Imagine the low, constant lull of a clothes dryer tossing around a pair of tennis shoes.
Then, try to fathom the sound of a train going over a bridge, or a jet engine propeller slicing through the air.
Now, imagine a bumblebee stuck inside your ear.
These are the descriptions given by residents from New Zealand, Australia, and Great Britain, all living near wind farms. What is seen by many people as a solution to the world’s growing need for electricity has become, for these residents, a force so disruptive that they have had to uproot their lives to find relief.
Wind turbine farms are quickly becoming a popular green energy alternative for many countries, including the United States, Germany, and China. There are more than 3,000 onshore turbines in Britain alone, which increased its wind power capacity by nearly 25 percent in 2011 . During the same time period, Australia expanded its wind production capacity by 234 megawatts, more than 11 percent. While organizations such as the World Wind Energy Association praise this increase in wind farms as a positive development in “community energy,” those who live close enough to them to hear their constant drone disagree.
One of those residents, Andreas Marciniak, lived in Waterloo, South Australia, until last year. In October 2010, the gas and electricity provider TruEnergy installed a 37-turbine wind farm on a ridge skirting his hometown . At the time, Marciniak says he was in favor of wind energy. “I was actually a firm believer that wind turbines were going to be a good idea,” he says. “We were all for wind power.”
However, his opinion changed when the blades started to spin at the Waterloo Wind Farm. Within weeks, Marciniak says he and his family began to experience everything from heart problems and sleep disturbances to a constant ringing in their ears. However, he didn’t immediately associate his health problems with the new wind farm near his home.
It wasn’t until a conversation with his brother, who lived nearby, that he started to link the two. “He got so angry with me for asking how he slept, and he wouldn’t let up,” Marciniak remembers. “I asked my sister-in-law, and she said, ‘I haven’t slept for a week.’ I asked another neighbor, and he said the same thing. At that point, I thought, ‘It’s not just me.’”
Looking for answers, he searched the Internet for information about the possible side effects of wind turbines, and that’s when he came across the Web site of Dr. Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician and researcher from Malone, New York. Marciniak began an e-mail correspondence with her husband, which led him to one of her colleagues in Australia, Dr. Sarah Laurie, CEO of the Waubra Foundation. Laurie agreed to come to Marciniak’s home to talk to him and his neighbors in person.
“She said, ‘I would like all of you to tell me how you’re feeling.’ She never actually said anything about the syndrome itself. But our hearts were hurting, our heads were hurting, and we were all feeling off-balance,” Marciniak says. He and his neighbors erupted into stories of night sweats and constant headaches, revealing that they had all experienced similar symptoms. “After everyone was finished, she put Dr. Pierpont’s book on the table and said, ‘This is happening in Victoria, too. But not just in Victoria. It’s happening all over the world.’ ”
That book was Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment. Pierpont, who also has a research-based doctorate in population biology, first introduced the term “wind turbine syndrome” in 2006; she later published a book about it—the same one on Marciniak’s table—in 2009.
Pierpont’s research involved 38 residents in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Italy. Her presentations on wind turbine syndrome have been widely debated within the research and medical communities. The wind energy associations of Canada, the United States, and Britain have all criticized her work, and a study conducted by a group of researchers from The University of Salford in Manchester, England, concluded that there is no such thing as wind turbine syndrome.
Dr. Sabine von Hünerbein, who specializes in the study of wind profiles and acoustic technology, was one of the five researchers who prepared that Salford University report, Research into Aerodynamic Modulation of Wind Turbine Noise, which was commissioned by the British Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
“There is no scientific evidence to date that there is a direct physiological connection between wind turbine noise and health,” she explains. “Having said that, there are effects, and one is sleep disturbance. The thing to point out here very strongly is the sleep disturbance and annoyance can arise from any other noise just as well as wind turbine noise.”
Whether it can be scientifically proven that the noise from wind farms is detrimental to human health is a debate that is likely to continue as wind energy increases globally. The Global Wind Energy Council reports that by 2030 half of all the wind energy produced in the world will come from countries that have just begun to embrace turbine-produced power .
However, for people like Andreas Marciniak, who has left his home in Waterloo to live in a shed owned by his mother in Adelaide, Australia, the science of wind noise takes a back seat to his reality. Trying to explain the sensation of living near the Waterloo Wind Farm, he says, “It’s like a jet engine at an airport, but it never takes off. It’s like a train approaching, but it never passes.”
For him, this is the proof. And it’s loud and clear.
● Email: email@example.com
● Skype ID: andreas.marciniak
Dr. Sabine von Hunerbein
● Email: S.VonHunerbein@salford.ac.uk
● Phone: 0044 161 295 4424
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