New clinical article supports WTS

Sep 19, 2011


Adverse health effects of industrial wind turbines: A preliminary report

By Michael Nissenbaum MD, Jeff Aramini PhD, Chris Hanning MD.  Tenth International Congress on Noise as a Public Health Problem (ICBEN), July 24-28, 2011, London, UK


Guidelines and regulations for the siting of industrial wind turbines (IWT) close to human habitation are generally predicated on the need to protect the sleep of the residents. The recommended setback distances and “safe” external noise levels make the assumptions that IWT noise can be regarded as similar to other forms of environmental noise (traffic, rail and aircraft) and is masked by ambient noise. There has been no independent verification that these assumptions are justified and that the safeguards are sufficient to protect sleep.

Anecdotal complaints of annoyance and health effects from IWT noise have grown in number in recent years, not least because turbine size has increased and they have been placed closer to population centers. The predominant symptom of health complaints is sleep disturbance (Frey & Hadden 2007; Pierpont 2009; van den Berg et al. 2008; WindVOICe 2010). The consequences of sleep disturbance and the contribution of environmental noise are well documented (WHO 2009).

Complaints of adverse health effects were made shortly after IWT installations at Mars Hill and Vinalhaven, Maine, USA, began operating. A preliminary survey at Mars Hill, comparing those living within 1,400 m with a control group living 3,000-6,000 m away showed that sleep disturbance was the main health effect (Nissenbaum 2011, submitted for publication). A further study was therefore carried out at both Mars Hill and Vinalhaven using validated questionnaires and comparing those living within 1.5 km of the turbines with a control group living 3,500-6,000 m away.

Click here for the body of the report.  The “Discussion,” follows.


This study, which is the first controlled study of the effects of IWT noise on sleep and health, shows that those living within 1.4 km of IWT have suffered sleep disruption which is sufficiently severe as to affect their daytime functioning and mental health. Both the ESS and PSQI are averaged measures, i.e. they ask the subject to assess their daytime sleepiness and sleep quality respectively, over a period of several weeks leading up to the present. For the ESS to increase, sleep must have been shortened or fragmented to a sufficient degree on sufficient nights for normal compensatory mechanisms to have been overcome. The effects of sleep loss and daytime sleepiness on cognitive function, accident rate and mental health are well established (WHO 2009) and it must be concluded that at least some of the residents living near the Vinalhaven and Mars Hill IWT installations have suffered serious harm to their sleep and health.

The significant relationship between the symptoms and distance from the IWTs, the subjects’ report that their symptoms followed the start of IWT operations, the congruence of the symptoms reported here with previous research and reports and the clear mechanism is strong evidence that IWT noise is the cause of the observed effects.

IWT noise has an impulsive character and is several times more annoying than other sources of noise for the same sound pressure level (Pedersen & Persson Waye 2004). It can prevent the onset of sleep and the return to sleep after a spontaneous or induced awakening. Road, rail and aircraft noise causes arousals, brief lightening of sleep which are not recalled. While not proven, it is highly likely that IWT noise will cause arousals which may prove to be the major mechanism for sleep disruption. It is possible that the low frequency and infrasound components of IWT noise might contribute to the sleep disruption and health effects by other mechanisms but this remains to be determined and further research is needed.

Attitudes to IWT and visual impact have been shown to be factors in annoyance to IWT noise (Pedersen et al. 2009) but have not been demonstrated for sleep disturbance. Most respondents in the present study welcomed the IWT installations as offering economic benefits. The visual impact of IWT decreases with distance, as does the noise impact making separation of these factors impossible.

We conclude that IWT noise at these two sites disrupts the sleep and adversely affects the health of those living nearby. The current ordinances determining setback are inadequate to protect the residents and setbacks of less than 1.5 km must be regarded as unsafe. Further research is needed to determine a safe setback distance and to investigate the mechanisms of causation.

  1. Comment by Mike McCann on 09/20/2011 at 9:18 am

    It appears that real estate value loss measured in the Clarkson study out to 3 miles (5km) outdistances the health impacts measured in this study. Thus, the stigma residential market aversion does not end at 1.5 km.

    More research is indeed needed on all issues, but the minimum impact distances are all demonstrably greater than typical ordinances. One County in Oregon has actually relied on their own ordinance requirements regarding protecting public health, safety & welfare, and requires a minimum 2 mile setback.

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