W. Eugene Goodrich
Submission to Health Canada Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study, 2012
The following is an excerpt from a submission I made to our local town council in August of 2009 in response to a proposal to allow the erection of industrial-scale wind turbines within town limits, but it applies to wind farms anywhere. Nothing I have learned since writing this has changed my mind about the necessity of a moratorium until a completely objective study of their potential effect on human health has been carried out.
W. Eugene Goodrich
Sackville, New Brunswick
Wind farm proponents regularly point to studies, many of them industry-funded, which find no adverse health effects of industrial scale wind turbines at any distance. But many people living as much as 1-2 km or more from them have said otherwise. A growing data base from around the world records a common pattern of very unpleasant symptoms suffered by a significant percentage of people living in close proximity to wind farms, most of them associated with sleep deprivation. They include:
- sleep disturbance
- tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears)
- ear pressure
- dizziness, lightheadedness, sensation of almost fainting.
- visual blurring
- tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
- problems with concentration and memory
- panic episodes
The response of the wind industry and its supporters has been to question the credentials and impugn the motives of the researchers who have found these symptoms to be genuine. Particular abuse, including the accusation that her well documented research has “no evidence”, or is “not peer-reviewed”, has been heaped upon the pioneer in this field, Dr. Nina Pierpont, even though her MD from John Hopkins and her PhD in Population Biology from Princeton University certainly qualifies her to record and investigate these symptoms. More objective judges have evidentially not found her research as wanting as did the wind industry. Her book, Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment, is now in press and promises to open this important topic to a wider public than hitherto. In the meantime, other eminent voices have joined in the chorus of support for Dr. Pierpont. Dr. Christopher Hanning, founder of the Leicester Sleep Disorders Service, the oldest and largest of its kind in Britain, strongly supports Dr. Pierpont’s findings that people can be negatively impacted by wind turbine noise at distances thought by the wind industry to be safe. He also believes that government and industry-sponsored research in this area is methodologically flawed or incomplete in many respects. Closer to home, Dr. Robert McMurtry, a former Dean of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario and former assistant deputy minister at Health Canada, is sufficiently convinced by the evidence he has both read and gathered for himself to call for an outright moratorium on wind farms in Ontario until independent research can establish safe setback minima. Closer yet, Dr. Michael Nissenbaum, a radiologist at Northern Maine Medical Center, studied a group of people living within 3500 feet (1066 meters) of the large wind farm in Mars Hill and found what he characterized as “alarming” evidence of sleep disturbances, headaches, dizziness, hypertension, weight changes and increased prescriptions. Dr. Nissenbaum presented his preliminary findings to the Maine Medical Association and in response the medical staff of Northern Maine Medical Center released a statement in March calling for the careful siting of wind turbines.
What Pierpont, Hanning, McMurtry and Nissenbaum have in common is a background in medicine and medical research, while government and industry supported studies have hitherto mostly been carried out by engineers or specialists in acoustics. But, as Dr. Pierpont points out, describing and documenting symptoms is the province of medical research. It is not within the expertise of engineers to decide whether or not people have genuine symptoms or are simply making up their complaints, as one egregious spokesman for the wind industry has insisted. In any case, concern over the health effects of turbine noise within 1-2 km is not confined to medical experts. Dr. George Kamperman, a distinguished American noise engineer and an industrial noise consultant with fifty years of experience, recently wrote a brief to the Wisconsin Task Force on Wind Siting Reform stating that current set back guidelines fail “to adequately consider the health and safety of the people who will be living in the communities..” He also said in a separate interview that “the magnitude of the impact [of wind turbine noise] is far above anything I have seen before at such relatively low sound levels… we desperately need noise exposure level criteria.”
One of the main suspects in causing sleep deprivation is low frequency noise, which is well documented in an extensive literature to have adverse effects on human health. Perhaps not surprisingly, the wind industry denies that wind turbines produce low frequency sound waves, but the recent PhD thesis of G.P. van den Berg of the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands has shown this to be less than the whole truth. In a painstaking analysis Dr. van den Berg also explains why the sound is often more disturbing at night. Other sound experts have found fault with the methodology of wind developers in measuring ambient background noise before the construction of wind farms, a crucial factor in the level of annoyance they cause (the quieter an area, the more intrusive wind farms are). In May of this year, Dr. Paul Schomer, Chairman of the International Organization for Standardization Working Group on Environmental Noise and Chairman of the American National Standards Committee on Noise, did a critique of the environmental impact statements of BP Alternative Energy and Acciona for two of their wind farm projects and found that they had significantly, and probably deliberately, overestimated ambient background noise in order to be allowed to put more turbines in a smaller area and closer to homes. (Acciona, in particular, has a history of such dealings).
This is not to say that the question of low frequency sound and its ill effects is settled, or that all people living within 1-2 km of a wind farm suffer from it. Many apparently do not. But it is to say that much more research remains to be done before definitive, science-based guidelines on safe setback distances can be established, and that pending this, we should err on the side of caution. It is also beyond question that, for whatever reason, some people are much more sensitive to turbine noise and shadow flicker (another whole can of worms) than others, and just because they are in the minority is no reason to trample on their human rights or to disparage them as NIMBYs or neurotic whiners. Many of the victims studied in this research actually welcomed the turbines—until they heard them. Probably less than 1% of all children are allergic to peanut products, yet these are regularly banned from schools. Only a small percentage of people have perfume allergies, yet signs are up in every hospital urging us not to wear strongly scented products. Why should it be any different for wind farms? The protection of minority rights is one of the fundamental values of our society, and it is the duty of government at every level to defend them. One important way of doing this is to follow the precautionary principle when there is any doubt as to public safety and well-being. Fully implemented, this would demand that industrial-scale wind farms (as opposed to small personal turbines) be banned altogether until their safety has been firmly established by medical science, not merely assumed on the basis of acoustic measurements and asserted by the wind industry and its advocates as unassailable fact. This would set a salutary example of prudent caution in the face of the unknown and signal our government’s concern for the rights of all its citizens.