Living near a wind farm may blow a host of health problems in your direction, including migraines, rapid heartbeat, and vertigo, according to a five-year study.
The so-called wind turbine syndrome (WTS) may even affect children to the point that it triggers nightmares and interferes with brain development, New York Dr. Nina Pierpoint’s study found.
“There is no doubt that my clinical research shows that the infrasonic to ultrasonic noise and vibrations emitted by wind turbines cause the symptoms which I am calling wind turbine syndrome,” the pediatrician said in an interview with the United Kingdoms’s The Independent. “There are about 12 different health problems associated with WTS. These range from tachycardia, sleep disturbance, headaches, tinnitus, nausea, visual blurring, and panic attacks with sensations of internal quivering to more general irritability.”
The turbines generate little noise, wind turbine manufacturers and wind farm operators say, and sound level measurements in the audible range generally show this to be true. However, some people who live close to wind farms say easily heard sounds are not the problem.
For instance, Dennis Stillings, who bought a farmstead in North Dakota, told Minnesota Public Radio that a wind farm was set up in a neighboring field soon after he moved in. He was told the turbines would be no louder than 55 decibels. “Which is about the same level as your refrigerator running, or the same level as my conversation right now,” Stillings said. What is bothersome, he said, is the pulsating, low-frequency sound like a “giant dishwasher.”
The low-frequency sounds are the ones Pierpoint zeroed in on as the source of health problems. Her study, which involved 38 people, shows that low-frequency sounds and vibrations affect humans through the bones in their ears, in the same manner as fish and amphibians. This sensitivity has been documented in new research by scientists at Manchester University and New South Wales.
Pierpoint told The Independent, “It has been gospel among acousticians for years that, if a person can’t hear a sound, it’s too weak for it to be detected or registered by any other part of the body. But this is no longer true. Humans can hear through the bones. This is amazing. It would be heretical if it hadn’t been shown in a well-conducted experiment.” Although Pierpoint recognizes that not everyone suffers from these sounds, she says wind farms should be built no closer to homes than 1.2 miles.
If there are plans to build a wind farm close to you, how can you tell if you might be affected? Information on Pierpoint’s Web site says that, if you get seasick, or if you got carsick as a child, you are at high risk of harm from wind farm noise and vibration. You are also at high risk if you suffer from preexisting migraine disorder, which is found in 6 percent of males and 18 percent of females.
Not everyone agrees with Pierpoint’s research, and some experts are quick to note how small the study was. In England, which has 219 wind farms and plans for 4,000 more turbines to be installed, a spokesman for the British Wind Association said, “An independent study on wind farms and noise in 2007 found only four complaints from around 2,000 turbines in the country. Wind turbines are quite safe and sustainable. It is not surprising that, according to a recent report, 94 percent of people who live near wind turbines are in favor of them. There is no scientific research to suggest that wind turbines are in any way harmful.”