A discussion about noise decibels and wind turbines dominated Monday’s Montgomery County Commissioners meeting held in the Crawfordsville City Council Chamber. Several residents, from both sides of the ongoing debate, gathered to hear the much anticipated presentation from an sound levels expert, and in particular the health impact of sound.
The guest speaker was commissioners’ first public attempt at gaining more information about a potential change in the county wind farm ordinance as requested by local activist group “No Wind Mills Montgomery County.” The group has asked commissioners to change the ordinance from allowing 60 decibels per windmill to 30 decibels.
Professor Keith Kluender, head of the Speech, Language and Hearing Science Department at Purdue University, was introduced by Commissioner Phil Bane. Bane told the large audience he invited Kluender to speak in an effort to hear from an “unbiased” source that could bring information so commissioners would be better informed when considering changes to the county wind farm ordinance.
Kluender prefaced his remarks by saying he had “no dog in the fight” and had no ties to the wind industry.
The professor started by explaining how sound travels from the source of the noise. He said that as sound travels further away from the source, it is rated at a lower decibel. His point was that something producing 60 decibels will immediately have a sound volume decrease. The further a person is from the source of the sound, the lower the decibels. The travel of sound is important when considering setbacks in the county ordinance.
He then presented information about the decibels produced from every day sounds. For instance, he said a window air conditioner will produce sustained 50 decibels and a refrigerator produces 40 decibels. An open window with no wind measures would be 30 decibels.
Kluender said one of the issues that should be a concern when considering health issues surrounding sound is infrasound. It is the name for sound waves with frequencies below the lower limit of human audibility. In other words, the human ear cannot pick up the sounds. Proponents of windmills say infrasound can cause health issues, such as people having a difficult time with their balance.
Kluender has not found any “reputable” studies stating humans are definitely affected by infrasound. However, he did say a recent study out of Washington University in St. Louis suggested there could be ties to infrasound and health issues in humans.
The professor said a 60 decibel limit is “on the high side” and that 30 decibels might be too low to be fair to wind energy companies. He suggested lowering the ordinance maximum noise to 48 decibels. Kluender also said homeowners can insulate their homes to reduce hearing exterior noise.
Several questions and comments from the public were received. Support for the windmills generally centered around windmills energy helping with global warming by reducing the use of coal-based energy. Those speaking against windmills questioned the existence of global warming and the negative effects wind farms can have on the county. Included on the list is sleep disturbances that can occur due to flickering wind turbine lights that filter into homes.
When discussing safety in noise, Kluender did say that anything that produces noise for 24 hours-per-day, as a wind turbine does, can change the discussion of health ramifications of living close to a wind turbine.
Bane said commissioners will continue to look into the matter of changing the county wind farm ordinance and warned both sides the final result will probably “not please everyone.”
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