Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Twenty-Minute Crash Course
Mar 7, 2012
The following was a video-conference presentation in Shelburne Falls, Mass., January 28, 2012
Nina Pierpont, MD (Johns Hopkins), PhD (Princeton: Population Biology/Ecology), Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, former Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University (NY)
I’m going to start with a difficult word, one I struggled with in college: the word is epistemology. I could never remember what it meant then, but it’s an important word to me now. It means how we know things—what we accept as real, as true—what we trust as evidence, and what we do with that evidence.
Epistemology is a framework or set of assumptions for reality, a framework into which we fit data. Every day, all of us throw out data that doesn’t fit our assumptions. I have patients who tell me they see ghosts and UFOs, but give me no other evidence that they’re psychotic. I have to put this information on hold—in a sort of suspended state—because they believe it and I don’t. There’s no part of my reality box or set of assumptions that can accommodate it.
On the other hand, I have patients who tell me that painful sensations from their GI tracts affect their mental state—causing anxiety, depression, and agitation—rather than the mental state causing the GI problems, as other doctors have told them.
Unlike these other doctors, this does fit my reality box, because I know there are autonomic stretch and vibration receptors around the internal organs that are anatomically linked in the brain to anxiety centers. I’ve been able to successfully treat these patients, unlike these other doctors. In response to unusual symptom states that my patients tell me about, it’s my job to read the medical literature to expand my knowledge of how the body works.
When patients talk to me, I take seriously and believe the symptoms and observations they present, especially when I see evidence that the observer—the patient—is thoughtful and alert. My job is to provide the explanation, which becomes a working hypothesis for how to treat the problem within a physiologic or neurophysiologic framework.
I studied and described Wind Turbine Syndrome with the same set of assumptions about clinical truth and reality that I apply to my patients.
In fact, I never set out to prove that wind turbines cause Wind Turbine Syndrome. This was already obvious. Instead, I chose to study and document the observations made by people who had already figured it out and proved it on their own. They proved that their Wind Turbine Syndrome symptoms—a distinctive and consistent set of symptoms the world over—were caused by wind turbines through the rather common-sense means of watching what happened to their symptoms when they left their homes near turbines and came back, or when the turbines were still and quiet, vs. active and noisy.
My goal was to answer a different question: Why do some people get sick around wind turbines and others don’t? The answer to this question would take care of one objection to the idea of Wind Turbine Syndrome—though it is a silly objection, since there isn’t a disease in the world where some people aren’t more susceptible than others. But finding out why some individuals are more affected than others—by comparing their past, pre-turbine states of health and medical histories—could also reveal something about the mechanism: how, physiologically, are these effects coming about?
So I looked for people to study who definitely had Wind Turbine Syndrome—they had gone away and come back and had definite, clear information on how their symptoms went away and came back—and I looked for people who gave clear evidence of the degree of their distress and their certainty that the turbines were the cause by doing something really expensive and inconvenient—and possibly even impoverishing and ruinous—to restore their health. They moved out of their homes. I looked for people who were articulate and clear and alert and intelligent—who were able to tell me in detail about their daily functioning before the turbines went into operation near their homes, their sensations and functioning while turbines were operating near their homes, and what they experienced after they went away—and ultimately moved away—from their homes. Including a medical doctor and several nurses.
There are epidemiologic labels for how I did this study. Studying people as they move into and out of an exposure is called a case-crossover study. It’s appropriate for a condition, such as Wind Turbine Syndrome, which is immediate and mediated by the sensory system. The symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome come on during exposure and leave or improve when exposure ends. You couldn’t study cancer this way, since it might take 10 or 20 years for the disease to show up after the exposure happens, while the person is meanwhile moving place to place under all sorts of different conditions. But you can study an immediate sensory effect in this way.
The other epidemiologic principle that applies here is called a revealed preference measure. This applies to that really expensive or even impoverishing thing the person did to get away from the exposure and restore his health. For example, if someone leaves a home he owns and rents another place to live, you know he values his symptom relief more than the cost of renting and heating the second home, plus the less quantifiable loss of convenience and amenity of being in his own home. He has to move, or move repeatedly. The rental is smaller and not as nice, and he has to travel frequently to the first home to maintain it. When the first home is a farm, the loss of convenience and efficiency is marked and interferes with his ability to earn a living. Revealed preference. “My monthly budget can’t afford an extra $1500 for rent and utilities for a second place and I don’t have the time to travel back and forth and also work or farm or take my boat out and catch fish, but I’m so debilitated when I’m living at home that I don’t have a choice, because then I can’t get anything done.”
In Wind Turbine Syndrome, because the effects are both immediate and noticeable to the person experiencing them, people can compare their own experiences before, during, and after exposure. Or a researcher can compare them. Or even do an exposure experiment. It’s not ethical to put other people in harm’s way to see if they get sick during an exposure, but last year two acousticians managed to do exactly this to themselves in Falmouth, Massachusetts, documenting their own experience along with their noise measurements. They were surprised. With between 30 and 40 years each of professional experience measuring and documenting noise disturbances for homeowners, neither had ever had the experience of nausea, vertigo, and physical and mental debilitation they experienced in the home where they came to measure noise, starting within 15 minutes of their arrival during a high wind with a lot of activity from the single neighboring turbine. These two acousticians were accustomed to measuring noise that was annoying or noise that kept people awake, but this problem was different. They in fact don’t describe it as noise but as rapid air pressure fluctuations. The effects on the two acousticians had nothing to do with sleep disturbance or deprivation—they arrived awake and well rested, and had never attempted to sleep in this house.
Noise engineers Rick James, George Kamperman, Wade Bray, Rob Rand, and Steve Ambrose, all of whom have been refining the equipment and protocols necessary to measure the relevant acoustical energy from wind turbines, now think that the problem is low-frequency noise or in this case infrasound that pulsates, creating rapid air pressure fluctuations that are felt rather than heard and which are extremely difficult to measure. Similar noise and similar symptoms are found in Sick Building Syndrome, where the cause is pulsating low-frequency noise from maligned fans in large ventilation ducts. When this occurs in office buildings, these symptoms, too, have nothing to do with sleep.
The symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome include classic symptoms of vestibular disturbance, which are:
» vertigo or illusory movement
» blurred vision
» difficulty reading, remembering, and thinking spatially
These are the questions I get from people: “Why did I lose my keys again?” “How could I forget that pot on the stove?” “Why can’t I figure out how to put this thing together?” “What’s wrong with me that I can’t follow this recipe?” “I was only going to get three things; how come I can’t remember what they are?” “Why can’t I follow what’s going on in this movie?”
These are all examples of everyday, visual-spatial thinking that my study subjects found they were inexplicably struggling with. Remember, a physician, two nurses, five fishermen, a farmer, an accountant—all practical people. Outside the study, nurses, pharmacists, teachers, programmers, contractors, realtors, an air traffic controller, a diplomat.
If the signals from the vestibular system are distorted, eye movements and spatial thinking—including mathematical thinking—become difficult and full of errors. This has been proven with a lot of research. Your body and brain literally have to know with great consistency, moment to moment, which way is up in order to orient in space, and to orient successfully in the mental representation of space, where a lot of memory and understanding take place. Spatial thinking is almost invisible or unconscious until something goes wrong with it. It’s that great space in the mind where you know things before you can say them, where you suddenly realize how things fit together, and where you can retrieve all sorts of visually interlinked memories. Its functioning depends on a smoothly operating and signaling vestibular system. This kind of thinking is most mysteriously and frustratingly distorted in Wind Turbine Syndrome, just as it is in other clinical forms of vestibular disturbance.
Other symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome suggest impacts on the inner ear in a general way: ringing in the ear or tinnitus, muffled hearing, and feelings of fullness, pressure, or pain in the ear. The inner ear includes the vestibular organs, which detect motion and position, and the cochlea, which mediates hearing. Together, the cochlea and the five vestibular organs (the three semicircular canals and the two otolith organs, the utricle and saccule) are delicate membranous structures linked together with the same fluid space inside all of them. The sensations that come from them are mediated by hair cells, which are so sensitive to motion that they respond to being bent the width of a hydrogen atom.
Still other symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome point to activation of the autonomic nervous system, meaning the adrenaline surge of the fight-or-flight reaction. These symptoms are episodes of panic, rapid heartbeat, constricted breathing, and the urge to flee. These symptoms may start while a person is awake, but also startle them out of sleep. If the symptoms starts when you’re asleep, it’s not because you are lying there thinking of how mad or worried you are. Getting back to sleep after this type of awakening takes hours because the body is all revved up with the same physiologic response as fear. Autonomic activation is a typical brain response to unusual signals from the vestibular organs—just think of how you feel and respond when you step on a patch of ice and start to slip. The brain cell connections between the vestibular centers and the parts of the brain that control the autonomic nervous system and adrenaline are well known.
In doing the study, once I had found a family that had recently moved or was planning to move, I collected information on the symptoms, behavior, and past medical history of all the family members, not just the one or two most affected. Adults and children alike. Thus each family was a little cloud of study subjects, all exposed to the same turbines in the same house but affected to different degrees. These clusters gave me a comparison group, not as formal as a control group, but similar to the comparison groups set up in ecological studies of free-ranging animals (in which I was trained at Princeton as a PhD population biologist). The family members were included without regard to whether they were affected or not. It is important that they were not selected in any way, once the family had been selected—all the family members were included. This is a regular pattern of sampling. This is why it was valid to use statistics in the comparisons. It also got my study free of the noise variable. I knew there was enough of the relevant noise or pressure fluctuations in each house because at least some people were affected, leaving me free to focus on the differences among people that were intrinsic to each individual. Essentially the study design eliminated the degree of noise exposure as a variable, so that I could study individual differences in susceptibility without having to take a multivariate approach.
The risk factors that emerged from this analysis were:
(1) migraine disorder
(2) motion sensitivity or repetitive episodes of vertigo independent of migraine disorder, and
(3) pre-existing inner ear damage from industrial noise exposure or chemotherapy
By comparing my study population to the population at large, a fourth risk factor emerged: age over 50.
These risk factors, as well as the nature of the symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome, all point to unusual sensitivity and activation of the vestibular or balance system of the inner ear in the presence of active wind turbines. Though no formal dose-response curves exist in terms of measured noise, many of the affected subjects in my study and elsewhere, including Falmouth, MA, did their own qualitative dose-response studies by associating the intensity of their symptoms with the speed the turbines were turning, the loudness of the audible noise, or measured wind speed.
As those in clinical medicine know, migraine disorder is a highly heritable brain condition of unusual sensory sensitivity in a variety of modalities, including hypersensitivity to sound, motion, barometric pressure changes, light, and chemical substances eaten or smelled. Any of these can trigger episodes, which start neurologically as a wave of spreading depression over the surface of the cerebral cortex, and may be followed by headache. Foggy thinking during episodes, anxiety, and depression are frequently associated. About 12% of the North American and European populations have migraine disorder, about 6% of men and 18% of women. It’s hereditary and common in children, too, often declaring itself by 8-10 years of age.
Motion sensitivity—the tendency to get carsick or seasick—is common in migraine but can also exist on its own, as a condition of increased sensitivity to vestibular stimulation. It’s common in young children, but may also be acquired later in life, with repetitive episodes of vertigo. A Ménière’s-type physiology may be responsible, which I will get to in a moment.
Inner ear function, both hearing and balance, tends to deteriorate in older age and in response to certain environmental insults, including chronic exposure to industrial noise. Ménière’s disease is an imbalance of fluid pressures in the inner ear that disrupts the function of the whole inner ear, both hearing and balance. It occurs more commonly in older adults. A Ménière’s-type mechanism is one possibility for the vestibular hypersensitivity and vestibular function disruptions in Wind Turbine Syndrome. Dr. Alec Salt, an inner ear physiologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, showed several years ago that infrasound exposure in experimental animals causes endolymphatic hydrops, which is the inner ear fluid abnormality found in Ménière’s. Infrasound applied directly to the ear is also used to treat the inner ear fluid shifts in Ménière’s—but at high risk of causing nausea and vomiting in the process.
Mine is not the only study of wind turbine effects. In terms of physiology, Dr. Salt has also shown experimentally how the inner ear, specifically the cochlea, both detects (in a non-hearing way) and suppresses our hearing of sounds below certain frequencies, such as the low-frequency sound or infrasound produced by turbines. He has expanded our knowledge of the ear’s reaction to infrasound, but when he has presented his work at professional conferences, he tends to get comments from other neurophysiologists that the symptoms are probably vestibular, not from the cochlea. Professor Nelson Kiang, emeritus professor from MIT and Harvard Medical School, founder of the Eaton-Peabody Laboratory of Auditory Physiology at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, made this comment after a presentation by Dr. Salt in 2010. Dr. Steven Rauch, the vestibular specialist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, commented in the Boston Herald last year that one should not disregard the symptoms described in Falmouth. (I wonder why neither of these eminent Massachusetts inner ear specialists was invited to be on the Massachusetts expert panel?)
To continue with other work done on wind turbine-associated health effects, Drs. Michael Nissenbaum and Christopher Hanning have done a small, systematic study around two wind farms in Maine, showing that scores on established questionnaires about sleep disturbance and general mental health are correlated with distance from turbines, with worse sleep and mental health status closer to turbines.
» Dr. Amanda Harry from the UK published in 2007 a series of 42 affected patients from her practice with typical symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome.
» Dr. David Iser from Victoria, Australia, in 2004 formally notified the Victoria government of his patients’ becoming unwell after the startup of a wind farm.
» Dr. Sarah Laurie in Australia has interviewed over 100 affected people in Australia in the last 15 months. She has extended the study of the adrenaline surge effects into the cardiovascular realm.
» Members of the Society for Wind Vigilance in Ontario, Canada, members of which include physicians and other health professionals, have collected 131 cases by questionnaire since 2008.
Returning to the beginning of my talk, how do we know what is real? The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has just issued an expert, supposedly independent, panel report which asserts that, and I quote:
There is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”
A similar report was issued by AWEA and CanWEA, the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations, in 2009, coinciding exactly with the publication of my book. Both panels included medical doctors, but nobody, on either panel, bothered to interview any affected people. Since it’s really easy to interview an affected person—you just pick up the phone and, in the case of Massachusetts, you can even get a preview from half-hour interviews that are posted on the Internet—and since every doctor is trained to take a medical history—I can only conclude that leaving affected people out of this process of discovery was quite deliberate. What affected people have to say just doesn’t fit in the reality box of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection or the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, or the American or Canadian Wind Energy Associations.
Instead, the Massachusetts report takes great pains to prove to itself why it is justified in rejecting multiple forms of evidence, some of which I have presented here. Its final conclusion is that there’s no problem. These people aren’t sick, or if they think they’re sick then the victims themselves are to blame—they’re hysterical, possibly consumed by envy that someone else is making so much money from having a turbine on their property. Or they are sick for some entirely different reason that has nothing to do with turbines. Or they became sick after reading my book—imagination and hysteria, again.
When I went to Falmouth, I met a group of about 20 victims of the two active turbines there. This was an impressive group, many occupying important and responsible professional positions, and all intelligent, observant, and distressed. (The one I happened to be sitting next to at dinner was a retired high-level State Department official and his wife.) About a third of these people consented to be interviewed on videotape, but many could not because of the sensitivity of their professional positions.
In conclusion, the choice before you is, Which reality box, which epistemology, will you put your faith and belief in when making an important and irrevocable decision about your homes, your neighbors, your community? The reality box of the Massachusetts Departments of Environmental Protection and Public Health has no room for the well-enunciated, well-documented, obviously turbine-associated health problems of its own citizens in Falmouth. Do you believe your Falmouth neighbors, or do you believe the “official” report?
Comment by Hube (France) on 03/11/2012 at 12:07 am
Dear Nina, Dear Calvin,
I’m so glad you’re back online!
It is also so appropriate the first article of the beautiful new site is about one of your meaningful conferences, Nina.
Form and content meet again!
Godspeed to you both!
Editor’s reply: Thanks, Hubert! You can’t imagine how delighted we are to be back!
Comment by sue Hobart on 03/11/2012 at 12:57 pm
You say it better and better every time. I pray that one day science will prevail over politicians and greedy liars any you will finally get the recognition needed in this debacle.
Your (ACTUAL!) education intillegence and INTEGRITY must eventually prevail or the world in indeed a lost cause.
bless you Nina and Calvin you are our champions…
Comment by Gail on 03/11/2012 at 1:25 pm
Very happy to see you back online.
‘God Bless us every one’
The champagne cork will explode on Easter Sunday.
Comment by Marsh Rosenthal on 03/11/2012 at 2:50 pm
It is wonderful that you are back! I have been waiting most expectantly, like an expectant father, for the re-birth of your website. I think that your information will be of crucial importance to the parents of elementary school children in Fairhaven, MA, and to all families that either are witness to erection of the windturbines near schools or where they are operating near their residences. It is my understanding that young children are particularly at risk for WTS and vibro-acoustic disease.
You have been truly missed. Welcome back!
Comment by Frank Haggerty on 03/11/2012 at 3:07 pm
Fairhaven Massachusetts USA
“Both sides in Fairhaven turbine controversy state their case—on the blade itself,” South Coast Today (3/11/12)
Comment by Dave Stone on 03/13/2012 at 9:40 am
Thank you so much for making this information available.
We are in the U.K., and planners are looking into placing a wind farm around 500 m to 1.5 km right in front of our property.
Your information will help our struggle against this plan.
Comment by VENT de FOLIE on 03/29/2012 at 7:59 am
So many thanks, your scientific report is so helpful …
Friend of mine always says, “On les aura ces salauds!” (We will win against promotors…) Reading your pages, this really constitutes a big step to reach this goal!!!
Thank you deeply from our hearts, from Switzerland,
Vent de Folie
Comment by Anonymous on 04/28/2012 at 6:02 pm
So what do you do? We have over 120 going up, at least 6 in a 2 mile area, around us, some 1000 feet from our house. The farmers are greedy for the money that they will be making off these land-sucking eyesores.
And what about the animals? We have horses, down the road are cows. Dogs, birds, whatever. People won’t listen. The county thinks this is god sent, and it’s all being rushed for the money, without looking at what can happen to people’s health, let alone thinking of the scrap metal we will have to deal with later. and property damage caused by one of these turbines.
So what do we do????
Comment by Cheryl La Rocque/Kapyrka on 05/09/2012 at 2:09 pm
Dear Dr. Pierpont,
I am a freelance health writer with over 19 years of health writing experience mostly for Canadian newspapers. I started my career with the intended purpose to promote and write health and wellness information in an accurate reader friendly format.
That said, I am impressed with your style of writing and the presentation of facts are clear and concise as well as providing information of other research and expertise…
I have been on a quest – of learning with respects to industrial wind turbines and potential adverse health effects. I am crafting an article on this subject. I have included your comments and expertise on this subject in my article. Please email me at your convenience if you wish to discuss this further.
I have spent a great of time reading and learning and still more to do… I have talked and interviewed experts who include: Carmen Krogh, John Harrison, Rick James and interviews via emails with other experts and I am still reading research documents…
All of this research was precipitated by the erection of 15 industrial wind turbines on the outskirts of the town of Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada (N.S. is one of the Atlantic Provinces).
I have also written letters to our provincial government specifically – Nova Scotia Environment (NSE) as well as submitted changes to Cumberland County Bylaws concerning IWTs siting and asked for a revue of setback regulations. (Amherst is part of Cumberland County) and to our Mayor of Amherst – all have been silent to date.
In my efforts to speak at a public town meeting I was very effectively silenced by officials in our town and other government persons. I was ridiculed and laughed at – portrayed as someone possibly experiencing a form or hysterical reaction to wind turbines – or NIMBYism. I was shocked to the core. It took days for me to shed that feeling of shame and humility that was cast on me and now …. well, I am now the pit pull for the cause….
I felt compeled to write you this note. But I am returning to reading your information and book.
THANK YOU for everything you have done and continue to do… Your belief and research in those who were/are suffering was approached in a manner that validates the sufferer and provides information and/or explanations as to what is/could be happening to them.
On a personal note I have an interesting experience I can share with you that I have been discussing with Rick James.
With great respect,
Cheryl La Rocque
My Married name is Kapyrka
Amherst, Nova Scotia
I was ignorant of the potential to be a target of ridicule…. something I had not fully realized.
Comment by Lotta Liljegrebn on 05/16/2012 at 4:39 pm
I left my home in the south of Sweden in december 2000. I could not stay.
About 60 families in my county were exposed to the first wind turbines, my enemy was an Enercon 750 kW with variable speed and pitching. No one believed us when we in tried to explain what we experienced, trying to rescue others and get an end to the building of more turbines. I am a chemist and biologist, I have been working as a biotechnologist and currently I work as a teacher. For about five years I struggled to get a more objective and critical wind turbine policy and opinion. We met resistance from both the authorities as other citizens (and naturally the owners) although we tried to present scientific evidence. I collected articles and researchers, got in touch and wrote as much as I could in newspapers.
Before I left my house I had anxiety attacks, felt angry and mad. Some days me and my neighbours could not be outside (and we never knew when) and sometimes life inside the house was impossible. For us the noise or the fluctuations in air pressure was the problem, for others the shadows was worse.
Well, even today, with wind turbines everywhere in our landscape I can’t even look at them..
One man tried to kill himself when his wife had left home for work, one woman was lying down without being able to get up, depressed and without hope.. the stories are endless and the same – all over the world.
I had, at the time, contact with Rainer Mausfeld and many other scientists that had performed studies in Europe.
I would really like to get in contact with You, or I need it.
I was 39 years when I got the WTS (no doubt) and I want to live a more fully life the rest of ny time.
Tried to link You on Linkedin.
Could You please contact me?
I want to have your permission to show the authorities in my county, the environmental staff, your findings.. Those who did not want to believe us because of a personal environmental opinion that wind turbine is the solution and people must be sacrified (if they are not only wining or NIMBY..) I strongly feel that have to restart my battle for human rights and human brains that are not evoluted for and capable to cope with wind turbine noise, shadows, flickering nor size and rotation – yet.
(0) 46 430 – 214 29
On the internet you should be able to find my “sad christmas story” under the name Lotta Nilsson.
There is a National Graphic film about me and alternative energy production somewhere on the net.
Comment by Brian on 05/29/2012 at 1:36 am
My name is Brian, I live in Nova Scotia, Canada, I have recently recieved a pamphlet in the mail stating Community Wind Farms Inc. is going to have an information meeting on having a wind farm put up in my community.
I’m so glad you have studied and uploaded your finding and information it should come in handy. If you know of any other information that may help me stop this project from going ahead it would be very greatly appreciated.
Comment by corinne on 09/21/2012 at 8:48 pm
Hello Nina, my name is Corinneand i never even dreamed something like this is about to happen in my neighbourhood as well. I am reading as much as i can as i never thought about turbines before this, and the old saying is you never do anything about this until it happens in your back yard or neighbourhood. i am so glad that there are good people like yourself who take into consideration what these turbines are doing to peoples health and i think that this is where a community needs to group together to stop such horrendous acts from coming into neighbourhoods and disrupting the lives of many people. We got a group together in our neighbourhood and we need as much help as we can to stop this from happening so close to our homes. I am electromagnetically sensitive and i react to exposure to smaller things than these huge turbines that i would think are so powerful, i couldn’t imagine what they would do to me and i am aware of the sensitivity of electromagnetic stressors. i avoid as much as possible to even the smaller things like having tv’s in bedrooms to plugged in appliances where i sleep and i wear a pendant called an earthcalm all the time to neutralize the effects so i am really concerned here and hope that your information will help me and the others to stop this from happening.
Thanks so much for all the hard work you do to educate us about the turbines and the effects on human and animal health, Any advice you may give us would be greatly appreciated.
Corinne, Nova Scotia,Canada
Comment by Henry Burton on 11/30/2012 at 10:53 pm
I compliment Dr Pierpont on her summary of the effects and causes of the emissions from turbine towers.
This note puts forward an alternative mechanism (and which includes vestibular vibrations) and by which the ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’ is generated. The note outlines this probable mechanism, but is not a proof. It is, however supported by sound and vibration surveys, by meetings with other ‘sufferers’ and by observations from some ten sites—all with different low frequency Annoyance mechanisms.
1. Personal background to Annoyance.
During the past ten years I have become sensitised to ‘Low frequency emissions. These are generated by ‘building sway’ collisions and the resultant 174 Hertz monotone ‘Annoyance’ response is continuous and with varying magnitude and ‘texture’.
My initial, painful period passed years ago, but the Annoyance (the cranial buzz ‘pseudo sound’ response) and the sleep disturbance persist.
Each morning, as the collisions increase, I have a predictable pattern of Annoyance magnitude. This has a 1-1 relationship to the rate of change of energy measured in the vibrating beam structure which impacts the flank of our house. ‘Waking’ correlates with peaks in the ‘total envelope’ sound energy generated by the collisions and the Annoyance (evident when awake) magnitude correlates, not with average sound pressure levels, but with the rate of change of kinetic energy output in the vibrating structure.
Collisions increase in frequency as a water heating system is activated each morning. They range from 0 to, say 6 Hertz and then maintain internal vibrations in the concrete beam with prominence in the 50 Hertz band and (significantly) peak Pascal values in the 200 Hertz band.
2. Annoyance correlates with dispersed energy.
I have “very little doubt” that it is the impacting sound energy which causes the extreme adverse response for a minority of observers.
In my experience and from contact with other ‘sufferers’, the magnitude of the Annoyance is related to prior sensitisation from other Low frequency Noise/vibration (LFN) sources.
3. Wind Turbines.
Peak sound energy emissions from an individual turbine occur usually at a frequency of approximately 1.25 Hz. Sound energy peaks occur in pairs as the blade emissions are first screened from and then re-exposed to a downwind observer by the supporting tower.
Annoyance at each blade pass is very obvious. This Annoyance can be generated by a small turbine groups over a range of several kilometres.
The magnitude of the Annoyance increases with the air density and in misty conditions the fluctuations would certainly prevent sleep up to, I judge, some 2000 metres.
4. Why ‘Annoyance is not an auditory response.
This Annoyance response can be demonstrated to be quite distinct from the hearing response in the cochlea. If during a period when the structural collisions are generating Annoyance, a second microphone source superimposes an audible sound at greater than 200 Hertz, then the Annoyance is masked.
If this ‘hum generator’ sound is at around 174 Hertz, then ‘beats’ can be used to display the Annoyance frequency.
So, we then have an inaudible (to others) stimulus which interacts with audible sound at 174 Hertz to produce the perception of beats. The Annoyance response cannot be generated in the Cochlea and vestibular vibration is a possibility.
Also, if this second audible sound is balanced to match the volume and frequency of the Annoyance sensation, then it is of approximately 174-180 Hertz, i.e. 5.75 milliseconds between peaks. This period is of the same order of magnitude as the recovery period for Pacinian corpusles.
What is also interesting is that the perceived magnitude of the Annoyance is not increased by this dual exposure.
The Annoyance sensation is ‘overwritten’ by the auditory reception. The Annoyance magnitude is never affected by earplugs.
Annoyance is therefore generated by some mechanism, quite separate from the ears, which is capable of detecting energy peaks. Clearly vestibular vibrations are a possibility, but also are synchronised neural discharges from some other source—probably mechanoreceptors in the skin (sound) or viscerally(vibration).
Interestingly, if the superimposed sound is one octave down, i.e. at 87.5 Hertz, then the resultant sensation is often ‘felt’ in the body rather than interpreted as the pseudo-sound ‘Annoyance’.
5. Possible detection by the touch sensors.
One very plausible explanation is that the Annoyance response is generated from repetitive ‘firing’ of the skin mechanoreceptors; Probably Pacinian corpuscles and/or hair follicles, for example in the outer ear.
Werner R. Loewenstein demonstrated in 1957 that repetitive firing by Pacinian corpuscles occurs where impulses at infrasound frequencies are accompanied by lesser stimuli spaced at between six and ten milliseconds apart.
I suspect that the 5.75 millisecond spacing evident in the Annoyance response is similar to the recovery period for the human Pacinian corpuscle.
Synchronised firing across areas of the body would, like vibro-tactile induction, induce the same ‘pseudo-sound’ response as is recorded for vibro-tactile experiments.
Varying stimulus magnitudes would result in different numbers of corpuscles responding. This would then account for the texture, i.e. the diesel engine like texture variation in the Annoyance magnitude.
The mechanism by which Annoyance is masked by most audible sounds becomes obvious. Synchronised repetitive firing cannot occur if the stimulus inter-peak period is greater than the recovery period for the mechanoreceptors. Annoyance does not occur for stimulus frequencies above the 160/200 Hertz bands. That is consistent with Annoyance being generated by synchronised firing.
6. Universality of the Annoyance response.
It is also possible that every observer is susceptible to low frequency noise (LFN) at some level. The existence of vibro-tactile Annoyance when generated by a 200 Hertz probe is reportedly universal—i.e. all subjects report the sound-like Annoyance response at some level of stimulus. It is therefore possible that LFN Annoyance is also universal, but becomes apparent dependent upon the degree of prior sensitisation of the observer.
7. Electricity plant.
My experience is that significant Annoyance occurs where the 1.25 Hertz emissions from a wind turbine are ‘heard’ simultaneously with the sound from a step down transformer—this Annoyance response still displayed the regular 1.25 Hertz phased pulsation related to the rotor blade passes.
At another site surveyed ground vibrations from standing waves in a large capacity buried static hydrant occurred simultaneously with the sound from a domestic electrical sub-station.
The Annoyance was obvious to two separately sensitised observers—and the peaks and frequency of fluctuations in the Annoyance magnitude, and the start and stop times for the intermittent periods of Annoyance were identical. There is no doubt that the pattern of the response relates to some quality in the impacting sound and/or vibrations.
8. The Planning Implications for wind farms.
Current planning restrictions in the United Kingdom only relate to audible sound. Our regulations do not have sufficient regard to the impact of the infrasound pulses generated by turbines, nor to any interaction with the sound emitted by associated electrical installations.
The severe Annoyance response sensed by a small proportion of observers seems quite likely to be generated by synchronised discharges to the somatosensory system.
There is a frequent (lay and sound-professional) assumption that Annoyance is internally generated ‘tinnitus’ and that this has no relationship to the impacting sound disturbances. That must be incorrect—Annoyance is both time and site specific and is related to the energy emissions. Clearly it is not generated internally (nor related to anxiety!!).
Sensitisation. I have no method of assessing if the turbine emissions are great enough to cause sensitisation but they certainly generate acute Annoyance. Nor do I have access to scanning equipment in order to either demonstrate, or disprove, the relationship between the Annoyance generated by LFN (and in particular wind towers) and the steady state responses in the somatosensory cortex. These have been observed (see Nangini, Ross, Tam and Graham, University of Toronto, Neuroimage 2006 October 15 ), as being generated by fingertip vibro-tactile stimulation.
It seems likely that similar responses occur as the result of the energy emissions from wind turbines and that these responses are linked to Wind Turbine Syndrome.