There is a widespread belief that wind turbines have adverse effects on human health. You can easily find articles that support this notion and those which are against it. We decided to go deep into this topic and consult reliable studies and research papers to understand its truth.
Do wind turbines make you sick? Wind turbines’ constant noise can cause stress and annoyance in a few people living too close to them. However, modern turbines produce little noise, and many studies infer that they do not result in any adverse health effects on humans.
Even though this pretty much sums up the situation, there is so much more to it. In my research, I have found sources that claim wind turbine can even cause madness; and then there are those which say that you are entirely unaffected by it even if you live nearby.
After further digging, I noticed that sources in favor of wind turbines causing illness were from the anti-wind turbine lobby, and those against it were from wind turbine proponents.
But I was more interested in studies where actual people living close to the turbines were questioned and analyzed. I want to mention that even though we favor green living, we favor healthy living more. And we always strive to present you with information supported by science and is gathered from highly reputable sources.
Wind Turbine Syndrome
This is the common term used for the illnesses associated with residing close to the wind turbines. The proponents of this claim diseases ranging from headaches and migraines to cancer! We want to mention that the United States National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database does not recognize this as a disease. In fact, no reliable medical authority mentions this as a medical condition.
That puts wind turbine syndrome in the category of pseudoscience.
What are the symptoms of wind turbine syndrome?
Even though wind turbine syndrome is not identified as a medical problem, people living nearby face specific health issues. There is still an ongoing debate on whether these symptoms are directly related to wind turbines. Some of these symptoms are
- Decreased quality of life
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Sense of injustice
Wind Turbine Noise Problem
Wind turbine noise is from where all these negative perceptions arise. We cannot address this issue without first discussing the turbine noise.
Wind turbines emit a weak but distinct and continuous noise. It is generated by the blades swishing through the air and the movements of inner machinery. The machinery has a particular tone that is annoying.
So how much is this noise? Well, the closer you get to a turbine, the louder it gets. Let’s see how loud it is
|0 Meters||105 dB (Equivalent to the sound of a lawnmower)|
|100 Meters||50 dB (Equivalent to the sound of an air conditioner)|
|400 Meters||40 dB(Equivalent to the sound of a refrigirator)|
You can check out this video to hear what it sounds like
The noise of wind turbines is also lower than that of traffic, roads, railways, and construction. However, a 2009 study in the Netherlands found that turbine sounds are more irritating than the industrial and transportation sounds due to their “swishing nature” and its continuous nature with no night time breaks
So as you can see that turbine are not exactly noiseless, but they are not as loud as we are thought to believe. Most authorities only allow their installation at a distance from where they are barely audible.
Infrasounds are low-frequency sounds (Below 20Hz) that are inaudible by human ears. Things like electronic devices constantly produce these, but we barely notice them. And yes, wind turbines also produce these!
A study published in the International Journal of Environment Science and Technology analyzed the effects of infrasound on technicians. They observed that it creates an annoyance for the workers operating in the proximity of a large-scale turbine.
Does infrasound from wind turbines negatively affect human health and quality of life? Even though there are reports of annoyance and other mild effects on the subjects exposed to high levels of infrasound, there is no evidence of adverse health effects.
We still lack a complete understanding of the impacts of infrasound on humans. The studies that we have so far don’t raise any alarms.
What is a safe distance from a wind turbine?
As we have seen above, the sounds significantly drop after 300 meters, and most countries agree with that. The minimum distance allowed between the turbine and the residential areas is around 500 meters in most nations.
Reasons for the issues related to the turbines
- Visibility – Studies have found the annoyance associated with wind turbines increases with the increased visibility. It also increased if people under observation had a negative attitude towards the use of wind power. Also, it was found that people who were to have any economic benefits from the turbines experienced significantly lower effects.
- Nocebo – While we have all heard about the placebo effect in which our brain benefits from perceived positive outcomes, the nocebo is the opposite. In nocebo, we generate adverse effects due to negative expectations. When an individual thinks that a particular thing in his environment can harm him, he starts looking for the symptoms to confirm the same. A 2014 study established that expectations about the infrasound can affect a person positively and negatively based on how their opinions are formed about it. The researchers also found that the areas which received the most complaints had the most negative publicity through media, newspapers, and social discourse. The same effect is observed in the case of other environmental concerns.
- Lack Of Baseline – Even though some of the effects associated with the turbines are subjective and hard to measure, like the quality of life, scientists can assess stress levels by measuring cortisol in human hairs. The main problem is that there is no baseline available to inform the health issues and stress levels before turbines were installed. This lack of information prohibits us from having a complete picture. There were indeed some people who lived near the turbines and experiences issues like insomnia. Still, without a conclusive baseline, it’s hard to say if wind turbines are responsible for it.
Winding Up ( No Puns Intended!)
The researchers are working hard to reduce the turbine noise as much as they can. The noise is a sign of energy loss which equals lesser output. Improving efficiency can also help reduce the noise.
The most convincing source that I can find on this topic is a Summary of 25 reviews of the research literature on wind farms and health. In this report, the researchers found no consistent evidence that links wind turbines and human health effects. This study analyzed physiological, pathological, mental, diabetes, high blood pressure, hearing issues, headaches, and migraines and found no evidence points that wind turbines cause any of these issues.