There have been a number of recent articles and letters to the editor concerning the construction of industrial wind turbines on western Maryland mountain ridges. However, very few have addressed the impact on health and quality of life of people living with wind turbines, in other words, how close is too close?
People living near wind turbines in Meyersdale, Pa., as well as near the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center, W.Va., have reported a number of health and quality of life issues stemming from living near industrial wind turbines. Complaints fall into 1 of 2 categories: 1) different sounds produced by the rotation of turbine blades and nacelle to which the blades are attached, and 2) the “sun or shadow flicker” caused by the sun shining behind the rotating blades.
Sounds produced by turbines are present all the time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and cover a spectrum of frequencies, particularly infrasound and low frequency noise below 500 Hz. Audible sounds include rhythmic “thumping” or continual “droning” and a “screeching” or “banging.” The noise from the turbines at Mountaineer has been described as “incredible,” sounding like helicopters accompanied by a low frequency hum. One resident near the Meyersdale wind facility reported sounds coming from nearby turbines that affected sound sleep.
Dr. Oguz A. Soysal, Frostburg State University, measured sound levels over half a mile away from the Meyersdale 20-turbine wind facility. Typical audible decibel levels were in the 50-60 range, and audible plus low-frequency decibels were in the 65-70 range. Low-frequency sounds can actually be felt by particular people rather than being heard, manifesting itself as a low-frequency vibration that is more a sensation than a noise.
Sounds can also vary with the time of day and year, atmospheric conditions, wind direction and velocity, lay of the land, as well as size of the wind facility. Residents in Appalachian valleys have reported disturbing noise levels from turbines 1.5 miles away, while others reported noise pollution up to three to five miles away. Noise is especially noticeable in quiet rural areas, where a 10-decibel increase over ambient levels represents a subjective doubling of noise levels.
Noise levels sufficient to prevent or interrupt sleep have been reported in homes near wind turbines throughout the world. In Denmark, where wind turbines were introduced 30 years ago, there has been increased public opposition to onshore turbines near homes because of the noise hazard.
Health problems include sleep deprivation; headaches; dizziness, unsteadiness, and nausea; exhaustion, anxiety, anger, irritability, and depression; problems with concentration and learning; and ringing in the ears.
Another problem mentioned by residents living near turbines is the “sun or shadow flicker” caused by the sun shining behind the rotating turbine blades. This situation can occur at different times of the day and year depending on orientation of the sun, turbine, and home and is comparable to turning lights on and off, on and off, in a room. This visual pollution can range from merely annoying to some people getting dizzy, losing their balance, or even becoming nauseated. People who suffer from migraines or who are epileptic often have their condition made worst by this strobe effect.
In summary, there is high potential for noise and visual effects adversely affecting the health and quality of life of residents near wind turbines. To prevent this occurrence, realistic setbacks need to be established by health and government agencies for wind turbines near homes.
The French Academy of Medicine and the UK (United Kingdom) Noise Association recommend a 1.24-mile setback between industrial wind turbines and private residences. In Manitoba, Canada, the recommended setback is 1.24 mile from adjacent property lines. Recommendations made for the Appalachian highlands are for wind turbines not to be built within 1.5 mile of homes.
There may still be health and quality of life problems caused by wind turbines beyond this radius, even 1.5 to 3 miles away. These people should be compensated for any infringement on their human rights attributed to industrial wind turbines affecting “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” For further information and resources on this important topic, readers can Google “living near wind turbines” on the World Wide Web.
John E. Gates
15 February 2008
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