“Infrasound from wind turbines: An overlooked health hazard” (Clinical report, Sweden)

Aug 7, 2013

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Editor’s note:  The following clinical review article, sent to us by Dr. Mauri Johansson, MD, MPH, is from the Swedish medical journal, Läkartidningen.  Unfortunately for us, it is available only in Swedish.  Fortunately for us, “Google” offers a reasonable translation service.  Behold the result!  If readers spot mistakes in translation, please contact me and I’ll correct them.

Notice that the lead author, Dr. Enbom, is not only an MD, PhD, but—this is crucial!—he’s a neuro-otologist.  A neuro-otologist is a combination “neurologist + otolaryngologist.”  In plain English, this means that Dr. Enbom’s research and clinical expertise focus on disorders of the inner ear (along with the nose & throat).  Wind Turbine Syndrome (WTS) is chiefly a disease of the inner ear, it increasingly appears.  The good news is, this physician/scientist (that’s what the PhD is about) has the exact clinical and research credentials to pass judgment on WTS.  (This separates him from amateurs like Geoff Leventhall, a Brit with a physics PhD, and the Australian “wonder,” Simon Chapman, armed with a sociology PhD.  Both men see fit to scoff at WTS, despite neither one having the slightest expertise or remotest credential to do so.  To call this ludicrous is to grossly understate the matter.)

Click here for a PDF of the original (Swedish).

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Infrasound from wind turbines:  An overlooked health hazard,” Läkartidningen, vol. 110 (2013), pp. 1388-89.

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Håkan Enbom, MD, PhD, Ear/Nose/Throat specialist, otoneurology and specialist in dizziness disorders, and Inga Malcus Enbom, Ear/Nose/Throat specialist and specialist in allergy and hypersensitivity reactions.  Both authors are employed at the City Health ENT, Angelholm.  Contact:  inga.malcus@telia.com

Abstract:

Infrasound from wind turbines affects the inner ear and is a potential health risk for people with migraine or other type of central sensitization. The authors maintain that the legal framework for the creation of new wind turbines should be revised, taking into account this fact.

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Previous scientific studies on wind turbines and infrasound have been contradictory. They have therefore not been sufficiently credible when planning a framework for the establishment of wind turbines. In recent years, however, a new insight has emerged on the central sensitization, providing a better understanding of migraine, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes [1, 2] and some cases of tinnitus and dizziness. This understanding is also important for understanding how infrasound from wind turbines can affect health. Several studies have found that living near wind turbines often create severe sleep disturbance and depression. They have also found an increased incidence of dizziness, tinnitus, hyperacusis, headache, increased activation of the autonomic nervous system, etc. [3, 4].

In addition to the audible sound, which can provide noise damage and be generally disruptive, mentally, spinning wind turbines also produce a vibrant infrasound that affects the inner ear and the central nervous system without damaging the hearing.

Infrasound is sound with frequencies below 20 Hz, corresponding to wavelengths of 17 meters and above, that is not perceived with normal hearing. This sound, if it is not mitigated substantially, propagates over very long distances. It arises from several sources, such as pulsating flows from chimneys, large eddies (such as wind turbines and large jet engines) and large vibrating surfaces. In scientific studies, infrasound from wind turbines has been measured at levels so low that the sound is not perceived by humans. It has also been determined that infrasound from wind turbines does not give rise to noise damage in the traditional sense [5].

In general, what has not been taken into account in many of these studies, is that infrasound from wind turbines has a rhythmic pulsing sound, and the pulsating sound pressure affects the inner ear, although no sound is perceived by the individual. The pressure waves propagate into the inner ear fluid-filled cavities, and this “massage effect” affects the sensory cells in the inner ear hearing and organs of balance [6]. Many studies fail to take into account the fact that some people are more sensitive than others to the sensory impact. Some are significantly affected by the pulsating sound pressure while others are not affected by it in a significant way.

The rhythmic, pumping infrasound from wind turbines stimulates inner ear sensory functions [7, 8]. Such sensory stimulation can occur in people with sensory hypersensitivity, causing symptoms such as unsteadiness, dizziness, headache, concentration difficulties, visual disturbances, and more [9].  The problems arise even if the noise level is relatively low, since infrasound constantly affects and rhythmically changes the pressure in the inner ear via the sound paths. The pulsing sound pressure from wind turbines also indirectly activates the autonomic nervous system, causing increased secretion of adrenaline with consequent stress effects, risk of panic anxiety, high blood pressure and heart attacks for people with increased sensory sensitivity.

Migraine is caused by a genetic central sensory hypersensitivity causing risk for central nervous sensitization. Migraine prevalence is about 30 percent in the general population [10, 11]. In addition there are other causes of central sensitization, which means that more than 30 percent of residents in the vicinity of wind turbines could be, to greater or lesser extent, affected by wind-related “annoyance.” Risk groups include people with migraine disorder or a family history of migraines, people over 50 years of age, people with fibromyalgia and those with a tendency to anxiety and depression [12].  Children and adults with ADHD and autism are at risk and could have their symptoms worsened.

The issue is not noise damage in the traditional sense, but the effect of a constant pulsating sound pressure that constantly changes the pressure in the inner ear and excites sensory organs there. One can liken it to pulsating or flickering lights—many people are not bothered noticeably, while people with sensory hypersensitivity may experience discomfort. Flickering light can even trigger epilepsy. Likewise,constantly pulsating, non-audible infrasound from wind turbines triggers considerable problems in people with central sensory hypersensitivity. These problems can become chronic, debilitating and lead to anxiety and depression and increase the risk of heart attack.

The current regulatory framework for wind turbines has not taken into account the potential risk to people with central sensory hypersensitivity. Wind turbines are being erected too close to buildings [homes]. The current regulatory framework should be revised with an increased safety distance from buildings [homes] to prevent or reduce the risk of wind-related excess morbidity.

(Potential ties or conflicts of interest: None declared.)

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References

1. Woolf CJ. Central sensitization: Implications for the diagnosis and treatment of pain. Pain. 2011: 152 (3 Suppl): S2-15.

2. Aguggia M, Saracco MG, Cavallini M, et al. Sensitization and pain. Neurol Sci. 2013, 34 Suppl 1: S37-40.

3. Farboud A, Crunk Horn R, Trinidade A. ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’: fact or fiction? J Laryngol Otol. In 2013, 127 (3) :222-6.

4. Shepherd D, McBride D, D Welch, et al. Evaluating the impact of wind turbine noise on health-related quality of life. Noise Health. 2011: 13 (54) :333-9.

5. Work Environment Authority. Noise and noise management. Stockholm: Swedish Work Environment Authority; 2002.

6. Salt AN, Hullar TE. Responses of the ear to low frequency sounds, infrasound and wind turbines. Hear Res. 2010: 268 (1-2) :12-21.

7. Todd NP, Rosengren SM, Colebatch JG. Tuning and sensitivity of the human vestibular system to low-frequency vibration. Neurosci Lett. 2008: 444 (1) :36-41.

8. Enbom, H. Vestibular and somatosensory contribution to postural control [dissertation] Lund: Lund University; 1990.

9. Lovati C, Mariotti C Giani L, et al. Central sensitization in photophobic and non-photophobic migraineurs: possible role of retinoblastoma nuclear way in the central sensitization process. Neurol Sci. 2013, 34 (Suppl) :133-fifth

10. Ashina S, Bendtsen L, Ashina M. Pathophysiology of migraine and tension-type headache. Tech Reg Anesth Pain Manag. 2012 (16) :14-8.

11. Aurora SK, Wilkinson F. The brain is hyperexcitable in migraine. Cephalalgia. 2007: 27:1442-53.

12. Desmeules YES, Cedraschi C, Rapiti E, et al. Neurophysiologic evidence for a central sensitization in patient with fibromyalgia. Arthritis Rheum. 2003, 48:1420-9.

  1. Comment by Anonymous on 08/07/2013 at 5:58 pm

    When will the lawsuits begin? The Liberal government that created the Green Energy and Economy Act basically exposed many rural Ontario (Canada) people to the devastating effects of low frequency noise and vibration. That is why they remain in denial. If the wind industry doesn’t break our economy—and the high associated costs of wind power surely will break us—just wait til the lawsuits get underway!

    Oh McGuinty, you will live on in infamy. Congratulations!

    Mel
    Ontario, Canada


    (With appreciation to Anna Parini and the NY Times)

  2. Comment by Steve on 08/08/2013 at 4:19 am

    When the lawsuits begin, I fear all the people involved will suddenly disappear, not wanting to clear up the ruination they have caused. Governments involved in handing out our money as subsidies will of course continue to be in denial, not wanting to admit their part in any of this.

    I urge anyone suffering in any way from the symptoms of WTS to report this to a doctor now. Perhaps if the governments, green-heads, and the scammers taking money from these things know how much they stand to lose, they may begin to have second thoughts.

    I’ve suffered for 2 years now, but will be moving to a hopefully quiet place soon. It will be nice to be able to think and work at home again. On the downside, I’ve just read that someone has proposed to put a turbine near there too! (Let’s hope that doesn’t happen!)

    Steve
    North East England

  3. Comment by Ayrshire lass on 08/09/2013 at 10:05 am

    Three years ago, our neighbour installed a single wind turbine (WT).

    Almost immediately, our lights started to flicker, sometimes quite alarmingly. At first we did not link it to the WT. We had engineers at the property examining everything they could think of. Eventually we realised, the problem coincided with the WT close by.

    This took over the summer and into the following winter for our electricity supplier to finally agree to speak to the WT owner.

    He was eventually asked to turn it off completely to allow monitoring of the supply. Guess what? Our electricity returned to normal.

    Several months and various monitoring experiments confirmed, without doubt, that when the WT is operating (whether it is or isn’t generating), we have quite astonishing problems. One easiest to demonstrate is the fire alarm, chirping almost regularly, in the early hours of the morning, when the flicker is most obvious. The shadow flicker requires reading by lamplight, since the flicker gives one a headache after a while!

    Equally, when the WT is off, everything is back to normal.

    The sad outcome of all this being, the electric company, unable to prove the WT is at fault, has decided the shadow flicker is within the safety range. So, that’s that.

    Now, this suggests to us that the problem might just be with the old transformer we, the WT owner and one other share (they have very similar problems as ourselves). So far 2 laptops, numerous losses of information due to crashing computers, one toaster, “bang”! One extractor fan, “bang”! Innumerable lightbulbs (longlife ones) burned out!

    Some visitors had the living daylights scared out them when the lights dim to almost dark, at a regular time most evenings in the winter. (Evening is when the dimming is most noticeable.)

    Please can someone help?

  4. Comment by Itasca Small on 08/09/2013 at 2:04 pm

    A most welcome article!

    I was actually surprised (just can’t seem to overcome positive expectations!) to see that the authors conspicuously did not reference “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” by Dr. Nina Pierpont. Some of the information obviously arose from her foundational work.

    I have just learned one more time that court and regulatory agency results do not follow the facts nor justice. Human beings seem to be averse to acknowledging that the “Messenger” of wrongdoing rightly is due justice. After five years of trusting that a state regulatory agency would eventually see the photographic reality of the shoddy workmanship a “contractor” performed on my home, and make the right – just – decision, the rubber stamp is still the tool of choice.

    This has reminded me of the cliff looming above our heads in the righteous war against the Wind Energy Scourge. I share the hope with Mel and Steve for a breakthrough in the courts worldwide, regarding lawsuits against wind industry developers, their sycophantic groupies, and the boot-licking governmental officials who are all complicit in subjecting us to the scourge. But, I fear that progress will not become easier to effect as quickly as it should.

    To Ayrshire Lass: I know this seems obvious, but you didn’t say if the electricity supplier had tested the transformer. I know this doesn’t address the shadow flicker, but you and your neighbors seem to be experiencing regular “brown-outs.” Surely they should be able to test during those conditions and track the effect on the system being caused by the WT. They can test for several things, including the grounding system and the closed-loop between the customer systems and the transformer supplying them, along with the greater loop including the return ground path to the substation supplying the transformer.

    I would research the technology and testing methods available – there are sources online that explain a lot* – present this information to my neighbors and encourage them to make a unified complaint to the supplier insisting that further testing be performed. It seems obvious the WT is the culprit; the owner should be held accountable, and the supplier should be legally bound to determine the cause and require the WT owner to fix the problem he is causing on the supplier’s system.

    Of course, it may be that the transformer is coincidentally wearing-out at the same time and contributing to the problem. In which case the supplier should have to replace it.

    I hope you can get at least some positive resolution, even though it won’t affect the shadow flicker. Again obviously, if the current status of lawsuits and justice were to change you would have recourse to try to get the neighbor to fix the problem; especially with logs, photos, and witness testimony. Hope does spring eternally…

    Itasca
    Wind Energy Refugee from Iberdrola’s Wind Power Plant in
    Central Navajo County, Arizona, U.S.A.

    *Here are just two webpages that explain a lot about what could be happening, dependent upon the wiring employed by the WT’s system, and whether or not the transformer is failing or just malfunctioning due to the WT installation characteristics.
    http://www.mikeholt.com/mojonewsarchive/SV-HTML/HTML/GroundCurrents~20020918.htm
    http://www.mikeholt.com/mojonewsarchive/SV-HTML/HTML/WhyGroundCurrents~20020921.htm

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