Industrial Wind Turbines, Human Variability, and Adverse Health Effects

Michael A. Nissenbaum, MD — November 2013

Current generations of Industrial Wind Turbines (IWTs) have changed in many ways from those initially installed in Europe in the late 20th century. The generating power of modern IWTs is many times that of earlier generations. Current 1.5, 2.5, and 3MW turbines dwarf the 400 and 600KW turbines most Europeans and Americans encountered in the past. In addition to larger generators, current turbines have much longer blade lengths and are positioned much higher off the ground, often on ridgelines, to better capture the greater wind forces required to turn them. Many jurisdictions have already been identified as hosts for new IWT installations, with plans for tens of thousands of ever larger IWTs worldwide in the decade ahead.

Improvements in turbine design and more efficient blade profiles and materials have resulted in less sound output per unit

of energy produced compared to older turbines, but current

A home at Mars Hill, Maine

turbines, being much larger, still produce considerable amounts of sound energy. Unfortunately, the factors that have resulted in less noise per unit energy have been used to justify closer

placement of turbines to human residences. It is not unheard of in the UK and North America to find turbines sited within 250m of homes. With the increasing number of installations close to housing, many anecdotal reports from around the world began accumulating early in the last decade of adverse health effects of remarkable similarity from many differing locales worldwide.

In Maine, the towns of Mars Hill and Vinalhaven underwent the installation of IWTs in 2009. These towns were the source of multiple complaints of adverse health effects of IWTs that were reported in the local media. Over the last 6 years, I developed an interest in and researched issues relating to the human response to noise arising from Industrial Wind Turbines, beginning with the complaints heard from Mars Hill (about 90 miles from where I live), and the announced objectives of the then-Baldacci Administration to install 3000MW of IWT generation within Maine by 2020. If the problems at Mars Hill were real and not understood or acknowledged by the Maine DEP, with steps taken to prevent adverse effects that may be occurring, this project by implication risked creating over a hundred more Mars Hill type situations state-wide.

Jeffery Aramini, Christopher Hanning and I published a study in the journal Noise and Health in late 2012 (Effects Of Industrial Wind Turbine Noise On Sleep And Health, Noise & Health, September-October 2012, Volume 14:60, 237- 43).This was the first published study of adverse health effects associated with IWT’s that used a control group and well accepted, previously validated, medical investigative tools targeted at the most common, and arguably most serious, of the commonly reported adverse health effects: sleep disorders and deteriorated mental health.

Questionnaires incorporating standardized, validated tools were administered to 79 subjects living between 375 and 6600 meters from industrial wind turbines (IWTs) at both Mars Hill, and Vinalhaven, Maine. Sleep quality (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index – PSQI), daytime sleepiness (Epworth Sleepiness Score – ESS) and general health (SF36v2) were assessed. Functional inquiry and before and after type questions were asked as well, utilizing Likert scales.

Subjects living within 375-1400m (n=38, the ‘near’ group) were compared with those living 3.3-6.6km from IWTs (n=41, the ‘far’ group). Those living within 1.4km had significantly worse sleep (assessed by Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI)), were significantly sleepier during the day (assessed by Epworth Sleep Scale (ESS)) and had significantly worse SF-36v2 Mental Component Scores. Significant dose response relationships between PSQI, ESS, SF36 Mental Component Score and distance to nearest IWT were identified after controlling for gender, age and household clustering. There were no significant differences between the two sites.  Read full article, here……

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