Wind Turbines and Human Health

The subject of wind turbines can easily start a debate on a variety of issues: Cost effectiveness, wildlife impact, reliability.  All good conversations, but not as polarizing as the subject of wind turbines and human health.  There seems to be very little middle ground on this topic.  While both sides of the argument claim data that supports their view, discussions have expanded to include possible solutions to help resolve the issue of “wind turbine syndrome”.

What is Wind Turbine Syndrome?

Wind Turbine Syndrome is the name given, by Dr. Nina Pierpont, to a collection of symptoms such as dizziness, headache, sleep disorders (such as insomnia), tinnitus, tachycardia, irritability and anxiety.  It is believed by some that the low frequency noise (infrasound) and vibrations emitted by wind turbines, although below the level of human hearing, are the source of these symptoms. Because the study of wind turbine syndrome has been done by a small number of scientists with relatively small subject groups the scientific community hasn’t come to a conclusion as to the validity of this syndrome.  It is as of present not a disorder recognized by the CDC.

Why Discuss Solutions to a Problem that May Not Exist?

Proponents of wind energy have much data on their side. In August 2014 Energy and Policy Institute released a report (which can be accessed here: http://tinyurl.com/phh3n7d) reviewing court cases in 5 English speaking countries on the subject of wind health impacts. This report shows an overwhelming lack of success in providing evidence to support the health claims.

As mentioned above, scientists are not yet convinced of the validity of this syndrome, siting alternative possibilities to explain the symptoms such as: Nocebo Effect, similar to the Placebo effect but in which suggestion may cause a negative rather than positive effect, CFS – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is difficult to diagnose and has similar symptoms, Anxiety and Worry causing the symptoms, in essence getting upset enough about the idea of the wind turbines as to then create actual symptoms.

Even with the lack of real evidence to support health claims against wind turbines, public perception has been difficult to turn in some locations.

Next Generation Ideas

So, real or not, what can be done to alleviate wind related health concerns?

Vortex Bladeless, a Spanish Developer is working on a bladeless turbine.  Although the industrial size turbine won’t be available for 4 years, the company is looking for smaller, residential, bladeless turbines to be available possibly by early 2017. Find out more about this here: http://tinyurl.com/qgoohb8.  This idea is already winning over even the most vocal critics in the U.K.

As for now, utilizing advanced technology to lower the noise levels and reduce imperfections on the actual blades can then help alleviate some of the health issues. Additionally, moving more of the wind farms offshore can reduce the impact, as the turbines won’t be near enough to create the claimed effects.  However, offshore farms do come with their own set of objections.

The subject is by no means settled and conversations continue on what the facts really are, as well as how to manage public perception.  CanWEA will hold their Annual Conference and Exhibition in Toronto, Canada from October 5-7, 2015.  There will be a session at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct 6th on this topic of Emerging Research in the Field of Wind Turbines and Human HealthThis session will discuss the important studies completed over recent years and include primary authors and lead researchers.  It is designed to us understand what these latest studies can teach us.  More information on this session and the conference as a whole can be found here: http://windenergyevent.ca/program/