frequency noise (ILFN) by IWTs, (2) the perception of ILFN by humans, (3) the evidentiary bases for establishing a causative link between IWTs and AHEs, as well as the physiological bases for such a link, (4) recommended setback distances and permissible noise levels, (5) the relationship between annoyance and health, (6) alternative causes of the reported health problems, (7) recommended methods for measuring infrasound, (8) foundations for establishing a medical diagnosis of AHEs due to IWTs, (9) research designs useful in establishing causation, (10) the role of psychological expectations as an explanation for the reported adverse effects, (11) the prevalence of AHEs in individuals exposed to IWTs, and (12) the scope and quality of literature addressing the link between IWT noise and AHEs. The reviewed evidence overwhelmingly supports the notion that acoustic emissions from IWTs is a leading cause of AHEs in a substantial segment of the population.
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