Listen to CBC “The Current” interview
Noise and vibrations caused by wind turbines are causing sleep disruptions and other health problems among people who live nearby, some Ontario residents say.
“I’m very concerned about the victims that we’ve got in Ontario because they’re really suffering some pretty significant, adverse health effects,” said Carmen Krogh, a retired Alberta pharmacist who is conducting a survey of people living near wind turbines.
Krogh, who now lives in Cormac, Ont., about 130 kilometres west of Ottawa, said she once fell ill while vacationing near a wind turbine complex in 2005. Initially, the turbines weren’t moving, but once the wind picked up the blades started turning. Within 10 minutes she began to experience vibrations through her body, an intense headache, queasiness, dizziness and heart rhythm irregularities, she told CBC’s The Current on Tuesday.
“It was like my heart was trying to beat to the time of the blades.”
‘These three behind us here sound literally like this house is in a washing machine.’— Barbara Ashbee, who lives near a wind farm
The symptoms subsided after she left the area.
Since then, Krogh said, she has heard many stories from other people who say they have fallen ill as a result of wind turbines. She is currently distributing questionnaires in areas with wind turbines, asking residents to describe whether they have experienced any effects from the turbines, and if so, what those might be.
“We need some kind of vigilance program so people can report their adverse effects,” she said.
Krogh is not the only person to document illness caused by wind turbine noise.
Last year, Dr. Nina Pierpoint, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, published a book called Wind Turbine Syndrome describing symptoms reported by people who live near wind turbines in the United States.
In March, Dr. Michael A. Nissenbaum, a radiologist at the Northern Maine Medical Center, presented to the Maine Medical Association the results of 15 interviews of people who lived near a wind farm in Mars Hill, Maine, which found that many began experiencing sleep disturbances, headaches, dizziness, weight changes, possible increases in blood pressure, and increased prescription medication use after the turbines were turned on.
No peer-reviewed evidence: wind industry
Sean Whittaker, vice-president of policy at the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said so far there is no evidence in peer-reviewed science journals that wind turbine noise does cause adverse health effects or bothers people as much as other sources of noise. A news release put out by his group last year lists seven publications, including articles from the Lancet, the World Health Organization, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and the health branch of the Ontario Municipality of Chatham-Kent that draw similar conclusions.
Whittaker acknowledged that wind turbines are a fairly new energy technology that barely existed in Canada 10 years ago.
“So it’s natural that people are going to have questions, that they’re going to have concerns.”
Barbara Ashbee and Denis Lormand, a retired couple who live near a wind farm outside Shelburne, Ont., about 75 kilometres northwest of Toronto, initially didn’t have concerns when wind turbines were erected near their home. The nearest is 450 metres away.
“I thought they were going to be good for the environment, for the province and Canada and the whole world, really,” said Ashbee. “But I also thought they were quiet and passive.”
In fact, the turbines often cause a loud whooshing noise that can be heard throughout their house, they said.
“It’s disturbing, it’s distressing, it’s totally consumed us for four months,” said Ashbee.
“You can’t sleep properly, you can’t do your work properly … you even lose desire to do the normal, everyday things.”
Constant, cyclical noise
The noise is constant and cyclical, she said.
“If there’s a storm coming and in and the winds are really starting to pick up, these three behind us here sound literally like this house is in a washing machine.”
Lormand said the noise also keeps him awake at night and causes a ringing in his ears.
At other times, a low vibration comes through the walls and through Ashbee’s pillow when she’s trying to sleep, forcing her to get up and turn the television on in an effort to drown it out.
Geoff Leventhall, an Ontario consultant who provides analysis and advice concerning noise, vibrations and acoustics, said low-frequency wind turbine noise is below the limit of human hearing.
“We are not hearing them and I don’t believe they are having any effect on us,” he said, adding that wind turbine noise in general is no different from any other kind of noise.
Whether the noise is different from other noises or not, it has disturbed Ashbee and Lormand to the point that the couple plan to move.
“We’ve really tried hard to fix things,” Ashbee said. “I don’t think it’s fixable.”
Krogh said she thinks there need to be more evidence-based studies on the health effects of wind turbine noise and in the meantime the Ministry of the Environment should impose stricter guidelines for how far the turbines must be from homes.
She added that she has raised her concerns with the wind energy industry but they deny there is a problem.
“And I would expect that,” she said. “It’s pretty hard to tell people that their product might make people sick.”