An audiologist on sound and wind turbines

Andrea Graham

by Andrea Graham, audiologist, MSc    From Lifestyle Hearing Magazine

Imagine a windmill was placed in your area. You might not think it would affect you–but people in Canada, Denmark, Northern Ireland, Portugal, New Zealand, the UK and the United States are saying otherwise. They are reporting migraines, vertigo, tinnitus, sleep deprivation, memory problems, nervousness, fear, chest tightness or increased heart rate.
Articles about Visceral Vibratory Vestibular Disturbance (VVVD) Vibroacoustic Disease and Wind Turbine Syndrome are appearing in books, newspapers and on websites with increasing frequency. While the effects of intense noise in the range that we can hear are becoming more widely recognized and publicized, physicians and researchers are now concerned that infrasound–sounds that are in the frequency range too low for the human ear to hear–are the cause of these symptoms. They theorize that low-frequency sounds and vibrations emitted by wind turbines may interfere with the ear’s vestibular system, which controls our sense of balance, or may affect heart and lung tissues.

A controversial issue

Wind energy is such a promising source of renewable energy and the reduction of carbon emissions such a worthwhile goal. Should we not be doing everything in our power to encourage alternative energy sources? How can something that we cannot hear be causing a problem? Some experts have noted that sleep deprivation can cause most of the commonly reported symptoms. Are the people complaining about the windmills just not getting enough sleep? Supporters of wind energy also argue that there is not enough valid research to conclusively support medical concerns.

On the other hand, it took years to establish that cigarette smoke was harmful to human health, and residents living near wind farms are not the only people experiencing ill health caused by sound energy. Noise and vibration-related illness complaints can also result from exposure to traffic noise, machinery, generators and air conditioners. There is sufficient research in the aerospace, shipping and trucking industries to validate that other sources of low-frequency sound and vibration can be damaging.

International governments are trying to address concerns by initiating studies and establishing guidelines for appropriate noise limits and locations for large wind turbines. This is not an easy task; factors such as the size of the turbines, distance from residences, local topography, ground cover, atmospheric conditions and existing ambient sound levels must all be taken into consideration.

As Audiologists, we know sound affects different people in different ways and that we are only at the early stages of understanding the complexity of the human response to sound. We need to be conscious of the environmental impact of noise, as well as of carbon emissions. Independent investigation and responsible consultation should prevent us all from tilting at windmills.

4 thoughts on “An audiologist on sound and wind turbines

  1. Wind energy is not a promising source of renewable energy!

    It is intermittent, highly expensive and has not reduced GHG or emissions period. In fact it has caused the building of more coal plants and gas plants as they are needed for constant back up of wind power when the wind isn’t blowing. This actually is causing more Green House Gas and emissions. Wind Power can not be stored. 410 Coalitions in Europe and 21 Countries have marched in protest to the onslaught of IWT’s across the countryside. The developers anxious to reap the generous feed in tariffs from the backs of taxpayers grossly misrepresent the output of energy. They spout name plate capacity that is never reached. Irresponsible placement of IWT’s has forced many from their homes. Many people are suffering the serious health effects caused by IWT’s. These symptoms go away when they leave the area. This has been reported all over the world.

    In Ontario we now have 700 IWT’s up and running, 106 people report serious illness. Ontario’s goal is to put up 7000 IWT’S and admit to being 1% of our energy mix!!!

    This is the biggest Boondoggle ever foisted on North America by a Corporate industry and by the undemocratic Green Energy Act brought about by the liberal Majority Government and Premier Dalton McGuinty.

    Please read “The Wind Farm Scam” an Ecologist’s Evaluation, by John Etherington

  2. Melodie: Your response is great. Andrea is a bit uninformed as most of us were at the beginning. It is hard to imagine how something so big could be so useless. The whole industrial wind turbine mess created by the Liberal government needs to go away. Turbines impacting people’s lives should be dismantled; in fact all industrial wind turbines should be dismantled. They are not only an expensive blight on the landscape but negatively impact ecological systems, destroy land value and wreck people’s health all for no meaningful energy to consumers. That is disgusting.

  3. I know Zen2then isn’t this the most bazaar night mare we could never have imagined. I think aliens taking over our planet would have been easier to deal with. It is just so shocking that so many are so hoodwinked out of fear and the need to believe wind is the answer. I keep hoping as more info gets out there that there will be a turn around in a massive way, then I hear about people in other countries or the States that have been fighting for 4 or 5 years.
    It can get very depressing but we just have to keep plugging away and educating people. Did you notice that none of our papers mentioned the European protest. I can’t believe that!

  4. We understand that Ms Graham is less than informed re: wind energy (and we can all work on that), but the point here is that she, as a health care professional, recognizes and ACCEPTS the premise that noise and infrasound can affect health and–even better–says this effect has already been documented in other places. Another arrow for our quiver, to answer people who say there are no health effects.

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