Silent noise is getting to be a big problem for anyone living within a mile of industrial wind turbines. So much so, in fact, that a group of Wyoming County residents – with Alleghany attorney Gary A. Abraham as their legal representative – have formed an advocacy group to keep a proposed wind turbine project out of Orangeville. It is called “Clear Skies Over Orangeville” (CSOO) and has a court case pending against alternative energy company Invenergy’s Stony Creek Wind Farm.
Wind turbines have been touted in recent years as viable sources of alternative energy. But do we know enough about this new technology? What are the risks involved?
“What’s with all the noise?”
Sally Ross, PhD, a resident of Oakfield (Genesee County), takes issue with people’s tendency to refer to wind turbines as “windmills.”
“That’s too innocuous,” she said.
While CSOO continues its grassroots efforts, Ross, a former professor of social sciences at the New York Institute of Technology, is conducting a research study on the effects of wind turbines on human, animal, and organic health.
She began doing this after speaking with several Wyoming County residents who reported experiencing adverse health effects such as headaches, vertigo, dizziness, and difficulty sleeping, as well as health problems in their pets and dramatic decreases in bird migrations in their area.
The common thread: They all lived near large, industrial wind turbines, and the start of these problems coincided with the turbine installations.
Lynn Lomanto, an Orangeville resident and CSOO member, is a case in point. She attributes recent sleeping problems to operating turbines in nearby Sheldon.
“I always know when they blow,” she said, “because I wake up at 1 or 2 am.”
Ross has spoken with other residents of Wyoming County, a hotbed for wind turbine activity, who have reported similar ill effects in their lives.
Case in point: A married couple and their newborn baby could not sleep in their home, and the baby would be up all night crying. As soon as they moved, though, this problem went away.
Another case in point: A woman took her previously healthy dog to the vet, only to find that the dog suddenly had an aggressive form of lymphoma and had to be put down.
Ross attributes these problems to the vibrations produced by turbine propeller movement.
“(People who say that wind energy is harmless because it’s natural) don’t understand low frequency sound waves,” Ross said. “Over time, certain degrees of vibration are not good for organic health.”
While wind turbines don’t really make any noise, the vibrations can disturb the silence of a rural community at night, thus interrupting people’s natural sleeping patterns – which, in turn, can lead to other physical and psychological difficulties.
Given this, it is understandable that CSOO members are so concerned about the proposed Stony Creek turbines, which measure 426 feet in height and sport 164-foot-long blades.
“Elevated sound levels at night ruin the quality of life for a significant fraction of those living within one mile of a wind farm,” Abraham said. “The pre-existing nighttime sound level in every rural town I have become involved in (on the wind farm issue) was 25 decibels.”
Wind turbine noise, he added, can reach up to 50 decibels.
A pharmacist’s perspective
Ross hopes to have her study published one day, but said that it currently lacks the “proper research investment for in-depth study.”
However, she has consulted Carmen Krogh, a retired pharmacist from Ontario, Canada, in her research. Having spent three years researching and presenting on issues related to wind turbine technology, Krogh has reported findings similar to those Ross has noted in Wyoming County.
“I’ve done extensive interviews with people in Ontario (who have lived near industrial wind turbines),” Krogh said. “Sleep disturbance is the number one symptom, but I’ve also seen headaches, dizziness, vertigo, and a fair number of palpitations or cardiovascular problems.”
She also mentioned reports of tinnitus and the sensation of vibration in the ears and body.
As a trained pharmacist, Krogh has been gathering data according to Health Canada’s principles for monitoring suspected health problems resulting from products, medications, new technologies, etc.
She travels throughout Canada – and has been come to communities in Vermont and California as well – in order to educate people regarding the dangers and uncertainties of wind energy technology.
One of her most important recent engagements was a presentation to the Canadian Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources in October. She presented peer-reviewed studies and expert statements – including statements from the World Health Organization – indicating that wind turbines can cause harm to human health if not located at a sufficient distance.
Krogh was also part of the evidence team for Canada’s Environmental Review Tribunal in a recent court case in which both sides of the argument came to a consensus on the subject of wind turbines.
“We don’t know the exact mechanism behind this,” she said, “but both sides agreed that the symptoms people have been reporting are connected to wind turbine activity.”
A total of 27 people from all over the world testified in this case. Krogh, for her part, has personally “been in touch with people internationally” on the subject – including Ross.
“(Problems caused by industrial wind turbines are) happening too much to be made up,” Ross said.
Need for further study and public input
Wind farms have been hurriedly implemented in many places with minimal input from citizens. What people like Ross, Krogh, and members of CSOO want is not to outlaw wind energy altogether, but to push for closer and more critical study of the technology and how it impacts people’s lives and communities.
“The problem is that there is no front-end research being done,” Krogh said. “We haven’t taken the time to ask, ‘What are these?’ or ‘Where should we put them?'”
Ross believes dirty, underhanded tactics on the part of the wind turbine industry to be a factor.
“People who own land (on which wind turbines are being built) are being paid hush money several times a year so that they can’t be interviewed,” she said. “It’s real dirty.”
She claimed to have learned this from the daughter of a Wyoming County landowner on whose property industrial turbines have been installed.
Similarly, Krogh cited anecdotal evidence from Ontario that people who, after suffering the effects of wind turbine activity, are forced to leave their homes are asked to agree to nondisclosure clauses, according to which they cannot talk about their negative experiences.
“They don’t show these clauses to reporters because of the risk,” she said.
Complicity on the part of local governments has also been a factor. Abraham, who handled a case similar to that of CSOO in the Wyoming County community of Centerville in 2009, talked a bit about his experience.
Abraham was drawn to the Centerville case by two things:
1) the convincing, focused arguments of Centerville citizens against the presence of wind farms in their community, and
2) their local representatives’ overeager acceptance of the wind farm proposal.
“I was struck,” Abraham said, “by the knee-jerk support for so intrusive a change . . . by the town board members, and by the special counsel they hired to help them draft a local law to accommodate the project.”
Especially troubling was the fact that the town broke the law by agreeing to the project without a complete review of its consequences.
“Its special counsel advised that the local law had no adverse environmental effects,” Abraham said, “and so no environmental review was required. The local law in question is like numerous local wind laws adopted by New York towns, as recommended by NYSERDA, based on no more than wind industry recommendations.”
“Allowing sound levels to increase by 25 decibels,” he continued, “was a significant change in the environment that should have been fully reviewed, with opportunity for public comment and a requirement that the final decision show it was the result of some meaningful research into wind turbine noise. The appeals court noted that local laws that change more than 10 acres of land are subject to environmental review, and this one would change the whole town. Therefore, failure to undertake a full review of the consequences of adopting the law was illegal.”
He is encountering a similar state of affairs in Orangeville.
“For three years,” Lomanto said, “citizens (of Orangeville) couldn’t say anything at town board meetings about the wind turbine project.”
And when they were allowed to voice their concerns, according to Lomanto, “they had to write them down.” There was no guarantee that these written missives would be addressed.
What’s a body to do?
Here are two pieces of advice for concerned citizens living near industrial wind turbines. The first is from Abraham, the second is from Krogh:
“Those who live nearby,” Abraham said, “should consult a medical professional about the effect of low frequency and nuisance audible sound as a chronic night condition.”
“Local communities should avoid divisiveness and work together,” Krogh said, observing that disagreements over wind farms can cause tensions in these communities. “It’s important that the municipalities are educated on this issue, because they can make a difference.”
For her part, Krogh would also like to see efforts to provide financial help to those who are forced to leave their homes because of these projects and cannot afford buyouts.
For more information on CSOO, visit their website: www.csoo.info.