Continued exposure to very low frequency noise or infrasound below the level of hearing may cause symptoms such as sleep disturbance, headache, dizziness, panic attacks and depression as reported internationally by people living near wind turbines, a major German study has found.
The study, which used brain scans to monitor the response to auditory stimulation, identified significant activity linked to low frequency noise just below the test subjects’ audible range.
Similar brain activity was not found at sound levels above the level of hearing, overturning established theory that “what you can’t hear does not affect you”.
The research was conducted by a team at the Max Planck Institute and published this month in PLOS one.
Wind farm advocate, Professor Simon Chapman, emeritus professor of public health at Sydney University, dismissed the research findings. “Infrasound is ubiquitous,” Dr Chapman said.
“If these results had any adverse clinical significance, thousands if not millions living near the sea, exposed to wind, living in cities, driving in cars, exposed to ceiling fans would report problems. If you are hoping this is your gotcha moment for wind turbines, the entire population of Copenhagen should have excited brains.”
Australian Wind Farm Commissioner Andrew Dyer said in his annual report released last month his office had received a total of 90 complaints about wind farms up to December 31, 2016.
Of these 90 complaints received, 46 were related to nine operating wind farms. As at December 31, 2016, 32 of these complaints had been closed.
A further 42 complaints were about proposed wind farms.
The German researchers led by Markus Weichenberger from Charite Universitatsmedizin Berlin, said the study was the first to demonstrate that infrasound near the hearing threshold may induce changes of neural activity across several brain regions, some of which are known to be involved in auditory processing, while others are regarded as key players in emotional and autonomic control.
“The question, whether infrasound can pose a threat to physical and mental wellbeing remains a much debated topic,” the paper said. “There seems to be a growing consensus that humans are indeed receptive to infrasound and that exposure to low-frequency sounds (including sounds in the IS frequency spectrum) can give rise to high levels of annoyance and distress.
“Infrasound also came under suspicion of promoting full-blown medical symptoms ranging from sleep disturbances, headache and dizziness, over tinnitus and hyperacusis, to panic attacks and depression, which have been reported to occur more frequently in people living close to wind parks,” it said.
The World Health Organisation currently states: “There is no reliable evidence that infrasounds below the hearing threshold produce physiological or psychological effects.’’
But the German study found: “It appears the notion, that sound needs to be perceived in order to exert relevant effects on the organism, falls short when aiming at an objective risk assessment of infrasound.”
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