Health Summary

The issue of health effects of wind turbines is a late addition to my research. I’ve held off because, although the noise, flicker, vibration etc of turbines could conceivably cause health problems, the evidence I’ve seen until recently has not been totally persuasive. A number of people living close to turbines have complained about these various effects, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to health problems. Unfortunately, over time, the evidence is building up. More and more doctors are starting to speak out about the symptoms they’ve noticed and how they seem to be directly related to turbine exposure.

Thus far the argument between proponents and opponents has quite a deja-vu aspect to it. Something is created (a drug, a wind farm, a new chemical, cigarettes, whatever) and the creators make a lot of money from it. After some length of time people exposed to the creation start noticing health symptoms. It takes a while, but finally there’s enough correlation between the creation and the symptoms to get someone’s attention. The creators impede the following investigations in any way they can – hiding data, misrepresenting data, hiring pr firms, attacking the detractors. I think we’ve all seen the script. Eventually the evidence becomes overwhelming and the government regulates and/or the lawyers descend. But until all this happens, people are harmed.

Unfortunately, that utterly predictable scenario is now playing out. Somewhere around a thousand people from all around the world have publicly complained about health effects that seem to coincide with the turbines. I have collected a sampling of them in my Health Arguments of Opponents Page. The proponents have mounted a competing campaign which I have documented and critiqued in my Health Arguments of Proponents Page.

As you read through the proponents’ arguments you’ll notice the most they can say is something to the effect that there is no direct harm that can be scientifically proved. This should sound familiar to anyone over 40.  Some of the proponents’ studies are included on my bad science pages.

What the opponents are asking for seems quite reasonable to me, especially considering that if wind turbines are installed on the scale our political leaders are envisioning there will be tens of thousands of people living too close for comfort to these industrial plants.

Presently there are six major health impacts that are in the news. They are:

  • Sleep disturbance by audible (generally low-frequency) noise. This is widely reported. The wind industry and the government seem to regard this as an insignificant problem. I can’t imagine anyone not on their payroll agreeing with them. Dr. Hanning has published an excellent report on the topic.
  • Stress induced by audible (generally low-frequency) noise. This is widely reported. The wind industry and the government seem to think that this is “all in your head”. While that may be true in a strict sense, stress – regardless of how it is induced – is a health problem.
  • Noise/pressure interference with balance mechanisms, which in turn causes a surprisingly long list of health complaints. This is the primary topic of Dr. Pierpont’s book.
  • Vibro-Acoustic Disease, or VAD. This is Dr. Alves-Pereira’s specialty. Leventhall claims no infrasound or LFN harm is possible, but the research of VAD specialists tells a different story. VAD is not common, but it can be life-shortening.
  • Blade flicker. It may also affect the balance system, causing many of the same symptoms as noise does. It is mentioned in Dr. Pierpont’s book, but only in passing.
  • Electrical or magnetic effects. So far there’s disturbing anecdotal stories, but nobody has come up with a mechanism to explain how the harm might be caused.

6 thoughts on “Health Summary”

  1. Pierpont’s study is so flawed as to be unusable. It is riddled with bias, methodological errors, inappropriate assertions as to cause and unsupported conclusions. Considering it as evidence requires a complete ignorance of health studies methodologies and a deep bias against wind energy.
    http://www.quora.com/Wind-Power/Is-Dr-Nina-Pierpoints-Wind-Turbine-Syndrome-a-real-medical-syndrome-caused-by-wind-turbines/answer/Mike-Barnard

    Vibro-acoustic disease is the invention of a couple of researchers who are only referenced by themselves. 74% of all references to VAD papers are in other papers by Alves-Pereira. No one takes this seriously, for good reason.
    http://www.quora.com/Wind-Power/Is-the-infrasound-emitted-by-wind-turbines-harmful-to-humans-or-animals/answer/Mike-Barnard

    Shadow flicker has no negative health impacts except temporary annoyance and will be an issue for a specific house for a few minutes at dusk or dawn in a handful of days a year, yet the industry takes it into account and works to minimize it for nearby residents when siting wind farms. The three major wind farm siting tools — WindPro, WindFarm and Windfarmer — all have shadow flicker assessment models to avoid significant issues for nearby households. Households with people who find shadow flicker annoying can easily close their drapes for a few minutes on a handful of days a year.
    http://www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/what%20we%20do/uk%20energy%20supply/energy%20mix/renewable%20energy/ored/1416-update-uk-shadow-flicker-evidence-base.pdf

    Fundamentally, anti-wind lobbyists agitating about health impacts are the cause of negative health impacts, not wind farms.
    http://www.quora.com/Wind-Power/What-might-cause-people-who-live-near-wind-turbines-to-get-sick/answer/Mike-Barnard

    If you’re actually going where the evidence leads you, read all of the pro- and con-material, as I have. If you are unbiased, you’ll agree that the only real impact is that a small percentage of people very close to wind farms find the noise annoying, and that standard noise remediations — white noise generators, closing windows — that tens of millions world-wide use daily to deal with unwanted environmental noise are sufficient to address the problem. You will also find that the best cure for noise-related annoyance is money.

  2. Hi Mike, I was wondering how long it would take you to do a drive-by here. You mention actually reading all of the pro- and con- material. Just so’s you know, arguably I’ve read more of the pro material than anyone else on the planet, having written any number of fairly lengthy critiques. And in all that pro material there’s not one visit or interview or medical record review of an alleged victim. It’s easy not to find something when you try so hard not to find it.

  3. I’m sorry but I just don’t buy this. I DID not read all the evidence on health issues etc, so I’ll take your word that around 1000 ppl in this world of abt 7billion complained abt having wind turbine induced health symptoms.
    What gets me is that people seem all too very happy to speak out abt these turbine induced health effects. But a fossil fuel plant, nuclear plant etc in the middle of nowhere, no one seems to think much about. Evidence that rising CO2 levels is can in part be attributed to the burning fossil fuels is I think unquestionable. But because these plants are not in plain site and “in my backyard”, I don’t hear similar complaints running around. Burning fuels doesnt cause flicker, noise etc, but do we really need to go into what they DO cause in the bigger picture of things?

    Wind turbines have to be manufactured, materials have to be processed and energy and resources need to be expended for that – we can go into another discussion about life cycle performance and debate about whether the wind industry can really offset and provid a NET reduction in emissions – but I think you are already doing a good job of that in your other sections (I just came across your site so I need to do some more catching up!).

    Bottom line is that I find it difficult to understand how these wind tubrine induced health issues are being used as a weapon vs. wind, when there are other points to discuss.

  4. Daniel, thanks for your comments. One point where I think you are wrong is about “people seem all too very happy to speak out…” My experience has been quite the opposite. Of course a few victims will try to take advantage of the situation, but by far most people just want the problem fixed so they can get on with their lives. There’s all sorts of pressures keeping people silent about their suffering, like harming their property values or their relationships with their neighbors. We know from quietly abandoned and for-sale homes that the problems are far more widespread than what is reported. The simple fact that wind energy consumes huge amounts of real estate compared to fossil fuel plants leads to increased exposure of neighbors and consequently more complaints.

    Your last paragraph echos thoughts that I’ve had – that by bringing up all these issues it may appear that we are throwing everything we can think of at the wall, hoping something will stick. There may be some people out there who are generically against wind energy and will fight it with any argument they can. In my case, I’ve been surprised that wind has so many problems and so few benefits, and I feel obligated to point all this out, even at the risk of appearing just generically against wind. I can assure you that all of my positions have been thoroughly researched and are honestly held.

  5. @Daniel : The trouble is that to generate as much energy as a large scale fossil or nuclear plant, that are frequently in the scale of 1.2 GW, you need 1000 6 MW wind turbine at a 20% load factor (and over Germany for example they actually were only at 17% last year. And the more wind turbine you implant, the more you are forced to use suboptimal locations, so the more the load factor goes down). And actually because some times the wind doesn’t flow you need on one side the plant and on the other the 1000 wind turbines. If you use more reasonably size 3 MW onshore turbine, you need 2000 of them.

    This mean that the scale of any proximity problem is multiplied by 1000 or 2000. So there’s no reason to come out surprised that wind turbines get a lot more of those complaints that does a conventional plant.

    However I for one wouldn’t use that as the main or even serious problems of wind turbines. I’m not so far completely convinced the sound harmful effects reported are real. They do seem quite similar to the one reported for cellular phone, and for those the science is there to show it’s purely psychosomatic.

    But still, I was surprised by how dismissive the comment above by Mike Barnard was. It sounds amazingly similar to the way big industries with their pockets full of money try to silence opponent, including a level of contempt that those by now are usually smart enough to try to hide. I thought I was reading the representative for an airport trying to dismiss the annoyances reported by the neighborhood.

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