Wind farms don’t make people sick, so why the complaints?


Wind farms don’t make people sick, so why the complaints?

This blog post is being reposted from the Barnard on Wind (wind power) blog with the permission from Mike Barnard, the original author.
 
In Canada, the U.S., Australia and Great Britain, people have reported similar symptoms including headaches, ringing ears, trouble sleeping, loss of focus, etc. after wind-turbines were built close to their homes.
 
Some have blamed audible sound, inaudible sound, ‘dirty electricity’ and psychosomatic distress.
 
What scientific evidence best explains these phenomena?
 

 

Short Answer:
 
The best scientific evidence indicates that anti-wind lobbyists raise health fears which increase significantly the number of people living near wind turbine farms who get stress-related illnesses due to noise-related annoyance.
 

  • ·         19 major  health reviews world wide all clear wind turbines of negative health impacts
  • ·         Ailments are likely psychogenic in nature, not organic.
  • ·         Studies finding negative health impacts are flawed and performed by biased researchers.
  • ·         People are more annoyed by wind noise if they can see a wind turbine and aren’t getting any money from its operation.
  • ·         People with negative attitudes to wind and negative personalities in general report many more symptoms than people with positive attitudes and personalities.
  • ·         If there is a noise problem, interventions such as white-noise generators and closing windows are extremely cheap and practical, yet anti-wind campaigners suggest radical changes to policy and wind-turbine siting instead.
  • ·         In many cases, symptoms of serious chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and sleep apnea are being falsely attributed to wind energy in large part due to anti-wind health campaigning.

 
Long Answer:
 
Treat this situation and complainants with respect
 
While a subset of complaints are clearly frivolous, there is definitely a group of people living near wind farms who are experiencing degraded qualities of life due to the health scares raised by anti-wind campaigners. That the symptoms they are feeling have no physiological relationship to wind power does not mean that they are not real and does not mean that they do not impact the individuals and their loved ones. Be respectful, sympathetic to their conditions, but also be clear, accurate and firm that it is not wind power that is to blame, but the people who have created health scares.
 
Organization
 
There are four aspects to considering health and wind turbines, and this material is broken into sections pertaining to them:
 

  1. 1.      Findings of all reviews concerning wind power and health
  2. 2.      Support for the psychogenic hypothesis, or nocebo effect, for health complaints
  3. 3.      Quality of evidence for physiological explanations for health complaints
  4. 4.      Mitigations for minor environmental noise, the only factual impact

 
1.  19 major independent health reviews find no causative correlation between wind turbines and negative health impacts
 
A major independent study [1] was commissioned and performed by Public Health Officers of Ontario.  The study reviewed all available literature on wind health effects and associated disciplines including epidemiology and noise safety.  The study concluded that some people living near wind turbines experienced heightened stress levels which caused related stress issues and that these issues had no physical basis.
 

 
The review concludes that while:
 
some people living near wind turbines report symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and sleep disturbance, the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects. The sound level from wind turbines at common residential setbacks is not sufficient to cause hearing impairment or other direct health effects, although some people may find it annoying.
 
The Ontario government went further and had additional assessments and reviews [8] done recently and concluded:
 
there is no direct health risk from wind turbine sound at Ontario’s regulated setback distance.
 
The study analyzed the latest findings on low frequency noise and infrasound from wind turbines.  In addition, three experts in the field of noise, vibration and acoustics reviewed and validated the report.
 
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection performed a study by independent experts [9] that reached identical conclusions:
 
There is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a “Wind Turbine Syndrome.
 

 
And this:
 
None of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggests an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, and headache/migraine
 
And finally this:
 
Whether annoyance from wind turbines leads to sleep issues or stress has not been sufficiently quantified
 
These findings exactly mirror the results of a study [2] commissioned by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA). This study was performed by an independent panel of experts including Doctors, Ph.Ds and scientists who were experts in the fields associated with ailments associated with wind turbines.  The study reviewed all available literature on wind turbines, noise health impacts, infrasound and reported health impacts of wind turbines.  This study concluded that some people living near wind turbines found their presence stressful, and identified stress-related ailments unrelated to any physical cause.
 
Following review, analysis, and discussion, the panel reached agreement on three key points: • There is nothing unique about the sounds and vibrations emitted by wind turbines. • The body of accumulated knowledge about sound and health is substantial. • The body of accumulated knowledge provides no evidence that the audible or subaudible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.
 
In fact, there have been a total of 17 reviews world-wide of the hundreds of pieces of peer-reviewed research related to wind energy, noise and health, as well as the anecdotal health complaints. Each of these reviews has found the same thing: no health impacts attributable to wind power and no physiological mechanism for health impacts. For the full list of reviews including key finds and links, please see the referenced material maintained by the University of Sydney.[19]
 
The evidence is clear. Credible, independent professionals time and again have reviewed the literature and the situation and found no credibility to claims of wind farms causing physiological harm.
 
2.  ‘Wind turbine syndrome’ is a psychogenic illness without organic causes
 
In epidemiology and public health, there are concepts of psychogenic and sociogenic illnesses:
 

  • ·         Psychogenic illness: A constellation of symptoms suggestive of organic illness, but without an identifiable cause, that occurs between two or more people who share beliefs about those symptoms
  • ·         Sociogenic illness: a medical condition that occurs to multiple individuals within a social group, but does not seem to have a common organic cause.

 
Public health expert Dr. Simon Chapman, Ph.D. [10] and his team have done and are continuing to perform research that shows that wind turbine-related ailments are almost certainly psychogenic in nature.  He maintains a list of  200+ unique ailments blamed on wind farms, which would be entertaining reading — vibrating lips at 10 km for example –, if it weren’t so disturbing that so many people were willing to ascribe so many completed unrelated complaints to wind turbines. [18]
 

Courtesy of Ketan Joshi at http://etwasluft.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/anecdotal-evidence.html

 
Professor Chapman published in March 2013 a major analysis of health complaints related to wind farms in Australia, relating both time of complaints and geographical closeness to large and small wind farms to media and anti-wind campaigners promotion of health issues: Spatio-temporal differences in the history of health and noise complaints about Australian wind farms: evidence for the psychogenic, “communicated disease” hypothesis. [24]
 
The study tested four hypotheses which, if proved to be accurate, would show that the psychogenic explanation was the correct one:
 

  1. 1.      Many wind farms of comparable power would have no history of health or noise complaints from nearby residents (suggesting that exogenous factors to the turbines may explain the presence or absence of complaints)
  2. 2.      Wind farms which had been subject to complaints would have only a small number of such complaining residents among those living near the farms (suggesting that individual or social factors may be required to explain different “susceptibility”)
  3. 3.      Few wind farms would have any history of complaints consistent with claims that turbines cause acute health problems (suggesting that explanations beyond turbines are needed to explain why acute problems are reported).
  4. 4.      Most health and noise complaints would date from after the advent of anti wind farm groups beginning to foment concerns about health (from around 2009) and that wind farms subject to organized opposition would be more likely to have histories of complaint than those not exposed to such opposition (suggesting that health concerns may reflect “communicated” anxieties).

 
All four hypotheses were strongly supported by the data providing strong support for the psychogenic hypothesis.
 
Professor Chapman’s study is on an escholarship site as of March 2013 and has not been peer-reviewed or published in a registered journal, however Professor Chapman’s publication history and the quality of the study itself are strong indicators that it will have no problem with either peer-review or publication in the upcoming months.
 
Researcher Fiona Crichton and her co-authors studied the nocebo effect on infrasound in a carefully designed trial. [23] They separated the study group and exposed one subset to internet literature claiming health impacts from infrasound. The control group did not read the infrasound literature. They exposed both groups to both infrasound and no infrasound while telling them that they were being exposed to infrasound.  Here is their conclusion:
 
Conclusions: Healthy volunteers, when given information about the expected physiological effect of infrasound, reported symptoms that aligned with that information, during exposure to both infrasound and sham infrasound. Symptom expectations were created by viewing information readily available on the Internet, indicating the potential for symptom expectations to be created outside of the laboratory, in real world settings. Results suggest psychological expectations could explain the link between wind turbine exposure and health complaints.
 
A UK study by Claire Lawrence et al from the University of Nottingham on people with negatively oriented personalities and their perception of wind noise and reporting of negative health impacts has been published.[17]  The study builds upon work already done around perception of noise and negatively oriented personality traits. The studies take into account the work done by Peders0n et al around wind farm noise annoyance and anecdotal reports of wind-related symptoms reported by Pierpont.
 
The UK study modelled actual noise in dwellings using industry standard approaches.  The study surveyed residents within three ranges of actual noise near the wind turbines.  The study included questions from standard and proven questionnaires on negatively oriented personality traits.
 
The study found:
 

  1. 1.      No correlation between actual noise and reported symptoms.
  2. 2.      Perception of noise was strongly related to negative attitudes to wind turbines, much more so than actual noise from wind turbines.
  3. 3.      A strong correlation between perception of noise and reported symptoms.
  4. 4.      A strong correlation between negatively oriented personality traits and reported symptoms.
  5. 5.      No relationship between attitude to wind turbines and actual noise; those who really could hear them more weren’t disposed to dislike them more.

 
These two graphs from the UK study show the very strong correlation between negatively oriented personality traits and both perception of noise and reporting of symptoms.  The simple way to read these is that the solid black line are people with negative traits, and the dotted line are people without those negative traits.  The vertical axis is reported symptoms.  The horizontal axis is perception of noise from the wind turbines (not actual noise).
 

 

 

It is very worth noting the findings [5], [6] of Drs. Frits van den Berg and Eja Pederson, Dutch wind energy impacts researchers.  In one analysis, they had several hundred people answer a survey on noise annoyance due to wind, and included several other questions.  They correlated the results and found that annoyance due to wind noise was very highly correlated to two factors:  whether the person could see the wind turbine and whether the person was receiving any economic benefit from the wind turbine.  In other words, people tended to find turbines that they could see noisier and more annoying than turbines that they couldn’t see, and were annoyed if their neighbours were making money from them and they weren’t.  In a related study, they assessed the impacts of annoyance due to wind on people and found that it increased stress leading in some cases to loss of sleep and that in addition to the factors above, the unique characteristics of wind turbine noise made it more annoying to some people.  This strongly supports the stress related hypothesis for health impacts and is worth understanding for wind turbine regulatory policy and wind turbine community engagement.
 

 

The evidence is clear: while there is virtually no support for a physiological explanation for health complaints about wind farms, there is very strong support for a psychogenic explanation for the health complaints.  Anti-wind lobbyists are making people sick.
 
Not only anti-wind campaigners are vectors of this communicated disease. Research in Ontario shows that newspapers, especially small community papers, contain language very likely to cause fear and stress in readers in their articles about benign wind energy. [22]
 
3.  Health studies supporting ‘wind turbine syndrome’ are very weak
 
As most wind farm opponents tend to rapidly find material by authors such as Dr. Nina Pierpoint on “wind turbine syndrome” [4] , they inject statements about negative health impacts in local peoples’ minds.  These tend to amplify stress related to changes in their physical environment and concerns over real estate values.  Note that Dr. Pierpoint’s sample size was 23 direct phone interviews from people self-identified as suffering negative health impacts due to wind and assertions by those on the health impacts on an addition 15 people.  From this skewed sample of 38, Dr. Pierpoint generated 60+ pages of charts and graphs on over a dozen symptoms associated with wind turbines.  In other words, bogus statistics from what was at best anecdotal information from a self-selected sample.  Similar studies have been performed with equally suspect methodologies that specifically queried individuals with a list of purported symptoms of “wind turbine syndrome” in egregious breaches of study design.[16]
 
Dr. Pierpont and her husband were, unsurprisingly, long-term opponents of a proposed wind farm near their home in New England before her study was performed.
 
A recent study published in Noise and Health, a peer-reviewed acoustics journal garnered some attention in late 2012.  [21]  Its reliability is low.  This is a flawed and misleadingly titled study by long-time anti-wind campaigners.
 

  • ·         Their data does not support a correlation between wind turbine placement and sleep; the correlation is far too weak
  • ·         According to PSQI and Epworth sleep scales, both the control and study groups suffer from poor sleeping; this is the much more significant finding yet it isn’t mentioned
  • ·         It downplays or ignores long-understood impacts of both bias and impacts of change in creating annoyance
  • ·         There are significant unstated conflicts-of-interest, biases and allegiances to the anti-wind lobby group The Society for Wind Vigilance among the six authors and reviewers
  • ·         One of the authors has been actively involved in creating anti-wind bias and annoyance in these sites for years [26]

 
A small group of Portuguese researchers is claiming that wind power is causing their favourite problem, Vibro-acoustic disease. However, the only people using the term VAD are the 3-4 researchers who write about it and anti-wind groups. The following analysis of the research on VAD is highly telling:
 
Of the 35 papers on VAD, 34 had a first author from a single Portuguese research group. Seventy four per cent of citations to these papers were self-citations by the group. [25]
 
Similar weakness exists in the work of Alec Salt, who has extrapolated from guinea pig ears to human impacts at very different levels of sound intensity. Once again, the only references to his work are in his own work and anti-wind blogs.[25]
 
The evidence for a physiological explanation for wind farm health complaints is extremely weak. Solitary researchers with prior histories of anti-wind campaigning have published a small handful of weak papers in low-impact journals or self-published them, avoiding peer-review entirely.
 
4.  Noise experienced by rural dwellers near wind turbines is quieter than that experienced by urban dwellers and easily mitigated
 
All 19 reviews and all researchers into wind farms and health agree that a small subset of people very close to wind farms find the noise annoying. As this review of the major material shows, the annoyance is much more related to the individual who is annoyed than to the actual noise, but that said, environmental noise is a concern.
 
The World Health Organization has published community guidelines on noise [7] intended to reduce health impacts.  These guidelines call for 35 dB in bedrooms at night for best sleeping and have numerous other categories for schools etc, and set the bar for annoyance at above 40 dB.  Anti-wind advocates point out that most wind turbine guidelines and regulations such as Ontario’s Regulation 359/09 call for 40 dB in inhabited homes near wind turbines (translating into a 1500 m setback for more than one large wind turbine in the majority of cases) and use this as an argument against wind farm placement.  Of course, wind turbine noise annoyance impacts a very small percentage of any populace mostly determined by psychological traits as shown above, and what is more interesting about the WHO guidelines is that no one living in a town of larger than 10,000 people has living conditions that adhere to them due to traffic noise, industrial noise, air traffic and the necessary machinery of cities.
 
If those concerned with wind turbine noise were truly focussed on health impacts, they would be promoting low-cost, effective noise annoyance reduction measures.
 

  • ·         For example, a white noise generator can be purchased for less than $30 USD. This provides masking noise which would eliminate any impact from nearby wind turbines.  In fact, there’s a free app for that. [12]
  • ·         Similarly, comfortable foam earplugs would also be reasonable interventions for occasional noisy nights. These can be purchased in bulk for cents per ear plug. [13]
  • ·         There are many stress reduction and annoyance distraction techniques available with the click of a button on the internet. Most of these can be studied and practiced free of charge by anyone interested in dealing with ultimately trivial annoyances that they are over-focussing upon. [14]
  • ·         Finally, closing windows and installing quilted blinds would not only significantly decrease noise, but would also decrease light, improving sleep as well. [15]

 
All of these techniques are in use today in households around the world to deal with traffic noise, sirens, airplane noise, noisy neighbours, nearby industrial works, streetcars, bird cannons and dawn tractor startups. Urban and rural dwellers depend on them to ensure a comfortable and uninterrupted sleep.
 
By comparison, increasing setbacks of wind turbines by hundreds of meters is an extraordinary and societally expensive measure.
 
That those concerned with health impacts only suggested interventions are greater setbacks for or complete elimination of wind turbines betrays their agenda. Their solution is vastly out of proportion to the problem.
 
Rural dwellers exposed to wind turbine noise are exposed to a much lower level of all forms of noise than city dwellers, yet the vast majority of city dwellers do not suffer significant adverse health effects or find it stressful.  Those who do mitigate the impact with the use of sound proofing and white noise generators, and find other ways to subsume the stress.
 
Summary:
 
The evidence is clear. Credible, independent and professional groups have reviewed the literature and found no health impacts or mechanism for them. The evidence for a psychogenic or nocebo effect causing health impacts is very strong. The evidence for physiological impacts is very weak. Where minor environmental noise is an issue, it is easily dealt with.
 
Health fears raised by anti-wind campaigners are the cause of health complaints near wind farms.
 
References:
 
[1] The Potential Health Impact of Wind Turbines, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, May 20, 2010, http://health.gov.on.ca/en/common/ministry/publications/reports/wind_turbine/wind_turbine.aspx
 
[2] http://www.canwea.ca/pdf/talkwind/Wind_Turbine_Sound_and_Health_Effects-Executive_Summary.pdf
 
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nocebo
 
[4] Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment, Nina Pierpont, K Selected Books, 2009, Amazon.com: Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment (9780984182701): Nina Pierpont: Books
 
[5] http://umcg.wewi.eldoc.ub.rug.nl/FILES/root/pubs/2009/JAS0006341/JAS0006341.pdf
 
[6]  Noise annoyance from wind turbines – a review, Eja Pedersen, Högskolan i Halmstad, Report 5308, August 2003, http://www.naturvardsverket.se/Documents/publikationer/620-5308-6.pdf
 
[7] http://www.euro.who.int/en/what-we-do/health-topics/environment-and-health/noise
 
[8] http://news.ontario.ca/ene/en/2011/12/expert-report-confirms-no-direct-health-effects-from-wind-turbines.html
 
[9]  Wind Turbine Health Impact Study: Report of the Independent Expert Panel, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Updated April 2012, http://www.mass.gov/dep/energy/wind/impactstudy.htm
 
[10] http://www.amazon.com/Simon-Chapman/e/B001HOPVF2
 
[11] http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/assets/pdfs/Other-Research/NZ-Conf1.pdf
 
[12] http://simplynoise.com/
 
[13] http://www.earplugstore.com/sleeping-ear-plugs.html
 
[14] http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_relief_meditation_yoga_relaxation.htm
 
[15] http://www.blindschalet.com/blinds.aspx?upgrade=sound
 
[16] “Wind turbine syndrome” is more wind than syndrome
 
[17]  The influence of negative oriented personality traits on the effects of wind turbine noise, Jennifer Taylor, Carol Eastwick, Robin Wilson, Claire Lawrence, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 54, Issue 3, February 2013, Pages 338–343, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886912004783
 
[18] http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/assets/pdfs/publications/DiseaseListIntro.pdf
 
[19]  Full list of all Wind Health Reviews maintained by Professor Simon Chapman, School of Public Health, University of Sydney,  http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/assets/pdfs/publications/WindHealthReviews.pdf
 
[20] Wind Turbines, Noise and Health, February 2007, Dr Amanda Harry http://M.B.Ch.B. P.G.Dip.E.N.T., http://www.flat-group.co.uk/pdf/wtnoise_health_2007_a_barry.pdf
 
[21] Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health, Michael A Nissenbaum, Jeffery J Aramini, Christopher D Hanning, Noise and Health, 2012, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23117539
 
[22] Benjamin Deignan , Erin Harvey & Laurie Hoffman-Goetz (2013): Fright factors about wind turbines and health in Ontario newspapers before and after the Green Energy Act, Health, Risk & Society, DOI:10.1080/13698575.2013.776015  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13698575.2013.776015
 
[
23] Can Expectations Produce Symptoms From Infrasound Associated With Wind Turbines? Crichton, Fiona; Dodd, George; Schmid, Gian; Gamble, Greg; Petrie, Keith J. Health Psychology, Mar 11 , 2013, No Pagination Specified. doi: 10.1037/a0031760, http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2013-07740-001/
 
[
24] Spatio-temporal differences in the history of health and noise complaints about Australian wind farms: evidence for the psychogenic, “communicated disease” hypothesis. , Simon Chapman, Alexis St. George, Karen Waller, Vince Cakic, http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/8977?mode=full&submit_simple=Show+full+item+record
 
[
25] Humans evolved with infrasound; is there any truth to health concerns about it?
 
 

Posted By Sally on August 7, 2013 | 0 Comment

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