Are wind turbines making people sick?

Science
by Julie Borg
Posted 11/06/14, 02:00 pm

The Brown County Health Board unanimously concluded last month that wind turbines, located on the Shirley Wind Farm in Glenmore, Wis., are a “human health hazard.” 

The Board conducted a one-year study of complaints filed by 75 residents who said they began to experience a variety of health problems shortly after the eight turbines were erected in 2010. The symptoms, including insomnia, ear discomfort, ear infections, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, headaches, chronic cold symptoms, disequilibrium, depression, heart palpitations, insomnia, and nausea, abated when the residents were away from home and reappeared when they returned. Three of the families vacated their homes, and one even moved into their camper. 

The residents of Glenmore are not alone. Richard James, who sits on the board of directors for the Institute of Noise Control Engineering, has investigated similar complaints in homes throughout the upper Midwest and along the East Coast. All of the homes he tested had sound pressure levels above the threshold that can trigger physiological effects, he said in a statement to the Brown County Health Board.

In Mason County, Mich., 19 residents recently settled a lawsuit against Lake Winds Energy Park over reduced property values, pain, and suffering after the energy company erected 56 turbines near them.

Investigators looking into the health complaints of residents living near two wind turbines in Falmouth, Mass., testified they began to experience the same symptoms as the homeowners within 20 minutes of entering one of the homes. According to Norfolk Now, the court prohibited the turbines from running between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. or all day on Sundays and some holidays.

Internationally, 49 lawsuits filed by residents living near wind farms in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States have gone to court. Judges decided in favor of the wind industry in all but the Falmouth case, according to the Energy and Policy Institute.

Nina Pierpont, physician and author, coined the term Wind Turbine Syndrome in her book of the same name after conducting a case series review of people living near wind turbines who experienced adverse health consequences.

Other researchers are not convinced. Whitfield Aslund and colleagues reviewed nearly 60 studies dealing with the health effects of wind turbines. The review concludes the complaints are likely due to a phenomenon they call the “nocebo effect” in which people are convinced that something harmless is making them sick. Aslund's team also believe some of the symptoms may be a normal reaction to annoyance over wind turbines being erected in a neighborhood or may be psychosomatic symptoms related to frustration from unrealistic expectations that the turbines would produce no noise.

“Responses like these are a pity. They are rubbish,” Pierpont said. “There is nothing psychosomatic or malingering about it.” Pierpont believes the health hazards from wind turbines are caused primarily by the effects of infrasound, sound at such a low frequency it can’t be heard by the human ear but which can nonetheless have an effect on the brain. Audible sound and vibrations play a part as well.

Whether or not Wind Turbine Syndrome exists, it seems inevitable that more people will be pulled into the debate. According to the Energy Department, in the first four years of the Obama administration electricity generation from wind and solar power more than doubled and the administration is committed to doubling it again by 2020.

Julie Borg

Julie is a clinical psychologist and writer who lives in Dayton, Ohio. She reports on science and intelligent design for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital.

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