By Miriam Raftery
April 22, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – For years, the tobacco industry claimed that cigarettes don’t cause cancer—long after compelling medical evidence proved otherwise. A similar scenario is now happening with the wind industry, which has put forth various “experts” funded by the wind industry to claim that no evidence exists of negative health impacts caused by wind turbines.
Those are dubious claims that ignore mounting medical and anecdotal evidence around the world indicating that living near wind turbines can harm human health. View a video made by residents living near wind turbines in Wisconsin, discussing health problems they are experiencing which are consistent with symptoms found at many other wind sites around the world: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71DxuicwCXw&feature=player_embedded
In numerous countries, neighbors living near turbines have been forced to abandon their homes after developing serious health problems. Low-frequency infrasound, audible noise, dirty energy, and ground currents are among the measurable outputs at some wind energy facilities—despite industry denials--and all have been linked to serious health impacts in people as well as animals.
Besides extensive anecdotal evidence, a growing number of medical journals, including peer-reviewed studies, have documented health issues related to wind energy. A growing number of medical experts and public health departments have called for new wind facilities to have significantly greater setbacks than the industry wants in order to protect public health—if such projects are built at all.
The American Wind Energy Association steadfastly denies that wind turbines cause health problems. According to the AWEA website, “An Expert Panel Review (full report here, executive summary here), was released in December 2009. Following review of current literature, the advisory panel concluded that there is no evidence the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects on humans.”
AWEA further claims that “Wind power is a clean energy source that can provide communities with decreased greenhouse gas emissions, along with air quality improvements and corresponding human health benefits. For more information, please see AWEA's Wind Turbines and Health and Utility Scale Wind Energy and Sound fact sheets.”
On a large scale, replacing coal-burning plants with wind means cleaner air. But clean air is just one measurement of health—and the industry conveniently omits the fact that for people living or working near wind turbines, health concerns appear both real and plentiful.
Let’s start with a real world example. On January 10, 2012, the Brown County Board of Health in Wisconsin adopted a resolution http://www.windturbinesyndrome.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/BCResolutions.pdf also supported by County Supervisors calling for emergency state funds to aid “families suffering around industrial wind turbines” including relocation of entire families. The resolution includes an extensive bibliography of sources documenting serious health impacts from turbines, including many that are peer-reviewed. The resolution declares an “emergency relating to public heatlh, safety or welfare” including effects from noise and shadow flicker.
Judy Frieerichs, director/health officer at Brown County Health Dept., told ECM that the residents who are ill live at distances ranging from 1,150 feet to 3,200 feet from the turbines.
Jay Tibbetts, M.D., with Brown County Dept. of Health said the board recommends a minimum half to three-quarters of a mile setback, with no audible noise or shadow flicker. “There is some consensus of a setback of 2 kilometers, 1.24 miles,” he said.”A huge problem is that none of these setbacks take infrasound (inaudible sound) into consideration. Infrasound can travel much greater distances than audible sound,” he said, adding, “Infrasound may be more of a threat to human health than other factors.”
Dr. Tibbetts also voiced concern over stray voltage (dirty electricity) linked to wind turbines in his community. “There is an association of pediatric leukemia and lymphoma with prolonged exposure and one family has a very high stray voltage measurement.”
Symptoms experienced by Brown County residents include a “sense of flight or flight, marked uneasiness, headache, nausea, dizziness, ear pressure…A few family members living in the vicinity of wind turbines can sense when the turbines are on and off without seeing them. Two families have abandoned their homes and another four would if they could financially.”
Shadow flicker, which can cause migraines and potentially seizures in epileptics similar to the effect of strobe lights are simply annoying to many people. “One local wind farm supplied a household with a room darkening shade,” said Tibbett, who finds the solution woefully inadequate. “The best way to prevent health issues is safe siting.”
(Editor’s note: In San Diego County, this author took a neighbor to arbitration over a security light shining through a bedroom window. The owner proposed a black out blind for her neighbor, but the mediator ruled that this would not be adequate mediation since a homeowner has a right to have their windows open for fresh air. He found the light to be a private nuisance and ordered the owner to cover half of it and prevent light from disturbing the household next door.)
Brown County officials also called for science-based setback guidelines, noting that wind siting rules “were created without oversight of a medical professional.” Their proposed guidelines also include provisions to hold wind energy companies responsible for resolving problems if health issues occur despite reasonable efforts to establish safe setbacks.
Carmen Krogh, a retired pharmacist from Ontario, Canada, spoke in Boulevard, California recently on the impacts wind turbines could have on people, particularly children. Research has found that intrusive noises adversely affect children’s cardiovascular systems, memory, language development and ability to learn, though studies specifically on impacts of wind turbine noise on youngsters has not been done. She titled her presentation “Children: The Canaries in the Coal Mine.” At the same meeting, appraisal consultant Mike McCann of Chicago said the impact zone of a wind farm is two to five miles, with dramatic negative impacts on property values as well.
Audiology Today, a publication of the American Academy of Audiology, published an article in June/July 2010 titled “Wind Noise: What Audiologists Should Know.” The report cites “evidence that exposure to high levels of low-frequency energy can have adverse health effects” and notes that wind turbines produce low-frequency acoustic energy below the level that humans can here. Turbines also generate vibrations that can be highly disturbing and harmful. These inaudible sounds can vibrate in houses and building spaces, rattling doors and rumbling through the ground, even vibrating in “bodily tissues and cavities”, causing chronic sleep disturbances and other illnesses, the report states.
Sleep disturbances are “common in people who live up to about 1.25 miles away” from turbines. “This is the setback distance at which a group of turbines would need to be in order not to be a nighttime noise disturbance,” the Journal of Audiology concludes, noting that this is the setback required in several countries with substantial experience with wind energy facilities.
The French National Academy of Medicine recommends turbines be placed at least 1.5 km away from residential areas Buffers to disrupt sound waves and filters to prevent stray electricity are among other measures that can also be taken—but the core protection is making sure that homes are not located too close to industrial wind facilities.
But sleep isn’t the only problem.
Wind Turbine Syndrome has been documented by Dr. Nina Pierpont of the esteemed Johns Hopkin Medical School in a peer-reviewed report. http://www.windturbinesyndrome.com/wind-turbine-syndrome/what-is-wind-turbine-syndrome/ These include headache, dizziness/vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in ears), ear pressure, ear pain, memory and concentration problems, fatigue, irritability, sleep disturbance and Visceral Vibratory Vestibular Distrubance (VWD). The latter includes rapid heartbeat, nausea, internal quivering or pulsation, and more.
A report in Aviation, Space, Environmental Medicine details Vibracoustic Disease (VAD), an ailment associated with long-term exposure to infrasound for ten years or more. It can cause permanent tissue and organ damage as well as cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension and more. It can also cause chest pain, severe join pain, stroke, epilepsy, and neurological disturbances in the late stages, the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society reports, citing multiple scientific studies.
Audible sounds from turbines have been described as airplanes or helicopters overhead that never leave, whooshing and thumping sounds.
The World Health Organization concludes that what you can’t hear CAN hurt you, just as x-rays and UV radiation that you can’t see causes harm. According to WHO, populations vulnerable to infrasound include “elderly persons, children, especially those younger than age six; and people with pre-existing medical conditions, especially if sleep is affected.”
To date, the wind industry has fought to keep sound measured only in decibels (dba) using an A-weighted scale. But the Journal of Audiology report concludes that “For wind turbine noise, the A-weighting scale is especially ill-suited because of its devaluation of the effects of low-frequency noise. This is why it is important to make C-weighted measurements, as well as A-weighted measurements, when considering the impact of sound form wind turbines.”
The Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society issued a proof article September 20, 2011 titled Wind Turbines Make Waves: Why Some Residents Near Wind Turbines Become Ill.” Researchers describe how turbines generate pressure waves and electromagnetic waves. High frequencies can also flow along wires (dirty electricity) and along the ground generating ground current.
“These four types of waves—noise, infrasound, dirty electricity, and ground current—and shadow flicker are each likely to contribute to ill health among those who live near wind turbines,” the article states.
Not all individuals experience symptoms. Just as some people are more sensitive to chemicals, allergies, and electromagnetic radiation, so, too, are some people more sensitive to the effects of waves from wind turbines. Some studies suggest that people who experience motion sickness, experience dizziness or nausea on carnival rides, or have migraines, eye or ear problems are more apt to suffer serious effects.
A report by the U.S. Air Force Institute for National Security Studies in 1997 indicated that low frequency sound can travel long distances and penetrate buildings with potentially lethal effects. “Transmission of long wave-length sound creates biophysical effects, nausea, loss of bowels, disorientation, vomiting, potential organ damage or death may occur,” the report found.
Indeed, infrasound has been used by the U.S. military as a weapon capable of deterring enemy forces with potential for serious and permanent harm to health at high or prolonged levels.
Dirty electricity, or electricity escaping power lines, can interfere with electronic equipment as well as harming humans, livestock, pets and wildlife. Symptoms include sleeplessness, higher blood pressure, heart palpitrations, itching, ringing and pain in the ears, watery eyes, chest pressure, difficulty breathing and more – symptoms that disappear when patients leave home and reappear when they return. Impacts on health have been documented at schools in Canada and Wisconsi, as well as among teachers in a California school, as Milham & Morgan reported in 2008.
Locally, Dr. Milham submitted evidence at a San Diego County Planning Commission in April 2012 demonstrating that he took measurements and found skyrocketing levels of ground current inside the Manzanita Indian reservation’s tribal hall and church—measurements he attributes to the nearby Kumeyaay wind farm on the Campo Indian reservation. High ground current levels have also been found in Palm Springs due to a wind farm nearby. Ground current can even enter homes through plumbing.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture in 2007 warned that ground current, also called stray voltage or tingle voltage, can harm farm animals, pets and people. Symptoms that the Ontario report cites include high rates of spontaneous abortions in cattle, higher piglet mortality rates, horses exhibiting behavior and handling issues, dairy cows shocked through milking machines, an cats producing small, unhealthy litters or dying.
If wind farms can cause miscarriages in animals, can they have similar impacts on pregnant women? Nobody knows, since no studies have been done.
Unexplained mass die-offs of livestock have occurred near some wind farms. In New Zealand, 400 goats dropped dead. In Wisconsin, a farmer lost most of his cattle herd after turbines went in.
Problems are getting worse as turbines become bigger and more powerful.
On June 29, 2011, the Waubra Foundation in Australia issued an “explicit cautionary notice” to officials worldwide responsible for wind turbine siting decisions. The Foundation’s field research identified symptoms of people not only living, but working or visiting within 10 kilometers or turbines. In addition to symptoms listed above, the list includes depression and post traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, heart attacks and more at the Toora and Waubra wind projects in Australia, where over 20 familiies have abandoned their homes due to ill health since turbines began operations.
“Some of these people have walked away from their only financial asset, to live in a shed or a caravan on someone else’s land,” Waubra Foundation notes.
The organization urges prohibiting turbines within 10 km of homes, adding, “To ignore existing evidence by continuing the current practice of siting turbines closet o homes is to run the dangerous risk of breaching a fundamental duty of care, thus attracting grave liability.”
Around the world, opposition to wind energy is growing.
The North American Platform Against Windpower (NA-PAW) at http://www.na-paw.org/ is mobilizing people seeking a moratorium on siting projects near homes until science determines safe distances. Similar groups have formed in many communities around the wolrd, such as the Ontario Wind Resistance Website (http://ontario-wind-resistance.org/) and Wind Wise Radio in Vermont (http://www.windwiseradio.org).
In Wisconsin, residents near the Shirley wind farm have videotaped their stories and put them on Youtube.
One family moved away after the entire family developed ear pain and headaches, but can’t sell their home due to the property devaluation.
A farmer whose land is a mile to a mile and a half away from turbines reports that “cows are dying…going down, pretty much lifeless…19 died or had to be put down, I lost 30 calves so far.” One cow taken to a friend’s recovered after leaving the farm.
Yet another family says they escape into their basement, where symptoms including severe headaches temporarily subside.
Eerily, several residents reported they no longer hear crickets or see birds. “Wildlife in our area has drastically dropped…it’s pretty much lifeless,” one resident said.
An elderly neighbor living near a wind facility said hearing aids pick up turbine noise that can’t be tuned out. “Once they’re up, there’s no way out,” she complained. “You’re stuck for 30 years, which is a long time.”
One problem facing researchers is that the wind industry has often persuaded residents to sign nondisclosure releases regarding medical and noise complaints in exchange for money, such as renting a farmer’s field to site turbines, or giving money to organizations.
Government officials have often failed to give adequate weight to health issues, ignoring voluminous evidence. The final environmental impact statement/final environmental impact review for the Ocotillo Express wind project proposal, for instance, is dismissive of the issues despite the fact that some homes in Ocotillo would be within a half mile of turbines on not one, but up to three sides – clearly well within the impact where significant health problems can be anticipated.
Some agencies ARE taking notice, however.
San Diego County’s Planning Commission recently heard testimony regarding a proposed wind ordinance that industry sources said would impose the toughest infrasound requirements in California—so stringent that some wind energy representatives present testified that if enacted, it could spell the death knell for the wind industry in San Diego County.
Harley McDonald of Iberdrola Renewables, which hopes to build the Tule Wind facility in McCain Valley, said the ordinance would amount to a “de facto ban” on wind facilities in San Diego County, where numerous projects are proposed, most on public lands including Cleveland National Forest sites.
The proposed San Diego ordinance would include C-measurements for infrasound—a proposal the industry representatives vigorously opposed, claiming it would force setbacks from homes that would be impossible to meet. http://eastcountymagazine.org/node/9354 . San Diego planners also heard from concerned residents, then postponed a decision in order to conduct site visits and a workshop to explore issues further—including the impacts of noise, infrasound, dirty energy and ground current.
Commissioner Bryan Woods drew applause from beleaguered residents when he stated that he will not support “wind energy at the expense of folks who have lived there for generations. It’s not right to displace them.”