“Inconvenient Truths: Wind Turbine Syndrome” (CounterPunch Magazine)

Nov 2, 2010


—Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD, CounterPunch Magazine (10/31/10)

Wind turbines majestically threshing the wind—what marvels of human engineering! To stand beneath one is breathtaking. To live near one can be hell on earth. So I have been told by countless people who suddenly find themselves grievously ill from the subtle yet devastating infrasonic jackhammer generated by these “clean, green, renewable energy” giants.

The explanation may be tucked away in the inner ear in a cluster of tiny, interconnected organs with a remarkable evolutionary pedigree. The vestibular organs—the semicircular canals, saccule, and utricle—function as Mother Nature’s gyroscope, controlling our sense of motion, position, and balance, including our spatial thinking. (Remember when you got carsick as a kid? Or seasick?)

Humans share these enigmatic organs with a host of other backboned species, including fish and amphibians. Some scientists indeed see them as a kind of pan-species master key for an extraordinarily broad range of brain function—amounting to a sixth sense.

One of those functions, it now appears, is to register and respond to the sounds and vibrations (infrasound) we don’t consciously hear, but feel—as from wind turbines. For many people, the response is swift and disastrous.

Sometimes it’s advantageous being a country doctor. Six years ago I began hearing health complaints from people living in the shadow of these gigantic turbines. At first it was merely local and regional, then global. Tellingly, virtually everyone described the same constellation of symptoms. Symptoms that were being triggered, I began to suspect, by vestibular dysregulation. (1) Sleep disturbance. Not simply awakened, but awakening in a panic (“flight or fight” response). (2) Headache. (3) Tinnitus. (4) Ear pressure. (5) Dizziness. (6) Vertigo. (7) Nausea. (8) Visual blurring. (9) Tachycardia. (10) Irritability. (11) Problems with concentration and memory. (12) Panic episodes associated with sensations of internal pulsation or quivering, which arise while awake or asleep. (This latter involving other, non-vestibular organs of balance, motion, and position sense.)

None of these people had experienced these symptoms to any appreciable degree before the turbines became operational. All said their symptoms disappeared rapidly whenever they spent several days away from home. All said the symptoms reappeared when they returned home.

Many had supported the wind farm project before all this happened. Now, some became so ill, they literally abandoned their homes—locked the door and left.

Taking my cue from a British country doctor who was reporting identical “wind turbine” symptoms among her patients, I did what clinicians call a case series. I interviewed 10 families (38 people) both here and abroad, who had either left their homes or were about to leave. I found a statistically significant correlation between the telltale symptoms and pre-existing motion sensitivity, inner ear damage, and migraine disorder. Each is a risk factor for what I now christened Wind Turbine Syndrome. My data suggest, further, that young children and adults beyond age 50 are also at substantial risk.

The response from ear, nose, throat clinicians (otolaryngologists and neuro-otologists) was immediate and encouraging. One was Dr. F. Owen Black, a highly regarded neuro-otologist who consults for the US Navy and NASA on vestibular dysregulation.

Another was Dr. Alec Salt at the Washington University School of Medicine, who recently published an NIH-funded, peer-reviewed study demonstrating that the cochlea (which links to the vestibular organs) responds to infrasound without registering it as sound. Infrasound, in fact, increases pressure inside both the cochlea and vestibular organs, distorting both balance and hearing.

Salt thus effectively shatters the dogma that “what you can’t hear, can’t hurt you.”  It can indeed hurt you. The growing uproar among wind turbine neighbors testifies to this inconvenient truth.

My role is over. My waiting room is full. It’s time for governments to study this wind-generated scourge whose cure is simple. A 2 km setback (larger in hilly or mountainous terrain) fixes it. Wind developers, not unexpectedly, refuse to acknowledge the problem. They ridicule it as hysteria and NIMBYism (“Not In My Back Yard!”)—and refuse to build their machines 2 km (1.24 miles) away from homes.

“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it,” suggested Upton Sinclair. Perhaps so. In that case, expect more empty houses and (easily avoidable) suffering.

Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD, is a pediatrician and author of “Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment” (2009). She is the keynote speaker at this weekend’s international symposium in Picton, Ontario, “The Global Wind Industry and Adverse Health Effects: Loss of Social Justice?”

  1. Comment by Sheila K. Bowen on 10/16/2010 at 10:34 am

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the Times and the Post refused to print your excellent op-ed, Nina. If the Boston Globe also refuses, I would suggest submitting it to the Boston Herald. Please keep us informed!

    Editor’s note: Sheila Bowen is responding to the fact that this editorial was rejected by the NY Times before CounterPunch took it.

  2. Comment by Quixote on 10/16/2010 at 11:54 am

    So-called “Media” is basically “dysfunctional” and has “sold out” like all politicians today to corporate interests. There is no “honour” today in any media outlet that depends on their funding from Industry and Government sources and in turn perpetuates their grip of misinformation being spoon fed to the masses!

    “Collateral Damage” which is the description of the Wind Industry or, “human beings” in the real world, is quite acceptable today as if it is negligible to ruin people’s lives for the Greater Good. (Shades of 1939)

    The NY Times is not unlike every other news outlet in mainstream media today that helps create the “fake reality” that “Green Energy is Good”!

    When this “bubble bursts” which indeed it will, will make the “Dot Com Bubble” look like a hiccup!

    Editor’s note: The writer is responding to the fact that this editorial was rejected by the NY Times before CounterPunch took it.

  3. Comment by Mike McCann on 10/16/2010 at 12:52 pm

    Whether involved in rural enterprise or just seeking a quiet place to live, it is clear that a significant number of people are having their lives changed by wind projects being sited too close to their homes.

    After 30 years of appraising, studying and consulting on all types of real estate and development projects, I have never seen the effects, impacts and reactions of the magnitude or severity that turbine neighbors and their property rights are subjected to. Short of a nuclear reactor meltdown, (i.e., Chernobyl) nothing has caused so many people to experience the physical and health-driven need to relocate, and it is amazing that industry and government both are doing absolutely nothing to address this trend, and correct it before it is too late for even more citizens.

    If this continues unchecked, I predict a series of rural “ghettos”, of abandoned unmaintained homes, and an economically disadvantaged class of people finding these devalued homes to be the only place they can afford. Great places to hide illegal operations….few neighbors, cheap structures and the ability to vacate in a hurry if the heat gets turned up….much like the old buildings in poor neighborhoods in the cities….who else is going to want them?

    Wind companies should be required to offer buy-outs at market value (pre-project value) within 2 miles of projects, and certainly within the massive footprints, and then they can prove they are not destroying value by reselling for the same price. However, in each instance I know of when a wind developer did indeed buy and resell a neighboring home, they re-sold for 60% – 80% below their purchase price. Thus, an erosion of homeowner equity has in fact been proven by the cause…wind industry itself.

    Any readers who have factual information and/or personal accounts of this nature are invited to email details to me or contact me to discuss.

    Mike McCann
    McCann Appraisal, LLC


  4. Comment by Neil Andersen on 11/05/2010 at 7:17 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! We have been patiently coping for the past 7 months, 1320′ from Falmouth’s turbine (Massachusetts). It has been hell.


  5. Comment by Karson on 08/09/2011 at 8:14 am

    You are so awesome for helping me solve this mystery!

  6. Comment by anne burke on 09/03/2013 at 2:59 am

    its now 2013 and we in ireland are being faced with the proposal to build 2500 turbines 185m in our small midlands we cant get our government to wake up to this issue they only see the money not health problems keep telling us no health issues! such a divisive problem in our small rural community

  7. Comment by Kate on 06/28/2014 at 7:59 am

    Let’s have a turbine erected in Hyde Park……then the truth will be uncovered.

  8. Comment by E.A. on 08/27/2014 at 3:32 am

    I think the “solution” of longer setbacks is overall impossible, given the limited number of places these giant towers can be installed in places windy enough to justify their (intermittent) output.

    I think the noise issue actually gets too much focus and distracts from the runaway landscape blight. Just seeing these things turn acre after acre of countryside into Coney Island is enough to depress many people.

    Also, AGW may change wind patterns over wide areas as temperatures reach greater equilibrium between the equator and poles. There’s a risk that many turbines could end up wind-less in coming decades, cluttinging the landscape with scant power to compensate.

    The real solution is to focus on solar panels on existing man-made surfaces. That land is already built on, and it’s being wasted while open space gets chewed up.

The comments are closed.