“Wind Turbines Are Hazardous to Human Health”

Dec 8, 2010

Alec N. Salt, PhD, Cochlear Fluids Research Laboratory, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri

Click here for original report

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Overview of The Problem

Wind turbines such as those currently being constructed in rural areas generate high levels of infrasound noise. This is very low frequency noise (sound waves of less than 20 cycles per second) that you cannot hear. Even though you cannot hear the sound, it is easily detected by the ear at the levels that are produced and can have effects on the body that profoundly disturb some individuals.

The situation is somewhat similar to ultraviolet (UV) light and the eye. We cannot see ultraviolet light but we all understand that it can affect us profoundly, causing sunburn, photokeratitis (also known as snow blindness or welder’s flash) and cataracts. For UV light, there are simple ways that the damaging effects can be avoided using sunscreens and eye protection.

For infrasound exposure in your home, there is currently no way to protect yourself. Although double glazing and door seals will reduce the levels of the sounds you can hear, they have little influence on the infrasound level in the home. Infrasound is a slowly-changing pressure wave, that can only be blocked by completely sealing the house, making it airtight. In practice this cannot be performed due to building codes and the risk of suffocation.

The effects of wind turbine infrasound build up slowly on people. For most, there are no effects while in the vicinity of wind turbines for short periods (such as the workday) and when higher levels of other sounds (i.e. sound you can hear) are present.

The problem arises when people try and sleep in their homes in the presence of wind turbine noise. [Editor's note:  Dr. Nina Pierpont's research demonstrates that Wind Turbine Syndrome, for many people, is not limited to their night-time sleep.] The audible sounds are reduced by the house structure, so the room may be fairly quiet, but the sound becomes dominated by the infrasound that the person cannot hear.  The infrasound is detected by the ear and has subtle influences on the body that we are only just beginning to understand. It can cause dysequilibrium (like sea-sickness, but not induced by movement), tinnitus, a sensation of fullness in the ear and worst of all, disturb sleep, probably by stimulation of subconscious neural pathways to the brain. [Editor's note:  Dr. Pierpont's research demonstrates a considerably larger constellation of symptoms.]

People undergo repeated arousals from sleep (brief partial awakenings that are not remembered) and repeated awakenings when sleeping in such an environment that leave the individual stressed and unrefreshed.

Sleep disturbance over a prolonged period is known to be extremely hazardous to health, causing mental changes, high blood pressure, diabetes and increased mortality.  [Editor's note:  Dr. Pierpont's research suggests there is more  going on here than simply "sleep arousal"; it is a panic response, which she suggests is connected to a vestibular organ response to low-frequency noise/infrasound.]

In many cases, these health effects have been significant enough to force people to abandon their homes. In a few cases the homes have been “bought out” by the wind turbine companies (and the owners typically “silenced” by non-disclosure agreements, otherwise known as “gag” orders), but in others the home is abandoned and is difficult to sell to another family. Properties located in the vicinity of wind turbines are becoming increasingly difficult to sell.

Recent epidemiological studies suggest that significant disturbances of sleep and mental health occur for people living in homes up to 5 kilometers away from the wind turbines. This is because infrasound is capable of traveling greater distances than the sound you normally hear (which is why elephants and whales use it to communicate).

The wind turbine companies and most politicians are turning a deaf ear to this problem, and continue to promulgate false and debunked arguments that no problem exists. In this collection of pages, below, we consider in detail some of these issues in which we have scientific expertise.

Specific Issues Considered

Industrial Wind Turbines Generate Infrasound

The Ear Detects Infrasound at Levels That Are Not Heard

Infrasounds You Cannot Hear Can Affect You

Why Wind Turbine Sound Measurements Using the dB(A) Scale (A-weighted) Are Misleading

Why It Is Difficult to Demonstrate the Infrasound Generated by Wind Turbines

550 Meter (or Lower) Setbacks Are Insane!

Links to Presentations, Publications and Other Articles

Radio Interview about Wind Turbines and Infrasound with Dale Goldhawk, Zoomer Radio AM 740 Toronto, Nov 3, 2010

Presentation at the First International Symposium, THE GLOBAL WIND INDUSTRY AND ADVERSE HEALTH EFFECTS, Picton Ontario, October 29-31, 2010

Publication: Responses of the Ear to Low Frequency Sounds, Infrasound and Wind Turbines

NIDCD Website: Scientist Challenges the Conventional Wisdom That “What You Can’t Hear Won’t Hurt You

Radio Health Journal: Wind Farms: Is there a Health hazard? Interview with Reed Pence, August 1, 2010

Conclusion

According to the American Wind Energy Association (12/8/2010),

“The wind industry takes health concerns seriously. Any concern that wind turbines may impact someone negatively should be explored.”

These statements appear difficult to reconcile with the absence of any consideration of the effects of infrasound from wind turbines on humans, and with the exclusion of infrasound components from wind turbine noise by the use of A-weighted sound measurements.

  1. Comment by Anne Johnston on 12/08/2010 at 11:20 pm

    Excellent material, as usual. I have forwarded it on to Manvers Gone With The Wind (Ontario, Canada). I hope we don’t have to experience the problem.

    Listening to (Ontario Premier) Dalton McGuinty yesterday, commenting on the premature haste with which they acted on the War Measures Act, and how they should have given it more consideration, it struck me that that is his modus operandi. “Act first and think afterwards.”

  2. Comment by Julian Newman on 12/09/2010 at 9:07 am

    This is all very worrying, but I am also worried that we have been hearing more and more about this problem via blog and web sources, but they are readily dismissed because there does not seem to be peer-reviewed evidence published in well-regarded scientific journals. Is this because nobody has tried to get “reputable” sources to publish this work, or is there bias (by reveiwers or by editors) stopping the work getting published, or what?

    …………………….

    Editor’s reply: The clinical and scientific evidence is “readily dismissed” (as you put it) only because people in communities like yours allow it to be “readily dismissed” by wind developers and their trade associations (AWEA, CanWEA, BWEA). Be that as it may, the following report was published in a peer-reviewed “well-regarded scientific journal” (to quote you). Salt AN, Hullar TE. 2010. Responses of the ear to low frequency sounds, infrasound and wind turbines. Hearing Research 268(1-2):12-21.

    In addition, Nina Pierpont’s book, “Wind Turbine Syndrome” (2009), was peer-reviewed. Here’s a small lesson on “peer review” from a former professor (me) at an internationally ranked research university (Rutgers), where I did peer reviewing all the time, and had my books and articles peer reviewed all the time.

    Lesson #1: Peer review is not limited to articles. Books are also peer reviewed in the scholarly world. Books–ready for this?–are as scholarly and rigorously peer-reviewed as are articles. (In general, in the scholarly world, books are more rigorously peer-reviewed than articles. Again, I peer-reviewed both.)

    Lesson #2: If you have a copy of Pierpont’s book, turn to p. 15 and start educating yourself on what “peer review” really is. Notice that the bozos who dismiss Pierpont’s work as “not peer-reviewed,” are not scholars. They’re (ready for this?) “wind salesmen”! That’s like having a car salesman tell you that Dr. Calvin Luther Martin’s books with Yale University Press, Oxford Univ Press, Univ of Calif Press, and Johns Hopkins Univ Press, were not peer-reviewed. In a word, these claims are “bullshit”! (How would I have been granted tenure without having peer-reviewed books? I’d like an answer!)

    Lesson #3: What better judge of whether a book was peer-reviewed or not, than this man: Jack G. Goellner, Director Emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University Press (America’s oldest university press, founded 1878). During Mr. Goellner’s tenure as director, JHUP became a world leader, celebrated for its medical publishing, among other fields. Here’s what Mr. Goellner wrote about Pierpont’s book:

    Dr. Pierpont has written a superb and powerful book. Truly first-rate in its presentation of hard data, and with remarkable clarity. I devoutly hope that her findings, pinned as they are to unassailable research and rigorously peer-reviewed by ranking scientists, come to the attention of movers and shakers who can broaden the research base and shape the politics of dealing with Wind Turbine Syndrome.

    The issue is not peer-review, my friend; it’s whether (ready for this?) Pierpont and Salt and Nissenbaum and Hanning and so forth are right! Let me rephrase this. How are you going to explain these symptoms, reported from all around the world, from Japan to your own neighborhood? Are you going to say they’re bogus–that people are faking it? Faking it so audaciously that they even abandon their homes? What Pierpont et al. have done is offer solid clinical evidence for those symptoms–that is, they have explained the pathophysiology of the symptoms. At the moment, they are refining their explanations, but–and this is the vital part–that does not in any way invalidate people’s symptoms and experience.

    In sum, I’m afraid you’ve fallen for Big Wind’s red herring (aka bullshit) on “peer review.”