Adverse Health Effects of Industrial Wind Turbines Jerry Punch PhD Richard James INCE, BME
This article, the first of three installments, provides a broad overview of the topic. The second installment will review the major research findings linking low-frequency noise and infrasound from industrial wind turbines with effects on health and quality of life, and the third will discuss the relationship between various health effects and the processing of infrasound by the ear and brain.
Cary Shineldecker was skeptical about the wind project the Mason County, Michigan, planning commission was considering for approval. His home, two miles from Lake Michigan, was located in an area where nighttime noise levels were around 25 dBA, with only occasional traffic and seasonal farmland noises. The rolling hills, woodlots, orchards, fields, and meadows surrounding his property contributed to its peaceful country setting. He voiced his skepticism about the wind turbines repeatedly in community meetings held beforeConsumers Energy was finally granted approval to construct 56, 476-foot, turbines that would place one turbine 1,139 feet from his property line (Figure 1), six within 3,000 feet, and 26 that are visible from his property.
He and his wife Karen started to suffer symptoms of ear pressure, severe headaches, anxiety, irritability, sleep disturbance, memory loss, fatigue, and depression immediately after the turbines began operating.
Gradually, as sleep disturbance turned into sleep deprivation, they felt their home was being transformed from a sanctuary to a prison. Deciding to sell their home of 20 years, they put it on the market in March 2011, and it has remained unsold for 3-1/2 years. For the past 1-1/2 years, their nightly ritual is taking sleeping medications and retreating into their basement to try to sleep on a corner mattress. They received few offers to buy their home, and recently accepted an offer that would mean a substantial financial loss. They are scheduled to go to trial against Consumers Energy, and if their case goes to settlement without a trial, they will likely be forced into a confidentiality agreement about their case.
Similar complaints of adverse health effects (AHEs) associated with living near utility-scale wind turbines have become commonplace in the U.S. and other developed countries. Energy companies in the U.S., motivated by lucrative tax subsidies available for developing wind resources as a form of green energy, are pushing aggressively to install more wind turbines, typically locating them near residential properties. Many rural residents now have one or more industrial machines that stand over 40 stories tall on the property alongside their home. Complaints about noise from people living within the footprint of wind energy projects are very similar to those experienced by the Shineldeckers.
Those who have never visited a wind project or who visit one only during the daytime often leave believing that the complaints of noise are unfounded, and commonly assume them to be psychologically motivated or a form of NIMBYism. Those living near wind turbines say that unless one is willing to spend several nights in the area they have not experienced the noise that causes the complaints.