A new study “Health Effects and Wind Turbines: A Review of the Literature” has just been published in the academic journal Environmental Health (14 September 2011).
The review, by Loren D Knopper and Christopher A Ollson, reviews the peer-reviewed scientific literature, government agency reports, and the most prominent information found in popular literature on the subject. As the abstract notes, “People interested in this debate turn to two sources of information to make informed decisions: scientific peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals and the popular literature and internet.”
In a classic understatement, the abstract notes that “conclusions of the peer reviewed literature differ in some ways from those in the popular literature.” On the one hand, “no peer reviewed articles demonstrate a direct causal link between people living in proximity to modern wind turbines, the noise they emit and resulting physiological health effects.” On the other, “In the popular literature, self-reported health outcomes are related to distance from turbines and the claim is made that infrasound is the causative factor for the reported effects, even though sound pressure levels are not measured.”
“While it is acknowledged that noise from wind turbines can be annoying to some and associated with some reported health effects (e.g., sleep disturbance), especially when found at sound pressure levels greater than 40 db(A), given that annoyance appears to be more strongly related to visual cues and attitude than to noise itself, self reported health effects of people living near wind turbines are more likely attributed to physical manifestation from an annoyed state than from wind turbines themselves.”
The abstract concludes that “assessing the effects of wind turbines on human health is an emerging field and conducting further research into the effects of wind turbines (and environmental changes) on human health, emotional and physical, is warranted. ”
The review included literature on infrasound, audible noise, Nina Pierpont’s book that coined the term “wind turbine syndrome” and others such as Alves-Pereira and Castelo Branco from Portugal who believe they have identified something called “Vibro-Acoustic Disease”.
However, the review finds of Pierpont and the Portugese study that , “to date, these studies have not been subjected to rigorous scientific peer review, and given the venue for their distribution and limited availability of data, it is extremely difficult to assess whether or not the information provided is reliable or valid.
“What is apparent, however, is that these studies are not necessarily scientifically defensible: they do not contain noise measurements, only measured distances from study participants to the closest turbines… they suffer from a small number of participants and appear to lack of objectivity as authors are also known advocates who oppose wind turbine developments.
“…In fact, the selection process is highly biased towards finding a population who believes they have been affected by turbines.”
While this study recommends further research, it does not lend credibility to those campaigners who are seeking to associate wind farms with severe health risk. In fact, it mostly supports the psycho-social aspect of illness that is associated with wind farms, rather than direct physiological health effects.
“In the peer reviewed studies, annoyance tends to peak in the >35 dB(A) range but tends to be more strongly related to subjective factors like visual impact, attitude to wind turbines in general (benign vs. intruders) and sensitivity to noise rather than noise itself from turbines.”
The study concludes that research “should be undertaken by multi-disciplinary teams involving, for example, acoustical engineers, health scientists, epidemiologists, social scientists and public health physicians. Ideally developers, government agencies, consulting professionals and non-government organizations would form collaborations in attempt to address these issues.”
The study is 22 pages long, including a list of 41 references reviewed, and can be downloaded directly as a PDF file here.
5 thoughts on “New study confirms: no link between wind turbine noise and “physiological health effects””
the Knopper & Ollson review is yet another literature review going over “old ground”.
There are some really important new empirical studies using real data and independent researchers, which are starting to shed some light on why wind turbine noise is so much more “annoying” at the same dBA (sound pressure level), when compared to railway, air traffic and road traffic noise. This was clearly shown in the seminal work in 2004 by Pederson and Waye, (Perception and Annoyance due to wind turbine noise – a dose-response relationship in J Acous. Soc. Am. 116 (6) 2004 pp 3460-70). For those interested, the graph which clearly illustrates this was reproduced in Dr Chris Hanning’s presentation to the Society for Wind Vigilance’s conference in Ontario in October last year. See http://www.windvigilance.com, find the symposium presentations, and scroll down to page 20 of Dr Hanning’s presentation.
More and more acoustics and medical researchers who are looking at the reported problems are convinced that this difference is partly resulting from the low frequency noise component of wind turbine noise.
A recent paper by Danish Acousticians Moller & Pedersen, published in a peer reviewed Acoustics Journal, (Moller H, Pedersen CS, Low Frequency Noise from Large Wind Turbines in J. Acous. Soc. of Am. 129 (6) June 2011 pp 3727-3744, located at wind-watch.org via its search function) has found that larger turbines emit more low frequency noise proportionately compared to smaller turbines. The effects of this can be seen at wind developments where the turbines are larger such as Waterloo Wind development, where residents report the effects of the low frequency noise out to 10km in certain weather and wind conditions. Waterloo now has a total of 5 households who have left their homes semi-permanently, as they become too unwell when they are home if the turbines are operating and the wind is blowing from certain directions. One resident has been instructed by his treating doctor not to go back when the turbines are operating, such is the severity of his symptoms, which include escalating angina, high blood pressure and diabetes. These problems are stable when he stays away from the turbines, and similar problems have been reported in other residents elsewhere in Australia and internationally. There is much work needed by our best medical researchers, to find out why this is happening to these residents.
Low frequency noise has been known by acousticians for years to cause a range of non-trivial symptoms in some individuals, which Professor Geoffrey Leventhall himself has acknowledged on a number of occasions are identical to those described by Dr Nina Pierpont in her study. Most recently, Professor Leventhall stated this at the NHMRC workshop in Canberra on 7th June, 2011. He now attributes these symptoms to “stress”, rather than to low frequency noise, a marked change from his position in 2003 before he started working for the wind industry. I recommend you read a literature review he was coauthor of in 2003, which can be found on the following weblink: http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/noise/research/lowfrequency/ , entitled “A review of published research on low frequency noise and its effects Report for DEFRA UK May 2003”, with particular reference to page 49.
Ben, I don’t believe that well intentioned people such as yourself and Cam really mean to ignore obvious human illness and suffering. Yet more unregulated building of turbines close to humans will only increase the number of these sick, displaced and until recently, ignored and vilified rural residents. Where is the social justice in that outcome? Those most affected by the current situation are those with the least financial ability to remove themselves and start again somewhere else. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the ill effects of exposure to operating wind turbines, and are often least able to move. They cannot help getting sick, any more than someone can help getting motion sick.
The sooner this necessary research is done by the best independent researchers working in multidisciplinary teams involving clinicians and acousticians, and informed by the affected residents and their treating doctors, if possible working collaboratively with the wind industry, the better for everyone, including the wind industry and its supporters. It will indeed give some certainty to planning regulations if a dose – response curve can be reliably developed to take account of different turbine sizes, different topography, and prevailing winds, and will enable a fairer and constructive problem solving approach to a very contentious problem. Much better than the current situation where the most vulnerable people including children and the elderly are being left to suffer, while the problems are denied.
Dr Sarah Laurie
Medical Director, Waubra Foundation
Sarah, how do you explain away the fact that people who have turbines on their properties do not have any health problems?
You say, “There are some really important new empirical studies using real data and independent researchers…” Care to provide some links?
Of the 3 studies you cite, only one is “new”, the other two are from 2003 and 2004 respectively.
And what if the “necessary research” concludes that your claims and those of windfarm opponents are baseless? Will you accept the findings and refrain from going into communities and causing unnecessary upset?
Sarah, the 2011 Moller & Pedersen study you cite above actually contradicts your argument that infrasound is affecting the health of people living around wind turbines. In the conclusion, the authors state:
“The turbines do emit infrasound, but levels are low when human sensitivity to these frequencies is accounted for. Even close to the turbines, the infrasonic sound pressure level is much below the normal hearing threshold, and infrasound is thus not considered a problem with turbines of the investigated size and construction.”
The low frequency noise in this study specifically concerns annoyance, which is a valid issue. Annoyance is obviously not an ideal outcome and it emphasises that wind turbines should be cited appropriately.
However, it doesn’t support this idea of some mysterious health effects being caused by low frequency noise from wind turbines.
Sarah, if social justice concerns you as much as your alleged concerns for people’s health and well-being, why are you not railing against coal seam gas projects and expanded coal mines? If direct physical and psychological effects is by your concern, shouldn’t you be concentrating on these issues?
Nice information. I think people are more concerned about noise pollution associated with the operation of wind turbines. Newer technologies are coming up that creates less noise. Let’s expect most efficient wind turbines and subsequently more greener future!