Wind Turbine Noise – What Audiologists Should Know

Audiology Today Jul-Aug 2010 Issue

Jerry Punch, PhD, Richard James, BME, and Dan Pabst, BS, are with the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.  Download Entire Article

Noise from modern wind turbines is not known to cause hearing loss, but the low-frequency noise and vibration emitted by wind turbines may have adverse health effects on humans and may become an important community noise concern.


Much of the answer as to why the wind industry denies that noise is a serious problem with its wind turbines is because holding the noise to 30 dBA at night has serious economic consequences. The following quotation by Upton Sinclair seems relevant here: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” (Sinclair, 1935, reprinted 1994, p. 109).

In recent years, the wind industry has denied the validity of any noise complaints by people who live near its utility-scale wind turbines. Residents who are leasing their properties for the siting of turbines are generally so pleased to receive the lease payments that they seldom complain. In fact, they normally are required to sign a leasing agreement, or gag clause, stating they will not speak or write anything unfavourable about the turbines. Consequently, complaints, and sometimes lawsuits, tend to be initiated by individuals who live near property on which wind turbines are sited, and not by those who are leasing their own property. This situation pits neighbour against neighbour, which leads to antagonistic divisions within communities.

In a panel review report, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and Canadian Wind Energy Association (CANWEA) have objected to setbacks that exceed 1 mile (Colby et al, 2009). A coalition of independent medical and acoustical experts, the Society for Wind Vigilance (2010), has provided a recent rebuttal to that report. The society has described the panel review as a typical product of industry-funded white papers, being neither authoritative nor convincing. The society accepts as a medical fact that sleep disturbance, physiological stress, and psychological distress can result from exposure to wind-turbine noise.

Our purpose in this article has been to provide audiologistswith a better understanding of the types of noise generated by wind turbines, some basic considerations underlying sound-level measurements of wind-turbine noise, and the adverse health effects on people who live near these turbines.

In future years, we expect that audiologists will be called upon to make noise measurements in communities that have acquired wind turbines, or are considering them. Some of us, along with members of the medical profession, will be asked to provide legal testimony regarding our opinions on the effects of such noise on people. Many of us will likely see clinical patients who are experiencing some of the adverse health effects described in this article.

As a professional community, audiologists should become involved not only in making these measurements to corroborate the complaints of residents living near wind-turbine projects but also in developing and shaping siting guidelines that minimize the potentially adverse health effects of the noise and vibration they generate.    Download Entire Article

1 thought on “Wind Turbine Noise – What Audiologists Should Know

  1. I was going to argue with this statement…

    “Most of us would agree that the modern wind turbine is a desirable alternative for producing electrical energy. One of the most highly
    touted ways to meet a federal mandate that 20 percent of all energy must come from renewable sources by 2020 is to install large numbers of utility-scale wind turbines. ”

    But they are right. The statement is a fallacy — but I would agree that most believe it.

    I would also agree with the following…

    “Evidence has been mounting over the past decade, however, that these utility-scale wind turbines produces significant levels of low-frequency noise and vibration that can be highly disturbing to nearby residents.”

    When you read this paper keep in mind that like the CANWEA papers and the CMO report, it is a ** survey paper **. It does not prove anything!

    However the paper does document that there is a lot of anecdotal evidence, and it documents the ways and means of proving or disproving the health problems.

    Now, don’t jump on my case for the last statement. Here’s the deal: In science when you state a hypothesis it is expected that you will show how to disprove your case. Then, if people do not believe your assertions, they know what evidence you will accept to disprove your theory. That’s how science works. Well, that’s how it should work. It is called falsifiability. If you cannot show how to falsify your case, then you are discussing religion or a belief system.

    Papers that state “We are right and can’t be disproved.” are treated as so much junk — unless you are a prominent Climate Scientist or a Wind Turbine advocate — or so it seems to me.

    So, if you want to do a study, they seem to have stated that there is a problem, they have also shown how one would prove or disprove or quantify the problem. They have also discussed what they see to be the merits of the various measuring system which can quantify the problem.

    That makes the paper a winner in my opinion.

    My $0.02

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