Wind Turbine Syndrome: Are wind farms hazardous to human health?

  • Published on June 7th, 2009

Over the last few years, the wind energy sector has been experiencing tremendous growth as governments and utilities around the world seek sources of energy that generate reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In Ontario, the province has plans to increase the wind component of its electricity generation from the current 1 percent to 15 percent by 2025.

For the most part the wind energy industry has coasted along with favorable press and public opinion. The industry has had to weather some resistance, particularly pertaining to wildlife impacts (primarily birds and bats) and the consistency and reliability of wind power. Yet these criticisms have not gained enough traction to have a noticeable effect on the growth of the industry, which is being hailed as a source of tens of thousands of potential new jobs in the evolving green economy.

But over time another resistance to the wind industry has emerged focusing on the negative impacts of wind turbines on human health. This movement has been steadily growing in both its organizational power and the press coverage that it has been receiving.

Wind turbines emit inaudible sound waves in the low end of the sound spectrum and rhythmic vibrations caused by the spinning blades. These are suspected to cause a host of adverse health effects in some people that live in close proximity to the turbines, including:

  • insomnia,
  • headaches,
  • acute hypertensive episodes,
  • cardiac arrhythmia,
  • heart palpitations,
  • high blood pressure,
  • the sensation of bugs crawling on the skin,
  • humming in the head,
  • continuous ringing in the ears,
  • dizziness

The condition has been given a name: “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, coined by Dr. Nina Pierpont, the subject of her recently published 150-page book. Wind Concerns Ontario is a coalition of 32 individual anti-wind citizens’ groups that have joined together from across the province of Ontario; they have named Wind Turbine Syndrome as one of their key focus areas. Both Dr. Pierpont and Wind Concerns Ontario recommend a minimum 2 kilometer setback for wind turbines from residential homes, along the lines with what is recommended by the World Health Organization (1.5 kilometers).

The assignment of setback distances in Ontario is currently governed by municpalities (the province will be taking control under its new Green Energy Act) with most setbacks being under 500 meters. Given the mounting evidence indicating adverse effects that wind turbines can have on human health, it is critical that more research be conducted into adequate setback distances. With the empahsis that the world is placing on wind energy as a critical piece of our future energy puzzle, setback distance research would be time and money well spent to ensure that wind power grows in harmony with the environment and its citizens.

Image: Be…n at flickr under a CC License

Stephen Boles is co-founder of Kuzuka, a marketplace website that brings a new level of convenience and confidence to carbon offset customers and provide consulting services to organizations that want to assess and reduce their carbon footprint.

About the Author

Steve Boles doles out thoughtful commentary about all the latest issues, news blips and misconceptions surrounding the growing green movement as a contributor to Red, White, and Blue and his personal blog The Buzz ( Steve spent seven years working as a scientist at one of the world’s leading climate change research centers, the Institute for Earth Oceans and Space (EOS) at the University of New Hampshire. Steve recently moved his family to small-town Ontario, Canada. Steve and his wife, Jenni, recently co-founded a company called Kuzuka. Kuzuka is a marketplace for carbon offsets that will bring a whole new level of convenience and confidence to individuals and businesses choosing to offset their tread on this planet. Kuzuka also provides carbon management services to businesses that are interested in measuring and reducing their corporate carbon footprint.
  • giuth

    I don’t think these things actually happen. I once watched a documentry on this and scientists did all kinds of research and such but proved that wind mills did not cause these things.

  • paula

    My name is Paula; I am considering purchasing a property in one off the following towns in South Australia. Tarpeena; Kalangadoo; Mount Burr or Nangwarry.
    Will I be safe from Wind Turbine Syndrome? From the wind farms near Millicent South Australia? They are between 9mins and 45mins away. (11km and 55km)
    If no what is a safe distance/time?

    • Frank

      You will be perfectly safe, its all a crock of shit

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  • Paul Watts

    Re: Ciaran Graham, as far as I know:

    The brain or glands do not contain piezoelectric crystals.

    It is unlikely that electrical wires will pick up sound waves.

    The distance from a windfarm deemed to be 'safe' is not known conclusively. "Noise annoyance" measurements are correlated with whether or not the person owns the windmill (no annoyance reported) or owned by someone else (big electricity company) bit annoyance. Go figure?

    • The presence of calcite micro-crystals having piezoelectric properties with excitability properties in the frequency range of mobile communications was identified by Baconnier Simon et al of Ben-Gurion University, Isreal. Their interaction with GSM waves could constitute a new mechanism of electromecano-transduction on the pinealocyte membrane, influencing melatonin production.

  • The set back distance that is being mentioned is being picked from a hat, the safe distance from the turbine can certainly extend to an excess of 10 miles, it depends on geological features both where the turbine is situated (on or over)and also where the person lives. The electrical wiring in the house may play a role as an antennae in picking up the sound frequency from the turbine and amplifying it in a way that is detected by piezoelectric crystals in brain tissue and glands thus causing the noise or buzzing in the head and creating sleep problems.

  • russ

    Impressive science!

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  • "only 10% of the wind farm residents will be affected". There is a word for that in war and natural disaster parlance – "DECIMATE"

  • Daniel

    It's important when combating climate change to remember that we are the caretakers of the earth. Which means as much as we should strive to keep it as close to an ideal condition as possible, we shouldn't let that goal cause us to neglect our own well-being. Only be treating ourselves well can we expect to treat our planet well.

    There are other concerns raised about the effects global warming are having on our well-being in this video from Newsy, in case anyone wishes to pursue this topic further:

  • Cases of people suffering sleepness nights are popping up all over Ontario (Port Alma, Port Burwell, Amaranth, Ripley, Goderich) where turbines have been placed. How does our gov't react to this – denial, ridicule and inaction. Despite repeated requests for an investigation, McGuinty's gov't insists that these people are simple NIMBY's without so much as visiting these people to find out the problems. A simple day time visit will not reveal to you the problems, which exist the majority of time at night when the atmosphere changes.

    You will also find, once you start investigating, that wind is a SCAM profiting from a well intentioned desire to help our environment. No where is their reproducible scientific evidence to show that wind energy will do what it is purpoted to do, shut down coal plants, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide a reliable source of electrical energy, or help contribute to our new green economy through the creation of jobs. There are solutions to our energy concerns, it's called for the most part "CONSERVATION" through improved transmission, higher efficient appliances etc. Please, I beg those perusing this site, look into the other side of "RENEWABLE" energy.

  • Unfortunately wind turbine syndrome is for real -I have witnessed the effect on local residents in every wind farm in Ontario. At one wind farm meeting I attended a wind farm official attempted to justify 500m setbacks by saying "yeah, but it only effects about 10%of the wind farm residents". In that particular wind farm that 10% will be about 160 people but Dr Robt McMurtry suspects the true figure is much higher – only time will tell but one thing is for sure wind farms are an expensive disaster no matter which way one looks at them. I urge all true naturalists and conservationists to take a long hard look at industrial wind energy and you will see how futile it really is.

  • Thank you, Mr. Boles, for your fair and sensible assessment of this issue.