Wind Energy Foes Sometimes Grasp For Straws

Opposition to windmills often centers on health effects, but what is it about wind power that causes people to feel ill? According to recent research, it may not be the infrasound from wind-energy installations but, oddly enough, the warnings from opponents.

For a study published in the American Psychological Association’s Health Psychology journal, researchers from New Zealand’s University of Auckland showed readily available anti-wind-power film footage to 27 people. Another 27 were shown interviews with experts who said infrasound, such as that created by wind turbines, can’t directly cause negative health effects. Subjects were then told they would be exposed to two 10-minute periods of infrasound, but were actually only exposed to one.

After both real and “sham” exposure, people in the first group were far more likely to report negative symptoms than those in the second. In fact, subjects in the second group reported “no symptomatic changes” after either exposure. According to the researchers, “Results suggest psychological expectations could explain the link between wind turbine exposure and health complaints.”

Iowa wind power (image via Andrew Huff/Flickr>/a>)

Iowa wind power (image via Andrew Huff/Flickr

Another study, which has yet to be published, shows people living near wind-power installations report more health problems during anti-wind campaigns. Researchers from Australia’s Sydney University found only 120 complaints from people living within five kilometres of the country’s 49 wind farms between 1993 and 2012. But 68 percent were from people living near five wind farms targeted by anti-wind-farm groups, and 82 percent occurred after 2009, when wind-energy opponents started highlighting health scares in their campaigns.

The power of suggestion can be extremely effective, especially when it comes to human health. Unfortunately, in the case of wind energy, this can delay or even stop wind-power installations that are a necessary part of the shift from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy, as has happened recently in Canada.

In fact, science shows that wind energy does not negatively affect human health in any significant way. An independent panel convened by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection reviewed the available research and released a report last year. It found no scientific evidence to support most claims about “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” infrasound effects and harm blamed on wind power such as pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease and headache/migraine.

At worst, there is some evidence that wind installations may cause annoyance and sleep disruption. But most of the resulting minor effects can be overcome by regulations governing how close windmills are to residences. In Ontario, the required setback is 550 metres. At this distance, audible sound from windmills is normally below 40 decibels, which is about what you’d find in most bedrooms and living rooms.

On the other hand, we know that using fossil fuels for energy has profound effects on human health—and on the economy. TheCanadian Medical Association reports that in 2008 air pollution in Canada was responsible for 21,000 premature deaths, 92,000 emergency room visits and 620,000 visits to a doctor’s office. And a new study by the Pembina Institute found that “health impact costs associated with burning coal for electricity in Alberta are close to $300 million annually.”

According to Pembina researchers, “Coal plants are a major source of toxic air contaminants, including mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter. The study shows that in Alberta each year this pollution contributes to over 4,000 asthma episodes, over 700 emergency visits for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and around 80 hospital admissions, with chronic exposures resulting in nearly 100 premature deaths.”

Factor these costs into the equation, and coal and other fossil fuels don’t seem like the bargain they’re purported to be—especially considering the sector is subsidized by about $1.9 trillion a year worldwide, according to the International Monetary Fund. With the costs of renewable energy coming down, and the technology improving, more and more research shows that switching from fossil fuels to clean energy is feasible.

When it comes to wind power, we have to be careful to ensure that impacts on the environment and on animals such as birds and bats are minimized, and we should continue to study possible effects on health. But we must also be wary of false arguments against it.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

ecowatchEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of EcoWatch. Author credit goes to David Suzuki.

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    • Valewood

      Yeah, so I guess we’ll just tell all of those people dying from lung cancer from smoking that it’s caused by all those graphic warnings on cigarette packages, not from the actual smoking itself.

      Shame on David Suzuki for repeating this trash. If they’re so convinced that this is all in people’s heads, why don’t they go out and actually speak to those who live next door to wind turbines? Why do they base these supposed results on lab testing? Are they afraid of having to speak to those who are suffering? Cowards, the lot of them.

      As for that “independent” study out of Massachusetts, any board that has someone sitting on it from the wind industry can hardly be called ‘independent’. I’ve read that study as well and it is absolute rubbish. They didn’t go out and do any epidemiological studies. They didn’t review medical records of those living next to wind turbines. They didn’t do any field tests. They didn’t even leave the room where they met a grand total of 3 times.

      Instead, they based their ‘study’ on things like ‘popular media’. Yeah. That’s a really well done piece of research. Lazy, cowardly, biased, well-paid shills for the wind industry. That’s what it basically amounted to.

      • Hi Valewood,

        Tobacco kills approximately 6,000,000 people every year (http://bit.ly/aDS6Fv). Could you point us in the direction of the World Health Organisation page that is specifically about wind energy?

        You seem to take issue with an absence of medical record reviews. Nina Pierpont’s study in 2009, named ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome: A natural experiment” – could you point us in the direction of where, in that study, medical records were obtained and reviewed as part of the research?

        • Valewood

          Any time someone spends an inordinate amount of time trying to quash someone else’s right to health and quality of life, I always have to ask, “What’s in it for them?”

          Invariably, the answer is $$$$$$.

          • Again,

            Could you show us where the World Health Organisation specifically recognises wind turbines as being a serious detriment to public health?

            Also, could you show us where, in the landmark study that purportedly exposes wind turbine syndrome, medical records were obtained for the patients involved in the study?

            Thanks,
            Ketan

            • Valewood

              Sleep deprivation is one of the most common complaints from people who live next to wind turbines. We all know that night time is when wind turbines are most active. A simple Google search reveals all of the devastating consequences to ones health from not getting enough sleep.

              Give it up Ketan. Again, you make money from this whole sham, so like your buddy Mike, it’s not surprising that your concern or caring over someone else’s suffering is minimal when $$$$$$$ is on the line.

            • So, the issue with wind energy is sleep deprivation? Are you saying that there is no direct physiological harm incurred to the vestibular system from wind turbines, from inaudible infrasound, or inaudible low-frequency noise?

              Additionally, you haven’t addressed the question of whether Pierpont incorporated patient histories in her research.

      • Spencerforhire

        Oh Valewood tisk tisk . . The tobacco industry lawyers left them and went to your side to defend Deniers and Big Oil. Their money trail also ends at wind concern type groups.

        Doctors left tobacco and joined clean air and turbines.

        Chapman outed Tobacco and outed NIMBYs.

        I think you are the Wind industry’s best asset if it was not for how stupid your followers are.

        • myview1872

          Just because Chapman was able to get legislation against big tobacco does not mean he knows SFA about wind turbines. That ‘study’ is pure garbage and you know it. Has the stupid thing been peer-reviewed yet? If so, please cite your source because I’ve searched and found nothing about a peer-review.

          • Spencerforhire

            Like you could do a search!! LOL!!!

            Are you saying Big tobacco could not buy Chapman but Wind could ??

            LOL You are too funny!!

    • Bang on. The anti-wind campaigners hate it but the reality is that they are the cause of the problems, not the solution. The ethical and moral action for them to take is to stop promoting unfounded health scares that are causing people to fall ill. However, as Valewood shows on this comment thread, denial of reality and science runs deep in many anti-wind lobbyists.

      Their best course of action would be to put a moratorium on their health scare promotion, not a moratorium on wind farms.

      http://barnardonwind.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/wind-farms-dont-make-people-sick-so-why-the-complaints/

      Of course, the motivations of anti-wind campaigners are varied, and many of them are deeply murky. This taxonomy shows seven different types of anti-wind campaigners. It can be difficult to tell them apart at first glance due to some common messaging, but once you know where they are coming from, countering their disinformation becomes easier.

      http://barnardonwind.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/not-just-nimbys-understanding-anti-wind-energy-campaigners/

      For a deep analysis of one anti-wind lobbyist organization from Australia, its ties to fossil fuels, its well-off NIMBY backers and its ongoing distortions of reality, have a look at these seven things you must know about the Waubra Foundation:

      http://barnardonwind.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/seven-things-you-must-know-about-the-waubra-foundation-and-sarah-laurie/

      • myview1872

        Have you ever thought that perhaps, that the wind turbines are the cause of the anti-wind movement? This is not just about health, how about environmental degradation, permanent loss of prime agricultural land, lowered property values, ever-rising electricity bills, desecration of historic areas, government deficits, and so on …..

        All this so mega corporations can build more wind turbines that we don’t need and fewer people want.

        Post all the links to your blog you want, I already know what’s there..

    • rucio

      This sounds more like the wind energy developers are grasping at straws to avoid taking any responsibility for adverse effects from their giant machines. They sound just like fracking apologists.

    • DanWrightman

      Simon Chapman’s “study” has some pretty shaky conclusions and is not peer reviewed. Chapman who is not a medical doctor can only think of one possible hypothesis for wind turbine health complaints. Now he has sunk to a new professional low by publicly calling the people suffering from ill health “professional victims”. Any highschool science class could think of all kinds of alternative hypothesis which blow large holes into Chapman’s hypothesis.
      For instance:
      1) perhaps there are more health complaints after 2009 because more wind turbines have been built since than. More turbines equals more people exposed to increased noise levels which leads to more health complaints.
      2)Every year wind turbines have increased in size and height while the setback distances are unchanged. Perhaps there is a correlation between increased size, increased noise output in the lower frequency range and more health complaints.
      3)If health complaints are caused by negative news as Chapman hypothesises than what caused the health complaints in people pre 2009?
      Finally I wish to note that once again we have another so called “study” that from afar blames victims for their health problems without ever interviewing or medically assessing ONE single person who claims to be suffering health effects living next to wind turbines. Which begs the question; What is Chapman afraid of

    • DanWrightman

      Here are 19 peer reviewed articles regarding adverse health effects and industrial wind turbines:
      1)The Problems With ”Noise Numbers” for Wind Farm Noise Assessment
      Bob Thorne
      2)Evaluating the impact of wind turbine noise
      on health related quality of life
      by Daniel Shepherd, David McBride, David Welch, Kim N. Dirks, Erin M. Hill
      3)Mitigating the Acoustic Impacts of Modern Technologies:
      Acoustic, Health, and Psychosocial Factors
      Informing Wind Farm Placement
      Daniel Shepherd and Rex Billington
      4)Public Health Ethics, Legitimacy, and the Challenges of Industrial Wind Turbines:
      The Case of Ontario, Canada
      Martin Shain
      5)Infrasound From Wind Turbines Could Affect Humans
      Alec N. Salt and James A.Kaltenbach Infrasound
      6)Responses of the ear to low frequency sounds,
      infrasound and wind turbines.
      Alec N. Salt and T.E. Hullar.
      Department of Otolaryngology,
      Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, 63110, USA.
      7)Occupational Health and Industrial Wind Turbines: A Case Study
      Robert W. Rand, Stephen E. Ambrose, and Carmen M. E. Krogh
      8)Properly Interpreting the Epidemiologic Evidence About the Health Effects
      of Industrial Wind Turbines on Nearby Residents
      Carl V. Phillips
      9)Toward a Case Definition of Adverse Health Effects
      in the Environs of Industrial Wind Turbines:
      Facilitating a Clinical Diagnosis
      Robert Y. McMurtry
      10)Low-frequency noise from large wind turbines
      Henrik Møller and Christian Sejer Pedersen
      Section of Acoustics, Aalborg University,
      Fredrik Bajers Vej
      11)WindVOiCe, a Self-Reporting Survey: Adverse Health Effects,
      Industrial Wind Turbines, and the Need for Vigilance Monitoring
      Carmen M.E. Krogh, Lorrie Gillis, Nicholas Kouwen, and Jeffery Aramini
      12)Industrial Wind Turbine Development and Loss of Social Justice?
      Carmen M.E. Krogh
      13)Wind Turbines Make Waves:
      Why Some Residents Near Wind Turbines Become Ill
      Magda Havas and David Colling
      14)Literature Reviews on Wind Turbines and Health : Are They Enough?
      Brett Horner, Roy D. Jeffery and Carmen M. E. Krogh
      15)Editorial Wind turbine noise Christopher D Hanning and Alun Evans
      British Medical Journal,
      16)Wind Turbine Noise
      John P. Harrison
      17)The Noise from Wind Turbines: Potential Adverse Impacts on Children’s Well-Being
      Arline L. Bronzaft
      18)WIND TURBINE NOISE,
      SLEEP AND HEALTH
      Response to:
      The Northumberland County Council Core
      Issues and Options Report Consultations
      Dr Christopher Hanning
      19)Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health
      Michael A. Nissenbaum, Jeffery J. Aramini1, Christopher D. Hanning

    • Now I’d like to see you print a retraction for printing this wind industry propaganda. Apparently the publisher of the yet to be published study is refusing to publish the work because,

      “Dr Daly, who described herself as a “greenie” who utilised solar power at home, said that up until two weeks before the meeting she had been the editor of the Australian New Zealand Journal of Public Health. She retired after more than 12 years in the role. She said Chapman had submitted his study to the Journal but the quality of his research was questionable.

      “I have to tell you that I think the evidence is at best equivocal,” she said, suggesting it was both ambiguous and deliberately designed to mislead.”

      “He (Chapman) said there was no evidence of any health problems, choosing to ignore residents on the doorstep of his own project outside Daylesford, including a local doctor, who have been forced from their homes since the turbines began operating.

      Chapman’s study, still not peer-reviewed we understand, has been widely touted by the wind industry but also been the subject of extensive criticism for its poor (ie non) scientific method.”

      Let’s see how unbiased you are and do an article exposing these studies for the shams that they are.

      • Thanks for your comment. It will be interesting to see what comes of Chapman’s paper. I see it was revised on March 27. (http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstream/2123/8977/4/Complaints%20FINAL.pdf)

        By the way, the “he” that you parenthetically say is “Chapman” in the quote regarding Daylesford isn’t Chapman and the passage wasn’t referring to Chapman’s study. The he is Hepburn Wind chairman Simon Holmes a Court. Quoting fulling from the article:

        “In response Holmes a Court called the question rhetorical before saying the anti wind lobby was responsible for spreading mis-information about wind turbines.

        “He said there was no evidence of any health problems, choosing to ignore residents on the doorstep of his own project outside Daylesford, including a local doctor, who have been forced from their homes since the turbines began operating.”

        source:http://stopthesethings.com/2013/04/25/the-veracity-of-chapmans-study-is-questioned-by-its-publisher/

      • It’s such a pity that Ms. Griffin has so much invested in this that she has repeated it numerous times without bothering to check a few minor facts.

        One of those would be: is Dr. Daly referring to the same study? It turns out she isn’t. The only study in with her former journal for review was a simple analysis of massive over-self-referencing by the VAD crew in Portugal (their papers are the source of some 74% of all references they receive on their papers). This is an interesting little tidbit, and is, as Dr. Daly says, equivocal as to the existence or non-existence of VAD. It’s merely an interesting indication and a fun little piece of research. For a research scientist like Professor Chapman, it’s a palate cleanser between major courses of a meal.

        Dr. Daly has never received or reviewed for publication the study Dr. Suzuki is referencing. That one is with a major international journal undergoing peer review. It’s a main course and is being treated very seriously by a very serious international peer review process.

        Simple facts and simple fact checking. They escape anti-wind campaigners so often, slipping through their fingers like dandelion fluff floating in the breeze through benign and effective wind farms.