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Can wind turbines make you ill?

An article by Colin Mynott recently published in "Crick News"

I became interested in this subject some time ago when a friend posed this question. So I researched, mainly via the Internet, then asked the Daventry District Council their view. You may be interested in the outcome:

Over 1,000 Internet entries allege that wind turbines can make you ill – from USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy and so on. Is there fire behind all this smoke – can it be true?

It has been known since World War 2 that low frequency vibration (infrasound) affects the human body. Infrasound is very low frequency vibration, below 20 cycles a second, like sound waves but you can’t hear it. And large wind turbines, like the two planned between DIRFT and the M1, are said to emit it. If you want to see the Daventry District Council planning application on their website, it’s DA/2011/0742 to erect two 2-megawatt units, around three times larger than the two small Tesco turbines. A tall thin mast marks the site.


So how does infrasound affect the human body?

Long-term exposure to infrasound is known to cause vibroacoustic disease (VAD), which affects many parts of the body. It has been researched for more than three decades and there is a huge body of clinically proven knowledge on its cause and effects.

Health and safety regulations do not recognise it and consider it to have no health impact, so infrasonic environmental noise assessments are not normally made.

Without causing inflammation, infrasound thickens tissues by causing collagen and elastin growth. This is seen in blood vessels, cardiac structures, trachea, lung, and kidneys. For example, occupational exposure to infrasound has been found to cause an increase in the rate of thickening of the pericardium and cardiac valves in commercial airline pilots’ hearts.

It is not confined to working environments. VAD has been diagnosed in people with prolonged exposure to activities such as rock concerts, dance clubs and motorised sports.

The stages of vibroacoustic disease

According to VAD research, around 70% of the population is susceptible. Clinical experience classifies VAD in three stages based upon years of exposure:

Stage 1 - mild (1-4 years) Slight mood swings, insomnia, increased susceptibility to indigestion, heartburn, mouth and throat infections, bronchitis.

Stage 2 - moderate (4-10 years) Chest pain, mood swings, insomnia, back pain, fatigue, increased susceptibility to skin infections, stomach lining inflammation, pain and blood in urine, conjunctivitis, allergies.

After four years of exposure, individuals tend to realise they have worse memory lapses, and mood changes become more pronounced.

Stage 3 - severe (over 10 years) Psychiatric and neurological disturbances, vertigo, headaches, increased susceptibility to haemorrhages, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, duodenal ulcers, spastic colitis, decrease in visual acuity, severe joint pain, intense muscular pain.

In the advanced stages, neurological disorders include epilepsy, severe balance disorders, and a marked increase in cognitive impairment.

Wind turbines and infrasound

Audible and inaudible noise has been measured from industrial wind turbines. They emit a small audible whooshing noise of around 300 Hz (Herz – cycles per second).  And a very low frequency infrasound vibration that you can’t hear, at frequencies as low as 2 Hz (much the same as the human heartbeat) with harmonics up to 20 Hz.

As the blades spin past the column, infrasound waves are sent out and set up vibration and resonance in buildings as well as in our body cavities. Apparently the larger the turbine, the greater the infrasound output.

Do they really produce it?

The Canadian Wind Energy Association says they do and has lobbied against the introduction of regulation to reduce wind turbine infrasound.

Last year, the large Danish turbine maker Vestas persuaded the Danish government to weaken proposed infrasound legislation. Their chief executive officer said it was “not technically possible” to meet the proposed infrasound limits of 20 decibels 24 hours a day and that regulation would hurt their global business.

It’s a world-wide problem. Some developers deny its existence for commercial reasons. Campaigners are fragmented, and face an alliance of big eco-business and government. The academic establishment, usually quick to comment on public health issues, is so far silent.

How far does infrasound travel – can you shield it?

Infrasound travels long distances without losing much strength, hug the ground and no-one has yet discovered how to suppress it. Seismologists in Italy have recently measured airborne infrasound from wind turbines, as well as ground-borne vibration, up to 9 miles away. However, clincal experience indicates that they only affect inhabitants’ health within 2 km.

Audible sound has a short wavelength so we can wear ear protection. But infrasound wavelengths are metres long and acoustic barriers are impracticably large – it can go through thick concrete walls.

Closing doors and windows can make it worse because of its effect on structures. According to NASA, “People who are exposed to wind turbine noise may be more disturbed by the noise inside their homes than outside. A person might sense the excitation of a house through its structural vibrations. This gets worse the lower the frequency.”

Are others concerned?

Military procedures recognize that infrasound vibrations of jet aircraft saturate the bodies of their pilots. They  routinely limit flight time because it endangers pilots and their missions. According to the military, it affects their vision, speech, intelligence, orientation, and balance. It severely diminishes reflexes, ability to accurately discern situations, and ability to make accurate decisions.

The wind turbine industry also appear to recognize infrasound is as a work-place hazard. Manufacturers advise their maintenance crews to minimise the time they spend near their wind turbines.

Even so, there are no regulations that govern the production of infrasound by wind turbines.

Typical examples among many

Reported on the Internet, engineers of the Australian Institute of Noise Control Engineering were working for a philanthropic donor who wanted to investigate why wind turbines were causing concern. In testimony to the US State of Maine Board of Environmental Protection, they said that they both experienced “nausea, loss of appetite, headache, vertigo, dizziness, inability to concentrate, anxiety and an overwhelming desire to get outside”. Their fieldwork confirmed that the wind turbine infrasound, especially indoors, was the cause.

A local North Devon press example is the farmer several hundred yards from the Fullabrook Wind Farm. He suffers insomnia from the infrasound and is liable to burst into tears for no reason. He takes Prozac anti-depressants, but still suffers the effects.

From local health evidence, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care state that wind turbines are causing stress and insomnia.

The Daily Telegraph of 2nd November 2012 reported a research project with a control group that found an unusual number of cases of insomnia in a Maine USA settlement near wind turbines. None of the participants in the control group further from the turbines reported such problems.

In News Post Leader 13th December, Wansbeck’s MP, Ian Lavery, stated in the House of Commons that he had been approached by a local GP about an increasing number of patients living near wind turbines on the Ashingtom Alcan site in his constituency. The health centre reported that an increasing number of patients living in the vicinity of wind turbines on the Alcan site have developed severe mental health problems. “It’s a huge local problem; scientific reports confirm that low frequency noise from wind farms can affect health..”

So are all these people making it up?

Are there recommendations?

If all this is true, how far should turbines be sited from inhabited buildings?

International scientific research finds that wind turbine infrasound can have a direct physical impact on residents within 1.25 miles (2 Km). Around the world, a minimum 2 Km distance from dwellings and workplaces is being built into local regulations, often after health effects have appeared, and to protect authorities from litigation. The Scottish Parliament has such a regulation but England does not.

Last year the Australian Victoria State Baillieu government gave landholders a right of veto over any wind turbine within 2 Km of their houses.

In Canada, Dr Thomas Jones, in a report to Government, stated that industrial wind turbines pose public health and safety concerns and that minimum distances should be enforced because:

… soundly researched and published international papers show that wind turbines do cause VAD.  The resonant frequencies of some body organs happen to coincide with their low frequency noise (1-2 Hertz – the blade passage frequency).

This infrasound is transmitted through every medium between the turbine and your body. It travels great distances and can not be shielded …

What does Daventry District Council say?

In private correspondence with their environmental improvement department, Daventry District Council tells me that there is no cause for concern. They cite two references:

  • The Health Protection Agency, “the independent body that protects and health and wellbeing of the population”. They say that much that has been written on the subject is incorrect and misleading. And while they have no information on wind turbine noise and so can’t comment, an ad hoc expert group concluded that there is no evidence that low levels of low frequency noise has a direct physiological effect, but may have a psychological effect from stress and frustration.
  • The Department of Energy And Climate Change (responsible for Government wind turbine policy) cited evidence from three UK studies that concluded infrasound from wind turbines is not injurious to neighbours. And from a US study, that concluded there was insufficient evidence that it causes problems.

So until they are advised that there is a problem, the DDC won’t request infrasound measurement or consider it as part of their planning process.


So to conclude, there are more than 1,000 Internet entries, and increasing press reports from UK areas. Can it all be smoke without fire?

World-wide evidence seems to indicate that wind turbines should not be erected nearer than 2 Km to any dwelling. Unfortunately, most members of parliament have never heard of this, nor have Government inspectors or most of your district councillors. And your District Council says there’s no problem.

So if you do happen to develop symptoms when the two 2 mW turbines start up, less that 2 Km from every house in Crick, remember that the Health Protection Agency says it’s psychological. So get a grip – it’s all in the mind…. or is it…?