The most controversial issue in the wind energy debate is whether ultra-sound and low frequency noises from wind turbines impact on human health.
Opponents of wind farms claim living too close to industrial-sized wind turbines can lead to a condition called ‘wind turbine syndrome’ – symptoms include sleep deprivation, anxiety, nausea and physical conditions such as vertigo.
The wind energy industry claims ‘wind turbine syndrome’ is a myth and suggests it is the result of a ‘nocebo effect’ which causes people to develop health problems purely from the suggestion or expectation of problems.
Citing dozens of international studies, the Irish Wind Energy Association says “the balance of scientific evidence and human experience to date clearly concludes that sound from wind turbines does not adversely impact human health”.
Against that there are thousands of people around the world whose experience from living too close to wind turbines is not benign.
In Ireland, for example, a court case is pending involving seven families from Banteer, Co Cork and the wind energy company Enercon. The Banteer families claim living near a wind farm has destroyed their quality of life.
The court case is due to be heard in the autumn and could lead to similar actions from people in Roscommon and Wexford who also claim their health and quality of life has been compromised by wind farms.
While the bulk of the scientific evidence appears to back up the wind energy industry’s position, there is a dissenting scientific view which argues that not enough research has been conducted on the impact of ultra-sound (noise not generally audible to the average person) and low frequency emissions from wind turbines.
Professor Alun Evans, from the Centre of Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast, is a prominent dissenter. Last year he co-authored an editorial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) arguing that “a large body of evidence now exists to suggest that wind turbines disturb sleep and impair health at distances and external noise levels that are permitted in most jurisdictions”.
Responding to Prof Evans’ claims, Prof Simon Chapman – an Australian public health specialist – citing 17 reviews of independent research, argued that the evidence that wind turbines themselves cause problems was poor.
“I have compiled an ever-growing list (currently 105) of deaths, diseases and symptoms in humans, animals and even earthworms said to be caused by turbines.
“The diffuse and bizarre nature of many of these claims … suggests this phenomenon (‘wind turbine syndrome’) is a prime example of a contemporary psychogenic illness,” wrote Prof Evans.
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