By Dave Battagello, The Windsor Star
When dozens of residents in Kokomo, Ind., started voicing complaints of unsettling vibrations and noise causing them to fall ill or lose sleep, it led city officials on an investigation that remains inconclusive nearly a decade later.
The noise, often in the middle of the night, was compared to train idling and led to complaints of nausea, fatigue, and headaches.
In this heavily industrialized Midwestern U.S. city of 45,000 no definitive conclusions were ever reached. And a majority of residents heard nothing. But the troubling rumblings were pervasive enough to gain folklore status as the “Kokomo Hum,” which was first reported in 1999.
The mystery surrounding the Kokomo Hum may sound similar to frustrated residents in Windsor and Essex County, where there have been dozens of reports of mysterious rumblings, noise and vibrations.
In Kokomo, the issue died a few years ago after one consultant’s study concluded it originated from fans in massive cooling towers at the local Chrysler casting plant or from another large plant’s air compressor intake.
Officials in Kokomo at the mayor’s office, city attorney’s office and local newspaper appeared weary when contacted by The Star recently with yet another inquiry about the Kokomo Hum.
“It was a long time ago and before our administration,” said a spokeswoman with the mayor’s office.
In Windsor and Essex County, another 20 complaints from frustrated Windsor and Essex County residents were called into The Star last week.
Ontario’s Ministry of Environment is continuing to log complaints in a bid to narrow possible sources of the rumblings reported by homeowners in a wide swath of Windsor and Essex County.
One Amherstburg resident met this week with officials from a Quebec-based company which installed nearly fourdozen wind turbines in the Windsor and Chatham areas.
Although a supporter of alternative energy, Lynne Bradac believes six recently installed turbines about two kilometres from her South Side Road home have caused the vibrations she and her husband have felt.
“The neighbours feel it, too,” she said. “As soon as they powered up all of Essex County with these windmills, that’s when all this started. I know that’s what all this is. With Zug Island and the salt mines, nothing was ever being felt before.
“This has got to be what’s causing all this rumbling with the power going into the earth.”
But an official with Boralex disputed those claims.
About half of the company’s 45 wind turbines in the Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent area only sink to a depth of about 2.6 metres, said Patricia Lemaire, director of public affairs for Boralex. The other half, because of less stable ground, go down between 15 metres and 35 metres.
When it comes to vibrations, her company has not received any official complaints and there are no scientific studies showing evidence that it’s a problem, Lemaire said.
“We’ve been operating wind turbines for a long time (10 years) and never heard about that.”
Brad Austen, who lives on Spring Garden Road, said the rumbling could be caused by rail cars in the salt mines operating at all hours.
“It doesn’t happen every night and that’s heavy duty stuff,” he said. “It could be that and their (tunnels) are way out there now.”
Canadian Salt company officials were not available to comment on the issue.
“I used to think it was a boom box,” Austen said. “It just rattles the windows, then stops. Then I would look and there would be nobody there. It just feels like a train rumbling.”
The California-based host of a weekly science podcast called Skeptoid has studied the “mystery hum” phenomenon in several cities, including Kokomo.
There are usually three possible causes, said Brian Dunning. “One is it can be actual noise -motors, engines, industrial fans,” he said. Some industrial equipment also produces low-frequency harmonics that some can hear and others can’t, he said.
The other two factors are related to an individual’s hearing. Muscles can tighten in the eardrum and spasm, creating a rumble “similar to what people there are reporting” or it can be tinnitus, a common ear problem in which sufferers hear high-pitched whining, buzzing, ringing or humming.
Those who believe rumblings are being caused by wind turbines or cellphone tower frequencies should probably forget it, Dunning said.
“That’s just people grasping at straws,” he said. “All those have been investigated and none have shown to have such causes.”