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NHS report explores health impact of windfarms

Wind farms may cause “annoyance” and “distress” but they are unlikely to have any serious health implications apart from sleep disturbance and symptoms of stress.

That is the conclusion of a report from NHS Shetland, written at the request of Shetland Charitable Trust.

According to the report, written by director of public health Sarah Taylor, problems posed by wind farms can be summarised as flicker, electromagnetic radiation, which is virtually dismissed, and noise including low frequency sound. Other considerations, possibly more easily addressed, are construction and operational safety, the possibility of turbine collapse, the failure and breaking of blades and of ice throw from the turbine blades.

The conclusion of Dr Taylor’s report is: “Current mitigations do not entirely deal with the annoyance caused by wind farms, the results of which are a cause of distress and related ill health for a number of people living in the vicinity.”

The report was not specifically about the proposed Viking Energy wind farm, but nevertheless interested staunch opponent of the proposed development Evelyn Morrison of Weisdale.

Mrs Morrison is particularly concerned about the aspects of flicker and noise, and welcomed the report, even though she would liked it to have referred to more recent research. She said: “There’s nothing new in it, I’ve been writing to The Shetland Times about these [issues] for years. There are very few recent references, some go back to 2003.”

Regarding flicker, the report states: “Shadows caused by wind turbine blade rotation can cause flickering that contributes to the annoyance perceived by some people. Although shadow flicker can cause epileptic fits in some people with epilepsy, the report states this is unlikely at the normal rotational speed of wind turbines.”

Regarding noise, it states: “It is generally accepted that the primary effect of low frequency noise on people is annoyance. Annoyance is recognised as a critical health effect, and is associated in some people with stress, sleep disturbance, and interference with daily living.”

It was also found that low level noise from wind turbines, in particular the “audible modulation of the aerodynamic noise”, was more likely to cause “annoyance” than similar levels from other sources.

The report says there is, “no reliable evidence to say that infra-sound at the levels produced by wind farms causes either physiological or psychological effects”, although recent theories “might lend support to reports of effects not previously measured or understood.”

One of the fears of people living near wind farms is vibro acoustic disease (VAD), a condition associated with very high exposures to low frequency noise in some occupational settings.

Mrs Morrison said: “I am glad Dr Taylor’s report has highlighted areas which show that there is a significant concern regarding health effects for the people living in and around wind farms. [The report states] shadows caused by the turbines’ blades rotation can cause epileptic fits in some people with epilepsy, but this was based on a study of three turbines – and we’re looking at 103.”

Full story and more reaction in this week’s Shetland Times.