More research will be required to determine safe set back distances from wind turbines, a leading scientist said in Tullamore last week.
Dr Mariana Alves-Pereira was speaking to the Tribune after addressing a seminar on the effects of the turbines on animal and human health.
The Portuguese scientist is an expert on infrasound, the energy created by sound which humans cannot hear, and low frequency noise, the sound generated by wind turbines.
Dr Alves-Pereira presented research findings which indicated significant risks from turbines and other mechanisms.
She cited studies in her home country dating back to 1980 which showed how long-term exposure to infrasound had damaged the health of aeronautics workers.
The seminar in the Bridge House Hotel, which attracted an attendance of about 150 people from all over the country, was also told the health of horses, sheep, pigs, mink and geese had been adversely affected by proximity to wind farms.
She said humans suffered a variety of effects, including a thickening of the sac around the heart which can lead to heart attacks.
She mentioned many studies, including research at a military aircraft facility and a wind farm in Portugal.
The researchers were surprised to find the same effects on the aeronautics workers and people living near a wind farm.
“People who live in infrasound and low frequency noise see an accelerated onset of the symptoms,” she said.
“In our wind turbine case in Portugal and other cases of infrasound and low frequency noise in the home, we have given them the same medical diagnostic tests that we’ve given the aircraft technicians.
“We didn’t believe in the beginning that we’d get anything, and there it was.”
Experiments have also been carried out on the impact of infrasound and low frequency noise on rats.
Dr Alves-Pereira also pointed to a study which showed how the lower limbs of foals living close to a wind farm were deformed.
She said she could not say “with certainty” that low frequency noise caused the limb deformities but added: “What we did find with the horses, in terms of cellular structures, [they] were damaged and it was of the same nature as the damage we found in the rats and in the humans.”
“We didn’t find the limb deformities in the rats and the humans but in terms of the cells, what we found in the horses was what we found in the rats and what we found in the humans,” she explained.
Asked if there could be a safe set back distances from residences, Dr Alves-Pereira remarked: “I imagine that physically there is. We don’t know what it is yet. We haven’t had the studies to show either way what is safe.”
“We know from people’s complaints that two and three kilometres may not be sufficient. But that’s just from people’s complaints, they have not been verified with medical diagnostic tests.”
Whether or not a person suffers from what Dr Alves-Pereira calls “vibroacoustic disease” depends on prior exposure.
“A retired pilot and a person who has always lived on a rural farm will react differently to noise,” she said.
“The guy who is a retired pilot is going to feel it quicker and more immediately than the other person who is not.”
She added: “Prior noise exposure is absolutely fundamental to determine the prognostic of what you’re going to feel when you’re in your home.”
The cumulative effect of infrasound and low frequency noise can begin in the womb, she explained; so a person born after their mother was working in a factory when she was pregnant will feel the effects first.
There is no evidence that people build up resistance to infrasound and low frequence from prolonged exposure, she said.
Earlier, Dr Alves-Pereira told the seminar that the use of dBA for measuring wind turbine sound was inappropriate.
She has developed a machine for quantifying infrasound and low frequency noise and urged people with concerns to get measurements taken.
“If you are having wind turbines planned nearby you, you should get measurements before they go up,” she said.
Unless measurements are taken beforehand, it is likely wind farm operators will claim the sound could have been present before the turbines were installed, she said.
Dr Alves-Pereira is a guest of Agnes Doolan, Banagher resident and retired science teacher who is a trenchant opponent of wind farms.
“I do love the countryside and the bogs of Offaly and I am utterly appalled at what is happening to our countryside and what is happening to our people in the countryside,” said Ms Doolan.
The Portuguese scientist will spend a month travelling around Ireland visiting sites of installed and proposed wind farms.
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