Panel claims wind turbine noise not a health risk

A panel of respected scientists and researchers has determined that the sounds generated by wind turbines are not harmful to human health. The panel, made up of medical doctors, audiologists and other researchers, performed an extensive investigation of the scientific literature regarding health effects and the low-frequency sound produced by wind turbines. The panel was put together by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).

The findings come on the heels of growing concern amongst those living nearby wind turbines of the potential health risks related to the low swooshing sound emitted while the turbine blades are spinning.

Some critics have claimed that exposure to these sounds over time can result in Vibroacoustic disease and the so-called “Wind Turbine Syndrome.” Vibroacoustic disease is a condition associated with long-term exposure to very intense (more than 100 decibels) low-frequency sound, which can result in tissue inflammation and fibrosis. Symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome include nausea, tinnitus (ringing of the ears), headache, vertigo and irritability.

However, according to the panel’s report, claims of Vibroacoustic disease are “dubious at best” and the supposed Wind Turbine Syndrome is likely a misinterpretation of individual annoyance reactions to the wind turbine noise and not an actual clinical syndrome. Thus far all allegations of negative health effects remain unproven and no case-controlled studies have been conducted to date. Despite claims of safety, critics remain adamant that the health effects are real and some individuals are pursuing legal action against energy companies in the US and abroad.

Considering that more and more states have renewable energy initiatives and mandates, it’s reasonable to believe that interest into potential health risks will continue to grow as more wind turbines dot our landscape.

According to estimates from the Department of Energy, wind turbines in the US currently produce around 29,000 megawatts of energy—enough to power around 6.5 million homes. Ten years ago the US had only 2,500 megawatts of installed wind turbine capacity. Currently the state of Washington has an installed capacity of approximately 1,500 megawatts, making it one of the top 5 wind-energy producing states. Both nationally and statewide, the numbers of operating wind turbines are expected to increase significantly over the next decade.

-- The panel’s full report can be accessed at: Sound White Paper.

-- Kevin Liebe is an audiologist at Columbia Basin Hearing & Balance Center. He has had research published in the scientific journal Noise & Health and has written on various topics relating to hearing loss. He can be reached at 736-4005.