Onshore wind farms are a health hazard to people living near them because of the low- frequency noise that they emit, according to new medical studies. Doctors say that the turbines – some of which are taller than Big Ben – can cause headaches and depression among residents living up to a mile away.
One survey found that all but one of 14 people living near the Bears Down wind farm at Padstow, Cornwall, where 16 turbines were put up two years ago, had experienced increased numbers of headaches, and 10 said that they had problems sleeping and suffered from anxiety.
Wind farms: doctor claims they cause an increase in depression
Dr Amanda Harry, a local GP who did the research, said: “People demonstrated a range of symptoms from headaches, migraines, nausea, dizziness, palpitations and tinnitus to sleep disturbance, stress, anxiety and depression. These symptoms had a knock-on effect in their daily lives, causing poor concentration, irritability and an inability to cope.”
Dr Harry said that low-frequency noise – which was used as an instrument of torture by the Germans during the Second World War because it induced headaches and anxiety attacks – could disturb rest and sleep at even very low levels.
“It travels further than audible noise, is ground-borne and is felt through vibrations,” she said. “Some people are having to leave their homes to get away from the nuisance. Yet, despite their obvious suffering, little is being done to relieve the situation and they feel that their plight is ignored.”
Similar problems have been found by Dr Bridget Osborne, a doctor in Moel Maelogan, a village in North Wales, where three turbines were erected in 2002. She has presented a paper to the Royal College of General Practitioners detailing a “marked” increase in depression among local people.
“There is a public perception that wind power is ‘green’ and has no detrimental effect on the environment,” said Dr Osborne. “However, these turbines make low-frequency noises that can be as damaging as high-frequency noises.
“When wind farm developers do surveys to assess the suitability of a site they measure the audible range of noise but never the infrasound measurement – the low-frequency noise that causes vibrations that you can feel through your feet and chest.
“This frequency resonates with the human body – their effect being dependent on body shape. There are those on whom there is virtually no effect, but others for whom it is incredibly disturbing.”
A report by Dr Geoff Leventhall, a fellow of the Institute of Physics and Institute of Acoustics, has endorsed the findings. “Low-frequency noise causes extreme distress to a number of people who are sensitive to its effects,” it says.
The claims have sparked an inquiries by the British Wind Energy Association and the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has commissioned scientists at Salford University to research the effects of wind turbines on human health.
There are more than 1,000 turbines on 80 wind farms around Britain. They have rapidly increased in number during the past decade as a result of the Government’s aim of getting 10 per cent of Britain’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2010. To meet that target, there would have to be at least 5,000 turbines.
In Denmark, where wind turbines were introduced as long as 30 years ago, the government has responded to public demand and stopped erecting onshore turbines because of the noise hazard.
Dr Stephen Briggs, an archaeologist who lives in the village of Llangwryfron in West Wales, initially welcomed the news that 20 turbines were to be built in the hills behind his home.
He said: “I’m as green as the next man and the developers assured us that the windmills would cause hardly any disturbance, but once they began operating I couldn’t work in my garden any more – the noise was unbearable. It was as if someone was mixing cement in the sky.”
Two neighbours became ill from a lack of sleep and after four years of frustrated appeals, the Briggs family left their home of 17 years. House prices near to wind farms have also plummeted.
Mark Taplin, who has lived close to a wind farm near Truro in Cornwall for almost a decade, said: “It has been a miserable, horrible experience. They are 440 metres away but if I step outside and they are not generating I know immediately because I can hear the silence. They grind you down – you can’t get away from them. They make you very depressed – the chomp and swoosh of the blades creates a noise that beggars belief.”
National Wind Power, a company that builds turbines, recommends that they are erected at least 600 yards from human habitation, but government planning guidelines allow them to be put up just 400 yards from houses.
Alison Hill, the communications manager for the British Wind Association, said: “Wind farms make people feel better – they are a visible evidence of a cleaner, better future. However, we are currently doing research into the health impact of the turbines and shall be publishing the results within the next six months.”
By Catherine Milner
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