Laurentian prof shares concern about low-frequency noise from turbines

Manitoulin Expositor EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letter was sent to Ray Beaudry of the Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Solutions and is reprinted here with the author’s consent.

Dr. Michael A. Persinger

Dear Mr. Beaudry: I have read the newspaper articles you sent me entitled “Health issues concern wind farm opposition; Manitoulin group sets up website” by Michael Erskine published in the Manitoulin Expositor, and “Officials cover up wind farm noise report” published in the Sunday Times. There are both theoretical and empirical bases to your concerns about the direct and indirect effects of extremely low frequency and low frequency mechanically induced changes in air pressure. I offer the following facts and comments for your information.

1. As noted in the chapter “Mechanical stimuli of the weather matrix: barometric pressure, wind and infrasound” in my book Weather Matrix and Human Behavior (Prager, 1980, pp.182-206) there have been clear correlations between infrasound generation and adverse experiences, including sickness, nausea, and dizziness. The mechanisms involve both resonances with the whole human body because of its intrinsic oscillations between 6 Hz and 20 Hz with amplitudes in the order of five micrometers. The linear distance model, i.e., the amplitude decreases linearly with distance, is not always correct because there can be propagation within an earth surface/upper atmosphere wave guide. Hence the effects could occur at far distances with no obvious influence intermediately.

2. As aptly stated in Cameron et al (Physics of the Human Body, Medical Physics Publishing, 1992) the power density of the faintest sound discernable to the ear at 1000 Hz is approximately 10-12 W/m2. Moderately complex calculations indicate even this small quantum is sufficient to displace molecular components within the range of the width of the hydrogen atom (in the order of 10-11 m). Because the effect is frequency dependent, decreasing to 10 to 100 Hz would result in displacement values within the range of the cell membrane. There is approximately one to 10 trillion cells, each with a membrane, in the human body.

3. The most frequent component of sound level pressure that acoustic engineers and other “experts” ignore are the extremely low frequency amplitude modulations of higher sound frequencies. In other words the audible frequencies may be within the 500 to 5,000 Hz range but their generation is not consistent over time. Amplitude fluctuations between five to 20 Hz are experienced as “fluttering” or “beats” that are both fatiguing and disrupt concentration. I have attached a reprint of one of our publications in a refereed, scientific journal. This was one of the first experimental (rather than correlational) studies that actually demonstrated a large negative impact upon behaviour even though the “average sound pressure level” was considered within acceptable ranges by architects and acoustic engineers. The expertise for measuring impact is usually accommodated by behavioural scientists.

4. The critical role of individual differences in sensitivity to “subthreshold” air pressure fluctuations cannot be over emphasized. Sensitivity for all sensory modalities displays a normal distribution. As recently reported in the journal Science, some individuals can discern varying sound pressures from ordinary vocalization through skin sensors. Most people appreciate the individual differences from chemical substances (for example the untoward effects of allergies to peanut butter or medications). We have legal remedies for people who have particular sensitivity to cigarette smoke or perfumes. However, this important factor appears to be neglected in the debate concerning sound pressure fluctuations from wind turbines.

5. I am not sure of the rationale for the statements that there are no studies that demonstrate adverse effects from the sound pressure levels and their beats from wind-turbine sources. There are multiple references in refereed scientific journals, although many of them are written in Chinese.

I share your concern about the potentially serious effects of wind turbine generated pressure changes at significant distances from the site. The problem is similar to the premature application of 750 kV lines (for which I was a consultant) and the various US Navy projects (e.g., Sanguine, Seafarer) that resulted in significant health problems because political and economic enthusiasm eclipsed perspicacious and informed decisions. I would recommend a delay in the construction and operation of wind turbines in your region until an objective environmental impact study is completed.

Dr. Michael A. Persinger
Departments of Biology and Psychology
Behavioural Neuroscience and
Biomolecular Sciences Programs

15 thoughts on “Laurentian prof shares concern about low-frequency noise from turbines

  1. Well done,, well written, Dr. Persinger…Perhaps this should be put square in the face of the so-called experts, such as Mr McGuinty,, his cronies, and Mr. Lewenza, et al at the CAW.. But I’m sure they would ignore this, as they probably don’t have the smarts to comprehend or understand what this means…..

  2. Dr. Persinger provides an article based on facts as to why sound waves are not only disruptive but destructive. No person should have to be exposed to the low frequency sounds produced by industrial wind turbines. No politician should want to create large tracts of uninhabitable area created with each industrial wind turbine. Dr. Persinger’s comment in the article is further confirmation the science exists and that we should be concerned. Continued denial by industrial wind companies buys them time. Moratoriums on all wind development, not just water based, in Ontario can be expected sooner than later.

  3. Why is this letter not front and center of every news outlet? Why has this science not been brought forward before as a direct contradiction to the lies being propagated over this issue?

    • This is what leads to outright suspicion of government motives. No wonder civil unrest is evident. We work, pay taxes, not to have a government willing to harm citizens by destructive industrial planning.

  4. It seems that too many people believe that green house gases must be reduced at all costs and that wind farms are the right way to achieve that goal. They have been guided by high profile environmentalists who prefer to ignore any adverse effects of wind turbines. Information like this is suppressed by liberal media and conservative media usually only care about the money angle. Political parties only want to win the next election so choose issues that will get them the votes they need.

    Those who speak out against wind turbine development are accused of being ignorant of the effects of greenhouse gases and global warning. I am afraid that Dr Persinger would be vilified for his ‘junk’ science.

    • The wind has always been “free” since the beginning of time, and machines for harvesting energy from the wind have been developed over time, mostly for small household/farm use and also for pumping water by the Dutch as they pushed back the ocean in an effort to make more land. With the wind being free, why does it take subsidies for IWTs?

      There is a fundamental difference in how wind turbines have been used. When pumping water, the wind energy is converted to energy of the water by increasing the elevation of water say pumping water out of a well into a livestock trough. The wind turbine and trough in particular are sized to keep water available for the number of cattle on pasture. Cattle on pasture has now largely disappeared thanks to feedlots and intensive farming.

      On the other hand, using a wind turbine for electricity generation is a completely different matter than punmping water. Electricity cannot be stored nowhere as easily as water. Furthermore, when the wind speed doubles, the energy from the wind goes up by a factor of 8, as does the noise, stresses on the blades, gearbox, the tower, and everything else. The power of the wind needs the utmost respect from a health and safety point of view least the turbine self destructs if the wind should exceed the design of the turbine as a system. The noise from a wind turbine is actually worse that the noise from the wing of aircraft due to the blades passing the tower and creating that almost steady woump, woump, woump noise.

      In the past 40 or so years, IWT’s have been built using subsidy programs particularly in the US and in Europe, and then abandonned because the contracts have run out and the wind turbines are too expensive to maintain for the little(25% capacity factor), and sporatic power they produce.

      The issue of long term maintenance, also called Lifecycle Issues in government and industrial communication, is sadly being ignored.

      Once burned by 14,000 machines now sitting idle and rusting, we would think that operating experience (OPEX) would be taken into account by decision makers.

      It is outrageous that McGuinty and Co. are ignoring the mounting evidence of many issues and concerns. In particular throwing due diligence to the wind on health issues as the number of postings about health involving real people giving rise to real data is being abjectly ignored by the Ontario Minister of Health. This is in my view criminal. eg. Expropriation without compensation.

      Given the information is readily available on social media, how can the government ignore this. Also, it seems like the mainstream media is not taking this on like a “dog after a bone” There is a real major story here folks that is bigger than all the other fiascos like e-health and OLG put together.

      The question now is now how to raise more awareness. My thoughts are to take this matter to a court outside of Ontario. I am concerned that the justice system is too inbred with politics; witness the court decison re. Bryant and the unfortunate cyclist ~2 years ago.

      Perhaps taaking this matter through the World Health Organization, and/or the Court of the United Nations, just the filing itself may get put the media spotlight on McGuinty and Mathews.

      We need to get the media to end their honeymoon with McGuinty’s “hat-trick” and start asking detailed questions.


      • It is the UN that is the major driving force behind the installation of IWTs around the world.
        Also behind carbon credits,cap & trade, “green” energy bonds/wind bonds, etc.

        The MSM has been so intimidated that the vast majority of journalists are afraid to speak out. Same for most politicians.

        In my opinion, it might be good to go to a system of elected judges who run as independents. This way the electorate has the opportunity to review their work say every 4 years. Electing judges is also not a perfect system either.

      • Thank you for the insight into the UN as that escaped me til now. Third world countries have little or no grid electrical system, little advanced education, and little nfrastructure to support the ongoing operation of technology such as Diesel engines, or power plants as we know them. For them, any wind and solar are a major advantage in terms of lifestyle and health (refrigerators, some lamps, radio, telephone & internet for schooling, even if the wind and sun is intermittent. I have no debate against this. Their village wind turbines will be the small around 1 KW to 5 KW, not like IWT’s here, unless maybe around thier major cities. Land ownership is also different as there is no ownership and land tax system like here, unless around their major cities. There, if you don’t like your scenery, complaining to the dictator there don’t work, so you move in a 3rd world area.

        It all changes when there is an estaablished grid, land ownership, and an established planning structure. Of course, in Ontario, folks in cities south of hwy 7 at the moment don’t care about what happens north of hyway 7.

        When talking about land ownership such as we enjoy; Ontario was initially divided up in the 1800, early 1900’s into 100 acre lots that you got for free as long as you cleared the bush, built a house, barns, lived there and produced crops, etc. Around the 1950’s the Diesel tractor’s on farms increased productivity, and as older farmers retired, and sons and daughters found a better life working in factories, farms consolidated. 100 acres combined into 200. then 200 acres into 400. Now a single farmer with 300+ Hp tractor can farm thousands of acres with seasonal hired help at minimum wage. In the wake of this development of farm consolidation, 10 acre lots (later 11 – 2 acre lots) could be severed for the retired farmer. The homes and outbuildings were later bought by folks who wanted to escape from the crime and noise of the cities. Also for large farm machines to be efficient, many of the 110 acre, 50, 100 acre sections that were hilly and stoney were also bought up by folks from cities and towns in the “back to the country movement” that was on-going, at least until now.

        So the senario is pretty clear, small landowners are getting shafted out of their nest egg small acreages in favour of the governments who enticed and preyed on the farmers running thousands of acreas with the idiotic, misguided Liberal energy policy of: as Prince Charles said; “Useless wind turbines”, that are noisy and costly, creating expropriation without compensation. The Councils of small towns and townships were given the approval to split off small acreages, considered as “unfarmable land” to build estate homes on 1/2 to 2 acre lots for the purpose of generating tax revenue for the benefit of the rest of the municipality. This was endorsed by and through the Municipal Act as Approved by the Province.

        While McGuinty and Co. are very ready to complain about the changes effected by Mike Harris; the effects of the GEA are even more far reaching by attempting to turn back the clock through 100 years of land stewardship and ownership and taking the land away from the people, and in effect turning us into a third world ghetto of IWT’s towers in the countryside outside of the cities. Even if you find a chunk of land 5 km away from any IWT, McGuinty is snuffing out any desire to develop 10, 50, and 100 acre holdings at present into say market gardens or other ag related businesses, or general service businesses, knowing that your property and any plans for building expansion are boxed in by IWT’s on somebody else’s property.

        Folks in the cities need to be aware of the preciousness of their land ownership in the face of high debts, food, and energy costs, and decreasing numbers of real jobs, ie. jobs related to the balance of trade with other countries. The banks are doing quite well and are the beneficiary of virtually all of the mortgages and credit payments.

        If the function of local planning is truly removed from local Councils, then the purpose of local Council becomes void. We should no longer be required to pay Municipal Taxes for anything beyond road maintenance and garbage pick up, what is left. With the existing corrosive atmospheres in the communities, the etre d’existance is fast dissappearing, thank you to the Liberal Party. A real eye opener is to research the roots of the Liberal Party, this was not to be part of their platform or mandate.

        This is what we are fighting for,
        All for now, Eric

      • Just a brief Bing or Google search reveals that wind developers,ENGOs,UN, Wall Street and governments are pushing for renewable/”green” bonds to finance imposing IWTs onto the people. Government subsidies can’t last forever so a new way to finance these projects has to be used.
        This leads to the development of a “green” bond trading market which makes lots of money for the bond trading houses/firms.
        Government issued “green” bonds are backed by taxpayer money and these can also be traded.

      • First of all the IWT projects have to be installed or underway/approved to issue “green” bonds.
        So then both cabron credits and “green” bonds can be traded and used to make money with. Enables huge financial markets to be set up.
        But rural Ontarinas won’t cooperate with these plans. Rural Ontarians are bieng stuck with IWTs so that some people can become filthy rich. Then these pople tell rural Ontarians this is being done to save planet earth.

  5. Jean, I have said this many times before, we vent here and feel better but we are the only one’s who read this Blog!!

    There are a lot of people who don’t own computers and are not hooked up to the internet.

    We have to put these comments in the Toronto papers and our own local papers and keep the message out there.

    We have to post these comments week after week and keep the message alive.

    John Tory and Jerry Agar at 1010 NewsTalk radio have talked about the problem on there show’s but they need more than 1 comment sent to them.

    • Agreed! Unforunately none of my letters have been printed in The Star.

      I do leave comments online whenever I can.

  6. As Dr. Persinger hints, there is no mystery about how peaks in the impacting energy from infrasound and low frequency sound induce a response in the somatosensory system.
    What then varies is (a) the magnitude of this tactile response across subjects and (b) the range of secondary effects caused by or induced by referral from these neural signals.

    1. The skin touch sensors seem able to detect peaks in the intensity of impacting sound; for example a peak is generated as each turbine blade passes the wind tower column.
    Magnitude and fluctuations in both audible and inaudible sound contribute to intensity.
    Vibro-tactile studies show that annoyance ‘pseudo-sound’ can always be induced at some magnitude of physical stimulus to sensitive skin.

    2. Repetitive firing of ‘Pacinian Corpuscles’ occurs if the observer is also (i.e. in addition to the peaks in intensity) exposed to lesser magnitude sound with peaks at a frequency between 150 and 200 Hertz, (or an immediate overtone).
    This observation has been known since 1957 – see papers by Dr. Werner R. Loewenstein of The Institute of Physiology, University of Chile, Santiago. Dr. Loewenstein expressed this effect as “The increase in excitability is found 6 to 10 msec. after an impulse occurs in the corpuscle.”
    Intensity, or impacting energy, has an indirect relationship to sound pressure. There is no 1-1 correspondence when magnitudes are changing rapidly. There is also, fundamentally, no direct relationship between intensity and levels of audible sound.

    3. My ‘continuous annoyance’ has been demonstrated as being induced by sound at 185 Hertz, by a skin resistivity test. This frequency has peaks at 5.5 millisecond spacing; i.e. close to the 6 millisecond spacing suggested by Dr. Lowenstein for repetitive firing of Pacinian Corpuscles when subjected to a series of stimuli at higher frequencies. (In this case 250/315 Hertz).

    4. ‘Annoyance’ as a response is apparently vibrations within the head and is accompanied by the ‘hearing’ of sounds which are generally inaudible to others. It can be induced by a vibro-tactile input (e.g. to fingertips) or by low frequency sound.
    For both me and another sensitised observer at the site of a three tower wind farm –
    At 600 metres from a tower annoyance occurs only as each blade passes that tower.
    At 100 metres the Annoyance is accompanied by discernibly separate audible turbine noise and blade swish.

    5. Annoyance and ‘waking’ are connected. The particularly acute annoyance which occurs during the sensitisation process totally prevents sleep. The timing of isolated intensity peaks at night coincide with waking. During the day they coincide with the onset of annoyance.
    This finding is consistent with the similarity of the annoyance magnitude fluctuation pattern (and start/stop times) in the annoyance ‘heard’ by independent sensitised observers.

    6. ‘Masking’ is also consistent because decreasing the rate of fluctuation in the impacting sound automatically reduces intensity.
    Annoyance increases at night because the reduced background levels increase the rate of fluctuation and hence increase intensity levels.


    I have “very little doubt” that annoyance is caused by this cutaneous sensing mechanism.
    It has been suggested that sensitisation is caused by exposure to very high intensity sound or vibration. The acute pain of the sensitisation process does pass after a few weeks, but the observer is then left
    with a permanent reaction to fluctuations in intensity, causing waking and sleepnessness at night, lack of concentration when awake.

    There seems to be a reluctance, both in Canada and in the U.K to publish any research on the intensity threshold levels and periods over which they need to be maintained to cause permanent sensitisation. Once we know that we should be able to design wind turbines to a ‘reasonable emissions’ standard.

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