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Turbine noise creates chronic stress

No one ever gets used to the noise from industrial wind turbines. We have developed a special sensitivity to the infrasound they produce that makes this impossible. The inner ear has developed an exquisitely sensitive and sophisticated system to alert us to approaching danger, even when we cannot hear it – and especially when we are asleep.

The microscopic fibers in the cochlea, known as outer hair cells, or OHC, are so sensitive to the inaudible, low-frequency sound from turbines that they can detect movement the width of a single hydrogen atom. To fully appreciate this, image an alarm system on one end of the Golden Gate Bridge that is so sensitive you can set it off by tapping a vertical cable at the other end with a tablespoon. Such a thing is the human inner ear. The OHC are most sensitive when audible sound is very low, such as at nighttime. Three hundred thousand years of evolution have programmed an early warning system into us, designed to sense approaching danger. During sleep, infrasound from turbines can trigger what psychologists call the “fight or flight” response.

Being awakened from a sound sleep by low frequency noise is not like being awaken by a honking horn or passing siren. It is more like the sensation of waking with the impression that there is an intruder in your home. You are instantly wide awake. Your heart is beating a drumroll. Your breathing is shallow and rapid. Your eyes scan to locate danger in the darkness. Unlike audible sound, infrasound is not directional. It surrounds you, heightening anxiety because you can’t locate the source. For many, this disturbance is made worse by dizziness, nausea, headaches, a loss of balance or all of these at once.

Of course, there is no immediate danger. But who could get back to sleep after such an experience? For many who live near turbines, this becomes a debilitating pattern that occurs night after night. It can lead to diminished cognitive skills, memory loss, migraines, poor job performance, and a relapse or worsening of chronic health conditions such as PTSD or hypertension, and eventually clinical depression. For a few, it has led to suicidal tendencies.

Medical research has shown that when people are exposed to intense, low frequency sound or vibration, they exhibit reflexes known as VEMP and OVEMP; these are a kind of flinching in the neck and eye muscles, the same response we have when we sense danger we cannot locate. Nature has hard wired us this way. Turbine noise sends false alarms to our autonomic nervous system, the same system that regulates our heart and breathing rhythms when we are unconscious or asleep. This is why people who are woken up by turbines can never get used to it. For this reason, chronic sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture under the Geneva Convention.

Medical studies, just getting under way at the Waubra Foundation in Australia, have already begun to confirm what has long been suspected about living near turbines: In addition to sleeplessness, turbine noise also elevates levels of adrenaline and cortisol. These are the hormones of stress. Brief episodes of stress are a fact of life, but chronic or unrelieved stress invariably erodes health. Stress is a well-known precursor to hypertension, heart disease, stroke and weakening of the immune system. Some people who are routinely exposed to turbine noise also suffer from frequent infections in the eyes or throat because stress dries out the fluids that protect these delicate membranes. Ever notice how your mouth goes dry when you are under stress? When this happens in combination with a weak immune system, such infections are almost inevitable.

People like Mark Sylvia, Michael Sylvia, Brain Bowcock and Jeffrey Osuch, who have brought this torment into the heart of dense residential neighborhoods in Fairhaven, may be desperately hoping that people will get used to them; but it will never happen.

Reportedly, turbine developer Sumul Shah has set aside $300,000 to provide residents with sound-proofing or central air to reduce the annoyance. This is odd behavior from someone who has repeatedly claimed that his turbines are so quiet they will not bother anyone. Perhaps he should set aside a lot more for legal defense. Staynor, Ontario is facing $17.5 million in liability suits from residents for damages to health and property value from turbines – but I doubt those responsible are losing any sleep over it.