If you’ve watched horror movies, chances are you’ve been unnerved by inaudible frequencies below 20 hertz: infrasound. Filmmakers exploit infrasound – a force that can trigger insomnia, panic, visual disturbance (including seeing ghosts) – to increase audience emotion (fear, tension, chills, anxiety, sorrow, powerlessness).
Infrasound occurs when large masses move; its measurers monitor earthquakes, eruptions, tornadoes. Whales and elephants use infrasound to communicate through water or ground across miles.
And industrial turbines generate infrasound whenever their blades rotate. Unheard but felt, it penetrates insidiously, under cover of jet-runway-like noise protested by turbine neighbors for years.
A 28-minute German documentary “Infrasound Caused by Industrial Wind Turbines” (available on YouTube) presents scientific/medical research including Cardiovascular Surgeon Christian Vahl’s finding that exposure to 16 hertz for one hour produces “a clear reduction in heart muscle strength” and Simone Kühn’s cognitive studies showing that “infrasound activates regions of the brain (anterior cingulate, amygdala) which normally manage stress.” Vahl warns, “Whether we hear it or not, every form of energy has physical effects, and infrasound is particularly dangerous because we don’t hear it” and thus don’t know to protect acutely affectable people, an estimated 30% among us.
Until June 1, I’d never heard of infrasound.
But owning farms in West and Bellflower townships, I’d gotten windfarm salesmen’s voicemails throughout 2018-19, which I’d ignored despite believing in wind energy because my gut instinct said 60-story energy-emitters don’t belong near homes nor competing with farming. When badgerings ceased, I hoped we’d escaped again, unaware of county involvement until receiving the “Sapphire Sky” zoning notice May 19.
I Zoomed the hearings, asked questions and spoke an allotted three minutes, opposing surround-sound turbines, observing that combines receive strobe-like shadow flicker, too. But most consequentially, a Zoning Board of Appeals member’s query about infrasound led Invenergy’s noise expert to cite new Finnish research claiming turbine infrasound doesn’t affect people’s abilities. He dismissed concerns as “grasping at straws … humans can’t hear it.”
Indeed, people can’t hear it. That’s a problem.
I eventually found the Finnish study in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, stunned to learn its laboratory research utilized audio recordings in homes whose nearest turbines were .93 and .98 miles away, homes available because they’d been abandoned due to turbine effects. And: “In Finland, dwellings are usually further than this.”
Invenergy’s turbine setbacks are three times closer to homes than in Finland, whose setbacks are increasingly approximated across Europe: Westmeath County, Ireland, for example, recently established 1.24 miles as minimum for 500-foot turbines.
Before I’d learned all this, ZBA concluded three hearings in eight days (versus seven hearings over January 2018). I thought they should know infrasound research had been misrepresented (wittingly or not) before voting, but my eight-page report on infrasound and setbacks was rebuffed as “improper” timing, unforwarded to board members.
From notice of Sapphire Sky to hearings’ end was three weeks – some might call that “railroaded.”
Why hearings with insufficient time to investigate company claims? A rule requiring signup May 31 to “testify” against assertions not yet made? Another disallowing requestioning witnesses? Why allow windfarm companies to quietly enlist 27 participating homes, alerting 375 non-participating homes only two weeks pre-hearing?
To quote the chairman during ZBA’s June 22 deliberations, “ … we need to do something for those non-participating, more than we’ve done in the past … We need to be leaders. Let’s do it right.” Yet after two hours debating stipulations, ZBA watered down or rejected proposed protections, ultimately judged “too restrictive (on Invenergy),” only doable “going forward,” or because non-participants who didn’t attend hearings “don’t care.”
What about “too restrictive” on non-participants being dictated to, their well-being threatened for decades? What made their voices afterthoughts?
McLean County Board shouldn’t await “going forward” to rewrite turbine building codes endangering public health now. Bombardment by infrasound, noise and flicker already warranted longer setbacks to protect non-participants, who surely do care but feel powerless, not unlike how infrasound makes us feel.
Carolyn Taylor, a great-great-granddaughter of early settler and first township supervisor Henry West, for whom West Township was named, is a sociolinguist and marriage and family therapist who was a professor of family communication at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign through the 1990s.