The wind industry says noise from wind turbines does not harm human health.
When new technologies become prevalent, it is human nature to study the risks that may accompany them. We once questioned if the human body could travel at the speeds enabled by the automobile and if microwave ovens could cause cancer. Then, through scientific research and study, we learn the facts and separate actual risks from unfounded fears.
This is a common cycle, and it is the situation in which the wind industry currently finds itself. Wind energy enjoys considerable public support, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world live near operating wind turbines without ill effects. However, wind energy also has its detractors, who have publicized their concerns that the sounds emitted from wind turbines cause adverse health effects.
The North American wind energy industry takes the issue of health seriously, both of individuals and of the planet. In 2009, it commissioned an independent, comprehensive review before any governmental agencies were willing to do so. Since then, scientists worldwide have studied this issue, and numerous governmental initiatives, including those in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, each has confirmed the 2009 findings.
Indeed, a Massachusetts Department of Health study just last year combined experts in public health, epidemiology, toxicology, neurology and sleep medicine, neuroscience and mechanical engineering to study this subject. That report also found a lack of evidence that noise from wind turbines causes health problems or disease.
That might sound contrary to what you’ve been hearing in Wisconsin. As reported in the media recently, wind energy opponents in Wisconsin used a recent report on low-frequency noise and infrasound to sound the alarm on the dangers of wind turbines. Opponents are calling for an immediate moratorium on wind development.
However, this drastic conclusion is not supported by the results of this report. While the report recommends additional study, it is important to note that the only consultant who claimed to experience health impacts and found noise at each location is a nationally recognized opponent of wind energy and described within the report as “almost exclusively retained by opponents of wind projects.”
In reality, there is little news to be drawn from this report. It claims only that wind turbines produce measurable levels of infrasound, something we do not dispute and does not mean people are being harmed. As humans, we are surrounded by detectable levels of infrasound and low-frequency noise, which comes from both natural (i.e. waves and thunder) and man-made sources.
While politicians and others may opine on this issue for various reasons, current science does not support the assertion that there is anything inherently dangerous with this technology. Opposition groups have expressed concerns about infrasound for many years.
Leading scientists, in particular Dr. Geoff Leventhall, a world-renowned infrasound and low frequency expert, have noted, “There is no mystery about infrasound, but it has been falsely used by those opposed to wind turbines in order to alarm others, and also as a distraction, which they know will be difficult and time consuming to work on, whilst at the same time they ask for a moratorium on further construction until the work is done.”
Furthermore, acoustical expert David Hessler, whose firm was the prime consultancy for this effort, commented in several recent interviews that “Current indications are that the levels of low-frequency noise from the project are quite low, and nothing was found that would suggest a problem.”
Consideration of any potential health effects related to wind turbine sound should always include the benefits of wind energy for the environment and public health. Wind energy is an inexhaustible resource that generates no pollution or hazardous waste, does not deplete freshwater resources and requires no mining, transportation or refining of a feedstock or fuel.
Experts around the world have resoundingly stated that the audible and inaudible sounds emitted from wind farms do not represent a human health risk. Wind energy does, however, provide affordable, home-grown energy and local economic development, is safe for nearby landowners and benefits the public health. That’s a combination that Wisconsin communities support.