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17 Reviews — wind turbine noise and human health

Last updated October 7, 2013

In January 2012, Australian anti-tobacco/pro-wind public health activist Simon Chapman compiled a “Summary of main conclusions reached in 17 reviews of the research literature on wind farms and health”. His list, which unsurprisingly ignores many reviews and commentaries that support health concern, and misinterprets even these 17 to support his and the industry’s need to ignore health concerns, has since been used tirelessly as a rhetorical cudgel by the wind industry.

In December 2012, Wayne Gulden in Ontario examined Chapman’s “17 reviews”: He found that: 3 of the reviews didn’t even discuss wind turbines; only 4, maybe 5, were peer reviewed, including one of the reviews that didn’t mention wind turbines; only 1 was independent from pro-wind interests (but was not peer reviewed); and the majority based their conclusions on only 4 studies, added to which Gulden suggests a 5th, published after most of the reviews in Chapman’s list:

(Update, October 7, 2013: Do your own review:  Click here for access to 22 studies of health effects of industrial wind turbine noise.)

By using the “17 reviews” as a cudgel against its perceived enemies, the industry hopes nobody actually looks at them for themselves. The fact is, they express uncertainty more than anything and generally recognize the validity of and need for more study of the health effects of wind turbine noise. Here are quotes from each of the 17 reviews that serve the opposite of Chapman’s aim (most of them by courtesy of Gulden’s summary, where links are provided):

  1. “it is possible that noise from some wind turbines can cause sleep disruption” (critiques of the Mass. DEP review can be seen hereherehere, and here) (update: In June 2013, based on continuing collection of information Mass. DEP convened a Wind Turbine and Noise Technical Advisory Group to assess and regulate noise impacts)
  2. “people who reported annoyance outdoors were more likely to report sleep interruption, feeling tense and stressed, and feeling irritable. Annoyance indoors was positively associated with sleep interruption.”
  3. “uncertainty about human response to wind turbine noise”
  4. “statistically significant association between wind turbine noise and self-reported sleep disturbance”
  5. “wind turbines can be a source of annoyance for some people”
  6. “Artificial sources of infrasound include … wind turbines”
  7. “any potential impact on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines” (this is the only review that thus completely denies the problem [Simon Chapman himself, who is not a physician nor an acoustician, was one of the ‘peer reviewers’]; nevertheless, the same group, ie, the National Health and Medical Research Council [NHMRC] of Australia, stated regarding this “rapid review” that “relevant authorities should take a precautionary approach”, and their own study is ongoing)
  8. “sound measurements at residential areas around wind turbines and comparisons with sound levels around other rural and urban areas, to assess actual ambient noise levels prevalent in Ontario, is a key data gap that could be addressed. An assessment of noise levels around wind power developments and other residential environments, including monitoring for sound level compliance, is an important prerequisite to making an informed decision on whether epidemiological studies looking at health outcomes will be useful.”
  9. “noise from wind farms … these are all subjects that are in need of study”
  10. “Sleeplessness and headache are the most common health complaints and are highly correlated (but not perfectly correlated) with annoyance complaints.”
  11. “CanWEA is a non-profit trade association”
  12. “Prepared for: American Wind Energy Association and Canadian Wind Energy Association”
  13. precursor of the above
  14. “In the absence of extensive data, this report focuses mainly on appropriate methods for analysis and assessment and on recommended practices in the face of uncertainty. … Low-frequency vibration and its effects on humans are not well understood. Sensitivity to such vibration resulting from wind-turbine noise is highly variable among humans. … More needs to be understood regarding the effects of low-frequency noise on humans.”
  15. “a simple assessment of the ‘normal’ wind turbine noise suggests a fair explanation of the adverse public reaction”
  16. “Low frequency noise, the frequency range from about 10Hz to 200Hz, has been recognised as a special environmental noise problem, particularly to sensitive people in their homes. Conventional methods of assessing annoyance, typically based on A-weighted equivalent level, are inadequate for low frequency noise and lead to incorrect decisions by regulatory authorities. There have been a large number of laboratory measurements of annoyance by low frequency noise, each with different spectra and levels, making comparisons difficult, but the main conclusions are that annoyance of low frequencies increases rapidly with level. Additionally the A-weighted level underestimates the effects of low frequency noises.” Leventhall had also previously (2003) written a “Review of published research on low frequency noise and its effects” for the U.K. government, noting that “dBA underestimates annoyance for frequencies below about 200Hz. … Table 5 shows very adverse effects from low frequency noise levels which are close to the threshold and which do not exceed A-weighted limits. … Infrasound exposure is ubiquitous in modern life … and as an emission from many artificial sources … including wind turbines. … There is no doubt that some humans exposed to infrasound experience abnormal ear, CNS, and resonance induced symptoms that are real and stressful.”
  17. “Noise from wind turbines is not at all as well studied as for instance noise from road traffic. As the number of studies is low no general conclusions could be drawn. However, … annoyance from wind turbine noise: is to a degree correlated to noise exposure; occurs to a higher degree at low noise levels than noise annoyance from other sources of community noise such as traffic. … Wind turbine noise: is, due to its characteristics, not easily masked by background noise; is particularly poorly masked by background noise at certain topographical conditions.”

Then there are reviews that Chapman chooses not to include, for example:

Senate inquiry into the social and economic impact of rural wind farms (2010), Australia: “The Committee: considers that the noise standards adopted by the states and territories for the planning and operation of rural wind farms should include appropriate measures to calculate the impact of low frequency noise and vibrations indoors at impacted dwellings; … recommends that the Commonwealth Government initiate as a matter of priority thorough, adequately resourced epidemiological and laboratory studies of the possible effects of wind farms on human health; … recommends that the National Acoustics Laboratories conduct a study and assessment of noise impacts of wind farms, including the impacts of infrasound; recommends that the draft National Wind Farm Development Guidelines be redrafted to include discussion of any adverse health effects and comments made by NHMRC regarding the revision of its 2010 public statement.”

Literature review 2013: association between wind turbine noise and human distress, by Ian Arra and Hazel Lynn: “All studies rejected the Null Hypothesis (no association between wind turbine noise and human distress). In other words, evidence of association was found (weak evidence: Level 4 and 5). No published peer-reviewed study showed no association. Three studies showed dose-response relationship. The studies are level 4 or 5 (a weak type of evidence). Nevertheless, [they] strongly warrant further research (multiple studies, multiple designs, investigating multiple hypothesis).”

Wind farm noise and human perception: a review (April 2013), by Noise Measurement Services, Australia: “The hypothesis from this Review is that serious harm to health occurs when a susceptible individual is so beset by the noise in question that he or she suffers recurring sleep disturbance, anxiety and stress. Research for the Review suggests that 5% to 10% of the individuals living in the vicinity of a large wind farm will experience serious harm to their health. The observed markers for serious health effects are: wind farm noise level of LAeq 32 dB or more outside the residence; and wind farm noise is heard or is perceptible (felt) at levels above the individual’s threshold of hearing inside the home.”

(Update 2, October 3, 2013: “31 reviews”. Wind turbine noise, Christopher Hanning and Alun Evans, BMJ 2012;344:e1527 (Published 8 March 2012): “A large body of evidence now exists to suggest that wind turbines disturb sleep and impair health at distances and external noise levels that are permitted in most jurisdictions … Sleep disturbance may be a particular problem in children, and it may have important implications for public health. … Robust independent research into the health effects of existing wind farms is long overdue.”)

Update, May 7, 2013:  “19 reviews”?  Two more “official reviews” were issued in April that Chapman or his acolytes will no doubt add to his list: 1) Wind Farms, Sound and Health, by the Department of Health, Victoria, published in “Technical information” and “Community information” forms; and 2) Report on Health Impacts of Wind Turbines, prepared for the Scottish Government by Sabine von Hünerbein, Andy Moorhouse, Dani Fiumicelli, and David Baguley of the University of Salford, Manchester (“a rapid, desk based analysis of … literature specified by the Scottish government, peer-reviewed original studies and recent peer-reviewed literature reviews”).

The Victorian Department of Health pamphlet concludes, “Wind farm sound, including low levels of low frequency sound, may be audible to nearby residents. Audible noise from any source, including windfarms, can cause annoyance, resulting in prolonged stress and other health effects.” It also insists, “There is no evidence that sound which is at inaudible levels can have a physiological effect on the human body. This is the case for sound at any frequency, including infrasound.” This clearly means evidence that they choose to consider, because there is indeed such evidence, and it is a growing area of research (see, e.g., the links here). The pamphlet also compares wind turbine infrasound favorably against one’s own heartbeat and breathing, but (ignoring the cited measurements being selective and simplistic) that may in fact be part of the problem as an external source forces itself on the body’s own physical rhythms. Update, May 28, 2013:  Wind Watch has posted two letters to the Victorian Department of Health pointing out shortcomings of their information sheets: 1) from Alec Salt and Jeffery Lichtenhan about the direct physiological effects of low-frequency noise; and 2) from Colin Hansen about the unique characteristics of wind turbine noise.

Von Hünerbein has produced government policy–affirming reports about wind turbine noise before, and this is only the latest. The tone of her conclusions makes her bias clear: in short, although there may well be problems, even to causing ill health, measures to prevent that would be too burdensome for the development of wind energy. “The review shows there to be evidence for annoyance due to WT noise. There is also some evidence for sleep disturbance which has found fairly wide, though not universal, acceptance. It should be noted that environmental noise from other sources such as road traffic and aircraft noise is a known causes of annoyance and sleep disturbance so to find these effects from WTs is not unexpected. Some authors label these effects as health effects and others do not. If low frequency noise and infrasound was an issue an as yet unproven method of human response would have to be involved. Universally agreed noise mitigation strategies have not been identified. Generally noise issues can be minimised by conservative noise limits. Set-back distances are also used internationally but have a number of disadvantages. The relevant [and much criticized] UK guideline document ETSU-R-97 has been derived from research on the response to noise and aims to provide a reasonable degree of protection to noise sensitive listeners; without unduly restricting the development of WT renewable energy resources.”

Update, May 23, 2013:  “20 reviews”!  At least here — Chapman is still at 19, having added the information sheets from the Victoria Department of Health and another government report: Wind Turbines and Health, by Patricia Fortin, Karen Rideout, Ray Copes, and Constance Bos of the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, February 2013.

“The sound level associated with wind turbines at common residential setbacks … may lead to annoyance and sleep disturbance. … Sleep interruption has been associated with wind turbine sound among residents living less than 2.5 km from turbines, particularly when sound levels are above 45 dBA at night; however, some people report noise annoyance from wind turbines at outdoor sound levels below 40 dBA and at lower levels than other sources of environmental noise. When aerodynamic modulation (swishing sound) occurs, wind turbine sound may be perceived as more annoying than steady sound or “white noise.” … [I]f the noise has an outdoor A-weighted level, which corrects measurements to the low-level frequency sensitivity of the human ear, of 40 dBA, there is a risk that some residents will be annoyed by low-frequency noise even indoors. A small increase in sound level at low frequency can result in a large increase in perceived loudness and may be difficult to ignore, even at relatively low sound pressure levels, increasing the potential for annoyance when there is a sizeable low frequency component. It is suggested that problems can be reduced with an outdoor limit of 35 dBA for large wind turbines.”

Update, May 24, 2013:  “24 reviews”.  Public health effects of siting and operating onshore wind turbines, Conseil Supérieur de la Sante, Belgium, publication no. 8738, 3 April 2013: “Modern wind turbines are unlikely to have any direct effects on health and well-being other than annoyance and possibly sleep disturbance. Both annoyance and disturbed sleep can, however, lead to undue stress, which may adversely affect the health and well-being of those concerned. … It follows that the operation of wind turbines or wind farms may affect the quality of life (i.e. health and well-being), but in a complex fashion that depends on a variety of interrelated factors. … [L]a nuisance attribuée au bruit du fonctionnement des éoliennes, tant en phase d’éveil que lors du sommeil, constitue un effet environnemental majeur sur la santé. [Annoyance attributed to the operation of wind turbines, while awake as much as during sleep, constitutes a major environmental health impact.] … The noise levels due to the operation of wind turbines and wind farms near people’s homes should comply with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and WHO Europe guidelines for day-time and night-time noise exposure in order to avoid serious annoyance and (self-reported) sleep disturbance. This would lead to [outside] sound levels below 45 dB(A) during day-time and 40 dB(A) at night. … Belgium should participate in or take the initiative for an international study on the possible specific impacts of wind turbine operation on the health and well-being of those living in their vicinity.”

Update, May 27, 2013:  There are also older reviews, predating the work of Nina Pierpont and Sarah Laurie, the two physicians primarily attacked by wind advocates for “causing” health problems by documenting them, for example:

Eoliennes, sons et infrasons: Effets de l’éolien industriel sur la sante des hommes, by Marjolaine Villey-Migraine, Université Paris II–Panthéon-Assas, December 2004: “Les aérogénérateurs émettent des infrasons, ceci n’est controversé par personne. … Il nous paraît immoral de la part de cet organisme [Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maitrise de l’Energie] d’affirmer, sans référence aucune, que les infrasons émis par les éoliennes sont parfaitement inoffensifs, et d’autre part, de faire état de soi-disant “mesures”, alors qu’on ne peut prouver l’impact de infrasons des éoliennes sur l’homme que par des études épidémiologiques. … Les sons et infrasons émis par les éoliennes ont un impact certain sur la santé de l’homme et peuvent gâcher la vie des gens. … Les promoteurs éoliens ont la responsabilité de mettre en place les mesures adéquates pour diminuer les risques d’atteinte à la santé des riverains des éoliennes, en les éloignant des habitations non de 500 m comme ils le suggèrent dans leurs publications, mais à 1600 m en tenant compte de sons, et au minimum à 5 km en tenant compte des infrasons.”

Le retentissement du fonctionnement des éoliennes sur la santé de l’homme, by Claude-Henri Chouard, l’Académie nationale de médecine, France, March 2006: “Qu’il soit très intense, ou qu’il représente une pollution sonore plus modérée, le bruit est le grief le plus fréquemment formulé à propos des éoliennes [11]. Il peut avoir un impact réel, et jusqu’ici méconnu, sur la santé de l’homme. … [I]l serait souhaitable, par précaution, que soit suspendue la construction des éoliennes d’une puissance supérieure à 2,5 MW situées à moins de 1500 mètres des habitations.”

Location, location, location: An investigation into wind farms and noise, by The Noise Association, U.K., July 2006: “[W]ind farm noise generates many more complaints than equivalent levels of noise from most other sources, including road noise. … [L]ow-frequency noise is much more disturbing indoors than outside … Dr Geoff Leventhall agrees there are times when ‘A’ weighting is not entirely adequate: “Audible low-frequency noise does have annoying characteristics which are not shown in conventional environmental noise measures, such as A-weighting.” … There has never been any dispute that wind turbines generate infrasound. … Wind Farm noise, in common with noise generally, affects different people in different ways, but the evidence suggests there is rarely a problem for people living more than 1-1.5 miles from a turbine.”

(Update, October 24, 2013:  “32 reviews”. Infraschall von Windkraftanlagen als Gesundheitsgefahr (Infrasound from wind turbines as a health hazard), Erwin Quambusch and Martin Lauffer, ZFSH/SGB–Zeitschrift für die sozialrechtliche Praxis 08/2008: “Windkraftanlagen erzeugen unzweifelhaft Infraschall. Im Gegensatz zu den Äußerungen von Behörden und den den Anlagenbetreibern nahestehenden Institutionen, Infraschall sei “völlig harmlos”, verweist eine zunehmende Zahl von Wissenschaftlern auf die gesundheitliche Gefährlichkeit des Infraschalls. Die Gefahr stellt sich inzwischen als so hinreichend wahrscheinlich dar, dass an die Stelle der bisher gepflegten Ignoranz staatliche Maßnahmen der Gefahrenabwehr und der Gefahrenvorsorge treten müssen. Solange und soweit die Gesundheitsgefahren nicht durch technische oder ähnliche Vorkehrungen abgewehrt werden können, können Errichtung und Betrieb der Anlagen nur zulässig sein, wenn diese außerhalb der Sichtweite zu Wohngebieten liegen.” (“There is no doubt that wind turbines produce infrasound. In contrast to the pronouncements of the authorities, plant operators, and related institutions that infrasound is “completely harmless”, there are an increasing number of scientists noting the health risks of infrasound. The risk is sufficient that new regulations are required for prevention. As long as and to the extent that the health risks are not prevented by technical or similar guidelines, construction and operation of these plants should be allowed only if they are out of sight of residential areas.”))

Update, August 2, 2013:  “28 reviews”.  Report on the Health Impacts of Wind Farms, Sarah Taylor, Director of Public Health & Planning, National Health Service Shetland, 15th July 2013: “It is generally accepted that the primary effect of low frequency noise on people is annoyance. Annoyance is recognised as a critical health effect, and is associated in some people with stress, sleep disturbance, and interference with daily living. There is an increasing body of evidence that noise levels associated with wind farms cause annoyance, in a dose-related response. … A range of symptoms are attributed to the noise of wind turbines in people living close to them, which are those associated with general environmental noise exposure, and are often also described as stress symptoms. They include headache, irritability, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, dizziness, anxiety, and sleep disturbance, and are often described in relation to annoyance. … [I]t is recognised that low level noise from wind turbines is more often found to cause annoyance than similar levels from other sources. Some consider that the common cause of complaints from wind farms is not associated with low frequency noise but with the audible modulation of the aerodynamic noise, especially at night. There is also evidence that some people perceive the low frequency noise components of wind turbine noise, and that these are more significant at night and with large wind turbines. … Regardless of whether the perceived impacts of noise from wind farms are physiological or psychological in nature, they are considered to cause adverse health effects through sleep disturbance, reducing the quality of life and as a source of annoyance which sometimes leads to stress related symptoms. … Conclusions: Wind turbines are known to cause a number of effects that have an impact on health: risks from ice throw and structural failures that are minimised by appropriate setback distances; noise and shadow flicker that are sources of annoyance, sleep disturbance and symptoms of stress in some people. Current mitigations do not entirely deal with the annoyance caused by wind farms, the results of which are a cause of distress and related ill health for a number of people living in the vicinity.”

Update, September 26, 2013:  “29 reviews”.  Kirjallisuuskatsaus – Tuulivoiman terveysvaikutukset (Literature review – Health effects of wind power), Saara Huttunen, Johanna Kohl, and Nina Wessberg, Valtion Teknillinen Tutkimuskeskus (Technical Research Centre of Finland) for Suomen Tuulivoimayhdistys (Finnish Wind Power Association), 16.8.2013: This industry report concludes that all adverse health effects are merely a problem of public relations.

Update, October 3, 2013:  “30 reviews”.  Health impact of wind farms, Donata Kurpas, Bozena Mroczek, Beata Karakiewicz, Krzysztof Kassolik, and Waldemar Andrzejewski, Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine 2013, Vol 20, No 3, 595–605: “Short description of state of the art: The nuisance caused by wind turbines is stereotypically linked with the noise that they produce. Nevertheless, the visual aspect of wind farms, opinions about them, and sensitivity to sound seem to be of the greater importance. … Health effects are more probably associated with some environmental factors leading to annoyance or frustration. All types of studies share the same conclusion: wind turbines can provoke annoyance. … The influence of wind turbines on human emotional and physical health is a relatively new field of research. Further analyses of these issues are justified, especially because none of the studies published in peer-reviewed journals so far meet the criteria for cohort or case-control studies. … The authors did not analyse coherent publications or website documents (study by M. Alves-Pereira and N.C. Branco and the study by N. Pierpont).” [The authors also missed the Nissenbaum 2012 paper in Noise & Health, which appeared after their submission. And they assert that noise from wind turbines cause only subjective effects, no interference with, e.g., sleep, and no physiological effects.] “The authors are involved in community public consultations with the advocates of new projects” [rather a major conflict of interest to be mentioned only in passing].

Update, October 7, 2013:  “31 reviews”.  Bedeutung des Ausbaus der Windenergie für die menschliche Gesundheit (Consequences of wind energy for health), Dorothee Twardella, Sachgebiet Arbeits- und Umweltmedizin/-epidemiologie, Bayerisches Landesamt für Gesundheit und Lebensmittelsicherheit (Division of Labor and Environmental Medicine/Epidemiology, Bavarian State Office of Health and Food Safety), Umwelt und Mensch – Informationsdienst (Environment and People Information Service), No. 3, September 2013, pp. 14-19: “Belästigung und Schlafstörungen durch Schallimmissionen im Hörschallbereich können nicht völlig ausgeschlossen werden. Über die alleinige Betrachtung der direkten gesundheitlichen Risiken hinaus wäre eine Analyse der direkten und indirekten Risiken und auch Chancen, die sich durch die Umstellung von fossilen Energieträgern auf Windenergie ergeben, im Sinne einer Gesundheitsfolgenabschätzung sinnvoll.” (“Annoyance and sleep disturbance caused by noise cannot be ruled out. A health impact assessment is needed to evaluate systematically the direct and indirect risks as well as benefits of the substitution of fossil energy with wind energy.”)

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4 Comments on “17 Reviews — wind turbine noise and human health”

  1. 1957chev October 27, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    Chapman is nothing more than a shill for the corrupt wind industry. They try to hide the problems, not find the causes.

  2. 1957chev October 27, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    Reblogged this on Mothers Against Wind Turbines and commented:
    The wind industry denies health issues, to avoid being held accountable.

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