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Clean Power Old barn beside a wind turbine

Published on August 18th, 2008 | by Michelle Bennett

28

Wind Turbines and… Health?

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August 18th, 2008 by
 

Old barn beside a wind turbineWind turbines are a fast, efficient way to produce renewable energy. They’re good for the environment, the power grid, and local communities. But some residents who live closest to the turbines complain about the noise, and limited data suggests it might be more than a nuisance.

Wind turbines have grown quieter with improvements in technology, but the fact remains that they generate noise. At night in particular, the atmospheric conditions change so that turbines are more likely to generate audible sound. Beyond causing annoyance, some residents have started to complain about health effects. They claim to suffer from exposure to “infra-sound”.

This sound is so low that the human ear can’t detect it, but that’s doesn’t mean it can’t impact the human body. After all, we can’t see UVA or UVB light rays, but you feel them in a sunburn. The question is how and to what extent? Is it serious enough to be a concern?

This is where research into the topic becomes tricky. It’s one thing to find a report or article online that discusses the topic; it’s another to find reputable research that  provides (unbiased? conclusive?) evidence. It’s an emotional subject, so reliable information is hard to find. Some sources made nasty accusations against an opponent (government, industry, organization, etc.) without any evidence at all. The conclusions I was able to draw are pretty straightforward, and they fit nicely into two points.

  • Known Problems

If you live close enough to a wind turbine, the noise could interfere with your daily life. Especially at night, the biggest complaint involves interrupted sleep. As a student with rambunctious room mates, I can agree that wearing earplugs to bed everyday is uncomfortable and inconvenient. The same problem is true near busy highways and construction sites. Many communities and nations have laws concerning noise pollution for this reason, and wind turbines are subject to those laws. Naturally, complaints begin to taper off as the distance between residents and the turbines increases. Two kilometers (1.2 miles) is often cited as an ideal minimum distance for everyone’s comfort.

  • The Unknown

Scientific evidence is sparse on other complaints. There’s not enough data to link wind turbines to serious health problems. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence is common enough from residents around the globe to pinpoint several issues. Infra-sound is one, and some studies propose that the vibrations can effect mood or bodily functions, including heart rhythms. They can also rattle the windows on your house. The flickering shadows from spinning propeller blades is another complaint, and is blamed for motion sickness, headaches, migraines and even seizures.

A community with distant turbinesKeep in mind that low-frequency sound and inconsistent light are common features of modern life, especially in the city. Diesel engines, for example, also produce a lot of infra-sound. Fluorescent lights have long been blamed for headaches. There’s also the issue that many researchers perusing these problems observe them in a small group of residents; as a result, most published studies involve a very small sample of people. With such narrow results, data is inconclusive. It’s possible that these problems are limited to a small portion of the population.

As a renewable resource, wind power provides many benefits for the environment and local communities. However, those benefits should not override the needs of residents. It is one thing to build these tall structures and perhaps upset a scenic view. It’s another to put them in someone’s back yard.

A buffer zone between turbines and residents will probably help prevent most reasonable complaints within a community, and could offer balance between the preferences of the people and the needs of the environment, economy, and/or power grid. Ideally, wind farms should be seen as beneficial to a community and society, not as a nuisance.

What is your opinion? Do you live near wind turbines? Comment below.

Related Articles:

World’s Largest Wind Farm Planned in Oregon

Wind and Rural Jobs

What About Silent Wind?

World’s Longest Turbine Blades

Photos via the Flickr Creative Commons: Wind turbine and barn by back stage. Bunbeg wind turbines by irishinukshuk.

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About the Author

is an environmentalist who loves to write. She grew up across the southeastern USA and especially love the Appalachian mountains. She went to school in the northeast USA in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. She majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. She has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced her to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. She also taught English in South Korea for a year, which taught her to take nothing for granted.



  • M Anderson

    In Ontario, a coalition of 33 citizen groups are undertaking a survey and doing the work that Health Canada should be doing itself.

    Out of the 126 returned surveys from people living close to wind turbines in Ontario, 86 people have reported symptoms since the turbines went up near them. Granted, some of these might be happening whether they lived near turbines or not but this is really a shockingly high number. None of these people opposed the turbines when they went up, they welcomed them into their communities.

    See more details here: http://windconcernsontario.org

    Please read the comments made by people taking this survey…it is really quite sad. If it was your child suffering, would you still be “damn the NIMBYs” at all costs?

  • M Anderson

    In Ontario, a coalition of 33 citizen groups are undertaking a survey and doing the work that Health Canada should be doing itself.

    Out of the 126 returned surveys from people living close to wind turbines in Ontario, 86 people have reported symptoms since the turbines went up near them. Granted, some of these might be happening whether they lived near turbines or not but this is really a shockingly high number. None of these people opposed the turbines when they went up, they welcomed them into their communities.

    See more details here: http://windconcernsontario.org

    Please read the comments made by people taking this survey…it is really quite sad. If it was your child suffering, would you still be “damn the NIMBYs” at all costs?

  • http://minorheresies.com Minor

    I sympathize with the folks who have ended up surrounded by dozens of turbines. Low frequency sound is very difficult to shield or mask.

    That said, I offer this hard geological fact: Someday this country will run entirely on renewable energy. That’s not wishful thinking, it has to do with the fact that the earth isn’t producing fossil fuels anymore.

    The other hard fact is that when (not if) we reach that point we will have to live with a lot less energy than we do now. We will have to collect it from more diffuse sources in smaller quantities and use it in less convenient ways. We will want every source we can possibly get, including large scale wind.

    The question we face is not “Wind power: yes or no?”, but “Wind power: How and where?”

    There need to be setback standards, noise standards, and environmental impact standards for wind turbines. Nevertheless, there will always be negative effects, just as there are for highways and cars, airports, fossil and nuclear plants, sewage treatment plants, cities, suburbs, and you name it.

    Any calls to “stop the madness” of wind turbines ignore the temporary nature of the fossil fuel age. They should be matched with calls to “stop the madness” of all the much greater health risks in our technologically enhanced lives.

    • Jim

      When we look at the future energy availability, renewables will play a huge part. Energy consumption is projected to double by 2050. All non renewable and most renewable sources will not be able to meet this energy demand except for solar. Wind may be able to generate 2 GW out of the 15 GW of new energy required by 2050. Nuclear will be less. Solar thermal is able to economically store energy and requires a much smaller landmass than wind for the same energy output. This is also no noise issues with solar.

  • http://minorheresies.com Minor

    I sympathize with the folks who have ended up surrounded by dozens of turbines. Low frequency sound is very difficult to shield or mask.

    That said, I offer this hard geological fact: Someday this country will run entirely on renewable energy. That’s not wishful thinking, it has to do with the fact that the earth isn’t producing fossil fuels anymore.

    The other hard fact is that when (not if) we reach that point we will have to live with a lot less energy than we do now. We will have to collect it from more diffuse sources in smaller quantities and use it in less convenient ways. We will want every source we can possibly get, including large scale wind.

    The question we face is not “Wind power: yes or no?”, but “Wind power: How and where?”

    There need to be setback standards, noise standards, and environmental impact standards for wind turbines. Nevertheless, there will always be negative effects, just as there are for highways and cars, airports, fossil and nuclear plants, sewage treatment plants, cities, suburbs, and you name it.

    Any calls to “stop the madness” of wind turbines ignore the temporary nature of the fossil fuel age. They should be matched with calls to “stop the madness” of all the much greater health risks in our technologically enhanced lives.

  • albert best

    A 20 KW wind turbine was built about 1/4 mile from my home. There is a loud humming sound that is loudest at night. Some of my neighbors plan to move. It keeps us up at night. We are petitioning to have it taken down.

  • albert best

    A 20 KW wind turbine was built about 1/4 mile from my home. There is a loud humming sound that is loudest at night. Some of my neighbors plan to move. It keeps us up at night. We are petitioning to have it taken down.

  • http://www.friendsoflincolnlakes.org Brad Blake

    Charlie Porter and Julie Sandry are absolutely correct. Folks in Mars Hill, Maine have complained of all the affects that are described in Dr. Nina Pierpont’s book. The vibro-acoustic effects of Wind Turbine Syndrome are real. You can find letters from Mars Hill people on http://www.windaction.org. First Wind is planning a 60 MW project on the ridges above the 13 beautiful lakes of the Lincoln Lakes region of central Maine. See http://www.friendsoflincolnlakes.org. More than 500 year round homes and seasonal cottages on or near the lakes are within two kilometers of the 40 proposed GE turbines. First Wind is using out-moded computer ing and downplaying the potential effects of noise and vibro-acoustic impacts. The Mars Hill folks will be out in full force at the hearing in Lincoln to try to help others avoid the misery of life under turbines.

    These are unpredictable intermittent sources of trickles of electricity, so inefficient that the industry would never exist without tax subsidies and mandates to purchase the output. Have we de-valued the health and welfare of our people to the point that we push health-threatening “tax subsidy plantations” on them regardless of the consequences?

    We need to stop the madness!

  • http://www.friendsoflincolnlakes.org Brad Blake

    Charlie Porter and Julie Sandry are absolutely correct. Folks in Mars Hill, Maine have complained of all the affects that are described in Dr. Nina Pierpont’s book. The vibro-acoustic effects of Wind Turbine Syndrome are real. You can find letters from Mars Hill people on http://www.windaction.org. First Wind is planning a 60 MW project on the ridges above the 13 beautiful lakes of the Lincoln Lakes region of central Maine. See http://www.friendsoflincolnlakes.org. More than 500 year round homes and seasonal cottages on or near the lakes are within two kilometers of the 40 proposed GE turbines. First Wind is using out-moded computer ing and downplaying the potential effects of noise and vibro-acoustic impacts. The Mars Hill folks will be out in full force at the hearing in Lincoln to try to help others avoid the misery of life under turbines.

    These are unpredictable intermittent sources of trickles of electricity, so inefficient that the industry would never exist without tax subsidies and mandates to purchase the output. Have we de-valued the health and welfare of our people to the point that we push health-threatening “tax subsidy plantations” on them regardless of the consequences?

    We need to stop the madness!

  • FED

    Great arguments above for going nuclear! No noise and can be placed far away from everyone. Nuclear power is much better than ugly noisy wind generators.

  • FED

    Great arguments above for going nuclear! No noise and can be placed far away from everyone. Nuclear power is much better than ugly noisy wind generators.

  • Julie Sandry

    I agree with Mr. Porter 100 percent! Until you’ve been forced to live on a wind plant you could NEVER understand everything that goes along with it! I have lived in my home for 7 years and recently the turbines went up and my battle with the energy company is just beginning. We now live on a 150 turbine wind plant. The closest one to my home is 2000 feet and at this point i can see well over 65 at my house! They were testing one out the other day and that noise i will never be able to live with! At night in EVERY direction i look all i see is BRIGHT red warning lights…our nights of looking at the beautiful night skies is gone forever. The lights are so bright and so close that i have reflections of them INSIDE my home at night.

    Also a big concern is my 6 year old has motion sickness and from the research i’ve done there’s a good possibility these turbines will make him sick. His doctor informed me that if he does get sick we’ll have to leave the day they all turn on. We own our home so leaving is not going to be that easy and as a mother i worry everyday what’s going to happen when they start up. We plan on selling our home now but the odds of us selling our house when we are SURROUNDED by turbines are not that good. Who would want to buy an acreage with a horrible view and constant noise & lights? Not too many people!

    Something needs to be done about this and in the future i think there will be tougher rules on the setbacks from homes but for now what are all of us suppose to do? I know of at least 20 families where i live that are VERY UPSET about this situation and i’m sure there’s many more i haven’t heard about.

  • Julie Sandry

    I agree with Mr. Porter 100 percent! Until you’ve been forced to live on a wind plant you could NEVER understand everything that goes along with it! I have lived in my home for 7 years and recently the turbines went up and my battle with the energy company is just beginning. We now live on a 150 turbine wind plant. The closest one to my home is 2000 feet and at this point i can see well over 65 at my house! They were testing one out the other day and that noise i will never be able to live with! At night in EVERY direction i look all i see is BRIGHT red warning lights…our nights of looking at the beautiful night skies is gone forever. The lights are so bright and so close that i have reflections of them INSIDE my home at night.

    Also a big concern is my 6 year old has motion sickness and from the research i’ve done there’s a good possibility these turbines will make him sick. His doctor informed me that if he does get sick we’ll have to leave the day they all turn on. We own our home so leaving is not going to be that easy and as a mother i worry everyday what’s going to happen when they start up. We plan on selling our home now but the odds of us selling our house when we are SURROUNDED by turbines are not that good. Who would want to buy an acreage with a horrible view and constant noise & lights? Not too many people!

    Something needs to be done about this and in the future i think there will be tougher rules on the setbacks from homes but for now what are all of us suppose to do? I know of at least 20 families where i live that are VERY UPSET about this situation and i’m sure there’s many more i haven’t heard about.

  • http://www.PorterQuarterHorses.com Charlie Porter

    My family and myself have been living under 27 Wind Monsters for two years.6 are in all directions from our home, as close as 1200 feet.Can’t sell our farm, we’ve had it listed with the local realtor.The Wind Monster company would rather use their big money to fight us than to do the right thing and buy our farm.That we had no intentions of selling before the Wind Monsters invaded our once precious way of life.

    The noise is at times unbearable.Can’t sleep.Can’t get away from it short of going to a hotel.Can’t do that forever.

    I compare having 400′ Wind Monsters in your backyard to parenthood in this way.If a person has no children, I could talk for a week about what it’s like to be a parent, but if you don’t have children, you’ll never get it.If you don’t have Giant Wind Monsters in your backyard, I could talk for a week about what it’s like to live under these devastating monsters, but you’ll never get it.I would challenge anyone that disagrees to come to our home on a supposed to be quiet evening and listen with your own ears.If you’re not willing to do that, DO NOT try to tell me what it’s like !!

    A setback of 1.5 miles from any resident, hospital, church or school, is all we ever asked for.

    Whether Wind Monsters ever get back the millions in yours and mines tax dollars is for another discussion, but I have my doubts that they ever get back the original costs to us all, in their 25 year life span.

  • http://www.PorterQuarterHorses.com Charlie Porter

    My family and myself have been living under 27 Wind Monsters for two years.6 are in all directions from our home, as close as 1200 feet.Can’t sell our farm, we’ve had it listed with the local realtor.The Wind Monster company would rather use their big money to fight us than to do the right thing and buy our farm.That we had no intentions of selling before the Wind Monsters invaded our once precious way of life.

    The noise is at times unbearable.Can’t sleep.Can’t get away from it short of going to a hotel.Can’t do that forever.

    I compare having 400′ Wind Monsters in your backyard to parenthood in this way.If a person has no children, I could talk for a week about what it’s like to be a parent, but if you don’t have children, you’ll never get it.If you don’t have Giant Wind Monsters in your backyard, I could talk for a week about what it’s like to live under these devastating monsters, but you’ll never get it.I would challenge anyone that disagrees to come to our home on a supposed to be quiet evening and listen with your own ears.If you’re not willing to do that, DO NOT try to tell me what it’s like !!

    A setback of 1.5 miles from any resident, hospital, church or school, is all we ever asked for.

    Whether Wind Monsters ever get back the millions in yours and mines tax dollars is for another discussion, but I have my doubts that they ever get back the original costs to us all, in their 25 year life span.

  • peter naegele

    This is all so funny….try living by a wind farm for a few years, then report.

    There is sensationalism on both sides, there is no hard evidence on either side, yet we pass laws requiring the enforcement of nothing more than a belief system. It is the new Crusades. Believe without question or else.

  • peter naegele

    This is all so funny….try living by a wind farm for a few years, then report.

    There is sensationalism on both sides, there is no hard evidence on either side, yet we pass laws requiring the enforcement of nothing more than a belief system. It is the new Crusades. Believe without question or else.

  • http://cleantechnica.com MichelleBennett

    Lots of great comments!

    Thanks especially to Diana for her personal insight to living near wind turbines. James is right to point out the NIMBY phenomenon. It’s important to note that while many people may not want to live near a wind farm, only a small number complain of anything more than general annoyance. The same is true of airports, for example.

    Sanjay also has a good point, that technology generally has a positive and negative side; renewable energy is no exception.

    Fortunately the solution to this problem is pretty simple: just zone the turbines far enough away from homes. In some places like Denmark, this is already implemented and works well for the community.

  • http://cleantechnica.com MichelleBennett

    Lots of great comments!

    Thanks especially to Diana for her personal insight to living near wind turbines. James is right to point out the NIMBY phenomenon. It’s important to note that while many people may not want to live near a wind farm, only a small number complain of anything more than general annoyance. The same is true of airports, for example.

    Sanjay also has a good point, that technology generally has a positive and negative side; renewable energy is no exception.

    Fortunately the solution to this problem is pretty simple: just zone the turbines far enough away from homes. In some places like Denmark, this is already implemented and works well for the community.

  • sanjay mehra

    Aren’t you being over sensitive. Everything in life including technology has a plus side and a negative side. If the only reason to highlight such trivial thoughts and ideas is to sensationalize petty and trivial problems, you succeed magnificently. On count of common sense, well that is another story.

  • sanjay mehra

    Aren’t you being over sensitive. Everything in life including technology has a plus side and a negative side. If the only reason to highlight such trivial thoughts and ideas is to sensationalize petty and trivial problems, you succeed magnificently. On count of common sense, well that is another story.

  • James Hare

    So basically the message is that no matter what power generation technique you use, some folks aren’t going to want it in their backyard. That suggests that making real changes will be far more difficult than most people let on.

  • James Hare

    So basically the message is that no matter what power generation technique you use, some folks aren’t going to want it in their backyard. That suggests that making real changes will be far more difficult than most people let on.

  • http://www.grumpyoldman.be Eddy De Clercq

    Hi,

    All these health ‘issues’ are also used in Belgium for not investing in wind turbines as mentioned in this blog. On top, as a private person, it’s rather impossible to install a private wind mill. There are a lot of mills suitable for domestic use and don’t have these issues as you mention.

    Eddy

  • Dianna

    I lived for quite a few years in Tehachapi, California, where windfarming is a big business. We lived roughly a half mile from the farms, and every now and then at night I would notice a continuous low decibel sound from the turbines. When I noticed the sound, it made sleeping impossible for me. It didn’t happen often that I noticed it, but the noise from the windfarms should definitely be a concern for those considering purchasing property near one of them.

    We had windmills of our own for power and other than requiring a lot of maintenance they provided us with extra power for our self sustaining homestead.

    I think the noise issue is probably only relevant if one lives near the windfarms. A good rule of thumb would be that a couple of mills for your personal use don’t pose any problems, but if one is considering purchasing property near a windfarm, a distance of at least a mile is necessary to get away from the noise of so many mills running at once.

  • Dianna

    I lived for quite a few years in Tehachapi, California, where windfarming is a big business. We lived roughly a half mile from the farms, and every now and then at night I would notice a continuous low decibel sound from the turbines. When I noticed the sound, it made sleeping impossible for me. It didn’t happen often that I noticed it, but the noise from the windfarms should definitely be a concern for those considering purchasing property near one of them.

    We had windmills of our own for power and other than requiring a lot of maintenance they provided us with extra power for our self sustaining homestead.

    I think the noise issue is probably only relevant if one lives near the windfarms. A good rule of thumb would be that a couple of mills for your personal use don’t pose any problems, but if one is considering purchasing property near a windfarm, a distance of at least a mile is necessary to get away from the noise of so many mills running at once.

    • riceme riceme

      Diana: I have to be very blunt, here. Unless you were living in an RV (illegally, I must also interject) that was snuggled right up to the wind farms, there is absolutely no way that you lived ~1/2-mile from the wind farms in Tehachapi.

      I take offense to your post ma’am, not because I fundamentally disagree with you, but because you have posted an untruth regarding the wind industry, propagating and promoting the often repeated and ill-conceived notion that utility-scale wind development is effectively the Spawn of Satan.

      It is my most sincere hope that people who don’t like wind turbines and / or wind farms NOT BUY PROPERTY NEAR THEM, and not CHOOSE TO live near them.

      Developers MUST be monitored and watched very closely so that they don’t take advantage of our communities, and plan and execute good, responsible wind farm projects. And community members have to police that, as I don’t trust my government to do so. I signed and distributed (largely to my friends and acquaintances in the wind industry) a petition to stop the *terribly* planned Pahnamid Wind project in the Tehachapi Mountains, which was successfully halted with thanks to the people of our community. I also signed the petition to stop a bad project in Sand Canyon earlier this year. Above is mentioned in hopes that I can relate to you that while I am a big supporter of wind (and renewables in general), I support /responsible/ development.

      My in-laws own a home about as near to any wind farm in the Tehachapi area as one could get, and when I was living across the country I stayed with them frequently. If the windspeed is low enough and the wind-direction is /just right/ you can /BARELY HEAR/ any noise whatsoever from the wind farms here… In fact, you have to get pretty darned close to a wind farm or any turbines in order to hear anything at all, which is a very soft “whooshing” sound. As stated above, I have slept many-a-night in above described environment — often for several weeks at a time — and found the sound (when I could hear anything at all) very soothing, as do my in-laws.

      I sincerely hope you have found a home in which you are happy.

  • http://www.grumpyoldman.be Eddy De Clercq

    Hi,

    All these health ‘issues’ are also used in Belgium for not investing in wind turbines as mentioned in this blog. On top, as a private person, it’s rather impossible to install a private wind mill. There are a lot of mills suitable for domestic use and don’t have these issues as you mention.

    Eddy

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