17 Health Studies (2 of 3)

In part 1 of this series I introduced the reviews and listed them along with links.  In this part I will delve a little deeper into the reviews, ending with a paragraph summarizing each one.

Part 1                     Part 3

As a summary, here is a clickable chart of the 17 reviews and how I “rated” them on several criteria:The first column asks if that review was in fact about wind turbines and health.  Not all of the 17 are, which brings up an interesting question of how Chapman got to 17.  For example, he omitted Maine’s Dora Mills’ Wind Turbine Neuro-acoustical Issues, yet he included material from CanWEA’s web site.

The second column asks if the review was peer-reviewed.  I personally am not that impressed by peer review, but wind turbine proponents seem to be – especially when it supports their industry.  Chapman seems fairly obsessed by it.  I find only 4 (or maybe 5, Fiumicelli is uncertain) of these reviews were peer reviewed.  No doubt Chapman would say that, for example, the NHMRC review was also peer reviewed.  He, along with Leventhall, were the reviewers.  I leave it for my readers to judge whether this constituted a peer review.  Climategate comes to mind, eh?

In the third column I rate how independent I consider the lead author or sponsor to be.  A “3” indicates the review was under the control of someone who directly makes money from the wind industry.  A “2” indicates an indirect interest, i.e. a review was sponsored by a government that is on record as supporting wind energy.  You may note that there’s only one “1”, the NRC.

The fourth column notes if a major part of that review depended upon Pedersen/van den Berg/Shepherd.  As you can see, most of them did, including all of the government-sponsored reviews.

Most of these reviews hedge their conclusions by pointing out that while the evidence to date shows annoyance and sleep issues, there are still some uncertainties about the cause.  Instead of citing the noise (which has an unquestioned ability to cause these symptoms) they are quick to speculate on visual and attitude related causes, in essence trying to blame the victims.  This is in stark contrast to the original researcher, Pedersen, who in 2009 wrote:

Possible adverse health effects due to exposure of wind turbine noise have been discussed since the first modern electrical generating wind turbines were erected in the 1970’s. Despite this, only a few large epidemiological studies have been carried out. This paper is based on data from two Swedish studies [Pedersen 2004, Pedersen 2007] and one Dutch study [van den Berg 2008] in which self-reported health and well-being were related to calculated A-weighted sound pressure levels outside the dwelling of each respondent. The consistencies in results from these studies make it possible to summarize the impact of wind turbine noise on people living in the vicinity of the turbines. The main adverse effect was annoyance due to the sound; the prevalence of noise annoyance increased with increasing sound pressure levels. [my emphasis] Disturbance of sleep was furthermore related to wind turbine noise; the proportion of residents reporting sleep disturbance due to noise increased significantly at sound levels close to those recommended as highest acceptable levels at new installations. No other clear associations between sound levels and self reported health symptoms have hitherto been found. However, noise annoyance was correlated with several measurements of stress and lowered well-being. The study design does not allow causal conclusions, but the association indicates a possible hindrance of psycho-physiological restitution. Such a hindrance could in the long term lead to adverse health effects not detected hear[sic].

Pedersen is certainly qualified to opine on such things, and she indicates that the noise is the main problem.  I’m not holding my breath waiting for retractions from the 17 reviews.  They may have taken this stance out of sincere doubts about the evidence, but it is interesting that of the 17 reviews only NRC could reasonably called independent.  The other 16 reviews either have a sponsor or lead author who explicitly supports wind energy, or who profits from it.  And only in NRC does any form of the word “precaution” appear.

Individual Summaries

At the risk of getting really tedious, below are the 17 reviews with a few comments and a quote from each one, indicating that these reviews (except for CANWEA’s, of course) are far more nuanced than Chapman would have us believe.

1) MassachusettsI’ve posted on this review previously.  This study was sponsored by the Mass DEP, who works for the Governor, who strongly supports wind energy.  Essentially they dismiss, with little explanation let alone justification, almost every study out there.  And then having fault with everybody (apparently they are waiting for the flawless study) they say there’s no evidence there’s a problem.  At least they had the decency to admit “In other words, it is possible that noise from some wind turbines can cause sleep disruption.”

2) Oregon.  The Oregon review was sponsored by the Oregon Health Authority.  Oregon has a policy of supporting wind energy.  This review gives more credence to the same studies that Massachusetts utterly dismissed, including the Pedersen, van den Berg and Shepherd studies, concluding “In the analysis of combined data, the researchers found that people who reported annoyance outdoors were more likely to report sleep interruption, feeling tense and stressed, and feeling irritable. Annoyance indoors was positively associated with sleep interruption.”  I guess all of these are somehow not considered health effects.

3) Fiumicelli.    Apparently Fiumicelli wrote this review on his own nickle.  He works for a company that consults for (among others) the wind energy industry.   It is mostly concerned with Pedersen and van den Berg’s studies and does a good job of presenting them.  In summary he concludes “…there is sufficient uncertainty about human response to wind turbine noise to prevent a robust dose response being formulated at this time.”

4) Bolin.  This review was sponsored by the government of Sweden, which has a policy of supporting wind energy.  It is also mostly concerned with Pedersen and van den Berg and like Fiumicelli does a good job of presenting their studies.  One of his conclusions is “…a statistically significant association between wind turbine noise and self-reported sleep disturbance was found in two studies.”

5) Knopper.  Knopper and Ollson both work for consulting companies that have business with wind developers.  As an example of their bias they mention Nissenbaum’s study (unarguably the most rigorous wind turbine noise/health study to date) and then draw no conclusions from it.  Instead they convince themselves that it must be something else besides the noise that causes the problems.  The crux of his paper is  “What both types [peer-reviewed and popular] of studies have in common is the conclusion that wind turbines can be a source of annoyance for some people.  The difference between both types is the reason for annoyance.”  Any real estate agent knows that one of a neighborhood’s biggest liabilities is noise, but somehow proponents like Knopper cling to the notion that it is something else that bothers people about wind turbines – like their attitude or the visual impacts.  Blaming the victim is a common tactic when there’s money (or a jail sentence) involved.

6) UK Infrasound.  This review doesn’t mention wind turbines and health at all.

7) NHMRC. I’ve posted on this review previously.  It’s profoundly biased.  It was sponsored by the Australian government, who strongly supports the wind energy industry. They look for ways to support the industry’s position and, surprise!, manage to find one.  “This review of the available evidence, including journal articles, surveys, literature reviews and government reports, supports the statement that: There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms and that any potential impact on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines.”  Does that give you any confidence?

8) King.  I’ve posted on this review previously.  King works for the Ontario government, which strongly supports the wind energy industry.  Even so, she hedges.  “The review also identified that sound measurements at residential areas around wind turbines and comparisons with sound levels around other rural and urban areas, to assess actual ambient noise levels prevalent in Ontario, is a key data gap that could be addressed. An assessment of noise levels around wind power developments and other residential environments, including monitoring for sound level compliance, is an important prerequisite to making an informed decision on whether epidemiological studies looking at health outcomes will be useful.

9) UK Noise.  This review doesn’t discuss wind turbines and health at all.

10) Minnesota.  The Minnesota government supports wind energy.  This report, however, is perhaps the most evenly-balanced of the reviews Chapman quotes and their conclusion, on page 25, is worth reading in its entirety.  As a sample: “The most common complaint in various studies of wind turbine effects on people is annoyance or an impact on quality of life. Sleeplessness and headache are the most common health complaints and are highly correlated (but not perfectly correlated) with annoyance complaints.”  Exactly how Chapman viewed this report as supporting his conclusion is a mystery.

11) CanWEA.  A web page from an industry lobbyist seems out of place in a list that wants us to regard as unbiased.

12) Colby 2009.   I’ve posted on it previously.  It reaches conclusions that have no rational connection with their references.  For example, their section 3.4.1 (page 3-15) covers Pedersen et al and it certainly reads like there’s a problem.  Yet they call for no further research.  This report was sponsored by CanWEA, the industry lobbyist, which may explain the disconnect.

13) Colby 2008I’ve posted on this review previously.  It was sponsored by the Chatham-Kent (Ontario) council, which strongly supports wind energy (or at least it did in 2008).  Even so, Colby hedges: “Despite copious literature from experts in government, manufacturers of wind turbines, and support groups both for and against wind power, very little scientific evidence exists on the health effects of wind turbines.”  Yet he calls for no more research.

14) NRC.  This is the only independent review on Chapman’s list, so whatever they say might carry more weight than the other reviews.  Unfortunately their treatment of noise issues is quite sparse.  Out of almost 400 pages, the noise section starts on page 157 and runs for just 3 pages.  Their major references are BWEA (Britain’s wind energy lobbyist!) and Pierpont.  At least they don’t trash Pierpont, concluding “More needs to be understood regarding the effects of low-frequency noise on humans.

15) Jakobsen.  This review was sponsored by the Danish government, which obviously strongly supports the wind energy industry.  He reviewed a couple of studies that measured infrasound from a variety of turbines and came to the conclusion there wasn’t enough to explain all the neighbor’s complaints.  Instead, he noted that the audible noise was maybe the problem: “When the A-weighted levels are compared to the Danish noise limits for wind turbines, which are 40 dB(A) for dwelling areas and 45 dB(A) for single dwellings in the countryside, both measured out of doors, it is seen that both the
criteria are violated in most of the cases. Consequently, a simple assessment of the “normal” wind turbine noise suggests a fair explanation of the adverse public reaction…”  This review had no comments on health issues per se.

16) Leventhall.  This review didn’t discuss wind turbines at all.

17) Pedersen.  This review was published after the field work for Pedersen’s first study was completed, but before the results from that first study were published.  It was sponsored by the Swedish government, which supports the wind energy industry (back in 2003, see comment below).  At this point it was evident that wind turbine noise was a problem and this paper relates some of the early research on the topic.  Pedersen is a competent researcher and realized she didn’t have all the answers.  The conclusions on page 22 are worth reading in their entirety.

3 thoughts on “17 Health Studies (2 of 3)”

  1. Sweden doesn’t support wind that much. They recently decided not to intensify their development of wind turbines despite the fact that the very high level of hydro in their mix makes it much easier to integrate than in other countries (and doesn’t “lock-in” the backup fossil power, and also doesn’t lower it’s efficiency by making it follow load)

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