December 19, 2012
Maine, Massachusetts

Wind turbine debate: New study indicates connection between wind turbines and ill health

By Emily Clark | Wicked Local Plymouth | December 18, 2012 |

PLYMOUTH – If you can’t sleep, is it a health hazard? And, if the noise generated by a nearby wind turbine keeps you awake at night, is the wind turbine a hazard to your health?

Arguments over whether wind turbines are a health hazard follow predictable lines like these, that begin to sound like “the tree in the forest” analogy. A state study released last year concluded that wind turbines aren’t a health hazard. But, in the same breath, the study acknowledged that if the noise generated by the turbine caused sleep disturbances, that could, in turn, impact a person’s health. The study and the state’s press on it appeared somewhat contradictory as a result: Wind turbines could impact sleep, but they don’t cause a health hazard.


A recent study, conducted by the Northern Maine Medical Center, is not contradictory, and comes right out and acknowledges the connection between sleep deprivation and ill health. The study examined the sleep patterns of Mars Hill and Vinalhaven, Maine, residents living within 5,000 feet of 1.5-megawatt industrial wind turbines, and found that those living within 4,500 feet of the turbines suffered from worse sleep disturbances and reductions in mental function than those who did not. Dr. Michael Nissenbaum of the Northern Maine Medical Center describes the results in a medical abstract.

“Participants living within 1.4 kilometers (4,593.2 feet) of an IWT (industrial wind turbine) had worse sleep, were sleepier during the day and had worse SF36 Mental Component Scores compared to those living further than 1.4 kilometers away,” Nissenbaum writes. “The adverse event reports of sleep disturbance and ill health by those living close to IWTs are supported.”

The Maine study seems to butt heads with a Massachusetts study. Or does it?

Working in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection convened a panel of physicians and scientists last year with expertise in acoustical noise and infrasound, public health, sleep disturbance, mechanical engineering, epidemiology and neuroscience. The panel went to work addressing numerous questions that have been raised about potential health risks associated with proximity to wind turbines.

Here’s an excerpt from the report, illustrating its findings on sleep:

“A very loud wind turbine could cause disrupted sleep, particularly in vulnerable populations, at a certain distance…Whether annoyance from wind turbines leads to sleep issues or stress has not been sufficiently quantified. While not based on evidence of wind turbines, there is evidence that sleep disruption can adversely affect mood, cognitive functioning, and overall sense of health and wellbeing. There is insufficient evidence that the noise from wind turbines is directly (i.e., independent from an effect on annoyance or sleep) causing health problems or disease.”

Some residents opposed to wind turbines in residential areas were outraged by the apparent contradictory nature of these statements. On the one hand, the state acknowledges wind turbines could disturb sleep, while on the other the state claims there is no evidence they cause health problems, independent of their effect on sleep or annoyance. The report seemed to raise more questions than answers on the subject, and has done little to extinguish the firestorm of opposition to these behemoths.

This latest study seems to illustrate a disconnect between the states of Maine and Massachusetts, but there also appears to be a disconnect in Massachusetts’ study on the issue. The possible health hazards of proximity to industrial wind turbines will likely continue as an item for debate among those who support and fight the industry.

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