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Bad Science At Root Of Wind Farm’s Link To Deafness

The author of a recent report investigating the impact of low-frequency sound on the human inner ear has responded to British newspapers which misled readers by claiming that wind farms could cause hearing impairment.

British newspapers, including the TimesTelegraph, and Daily Mail, reported Wednesday that Dr Markus Drexl’s recent report published in the Royal Society Open Science journal proved a link between wind farms and hearing loss. This, despite the fact that nowhere in the report (PDF) are the words “wind turbine” ever found, nor the science being relevant to the low frequency of wind farms.

“It is certainly misleading and an over-interpretation of our results to state that living close to wind farms may cause hearing impairment or deafness,” explained Dr Drexl to RenewableUK. “Our research did not include any work at wind farms.”

In their opening bullet-points summing up the story (presumably for those readers unable or unwilling to read the remaining 2-minutes worth of writing) the Daily Mail provided these interesting facts:

  • Study of 21 healthy adults exposed to ‘the hum’ revealed that most experienced cell changes in the cochlear – part of the inner ear
  • The hum emitted by a wind turbine is a low frequency wavelength of 30Hz

Neither of these bullet points are in any way linked (and I cannot find evidence of the second one at all), and are simply an example of poor journalism. Or, as RenewableUK’s Director of Policy Dr Gordon Edge said, “Unfortunately, some reporters got it wrong – this is a classic case of Bad Science.”

RenewableUK’s Dr Gordon Edge continues: “When you actually read the scientific paper, it doesn’t make any mention of wind farms whatsoever. That’s because the level of low frequency noise that the scientists used in their tests was significantly higher than anything that anyone living near a wind farm could possibly experience.

“The Australian government published some excellent research on this last year which stated that the modest level of low frequency sound from wind turbines is actually insignificant. It’s well understood by acoustics experts that low frequency sound doesn’t pose any health risk to communities around wind farms and frankly it’s irresponsible scaremongering to suggest otherwise.”

The paper in question makes it clear that the frequencies emitted by wind turbines detected from nearby residences are such that they are relatively indistinguishable with those common to any suburban location. The South Australian Government study can be found here (PDF) and provides the scientific evidence journalists at the Daily Mail should have read before writing their own pieces of “journalism.”

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