Wind Turbine Syndrome: Living Near Wind Farms May Be Hazardous to Your Health

windturbinegeneric1Here’s some more fodder for the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) crowd: A doctor says she’s conducted research that suggests that people living close to wind turbines are susceptible to what she calls Wind Turbine Syndrome (WTS), an illness with symptoms including sleep disorders, heart disease, panic attacks and headaches, the Independent reports this weekend. So literally, a wind turbine in your backyard could be hazardous to your health.

Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician based in New York, studied 10 families who lived close to wind farms, and says eight out of the 10 ended up moving away from their homes because of WTS-related illnesses. That’s a small survey sample, but it’s a continuation of research done by other scientists in the field. Pierpont recommends that wind turbines should be built at least 2 kilometers (a little over a mile) away from people’s homes, and she tells the Independent that: “It is irresponsible of the wind turbine companies — and governments — to continue building wind turbines so close to where people live until there has been a proper epidemiological investigation of the full impact on human health.”

The problem, according to Pierpont, is that the wind farms emit a constant low-frequency vibration and noise, which human beings are sensitive to (not unlike fish’s sensitivity to noise in the water) and the wind farm vibrations can disrupt the inner ear’s vestibular system (responsible for balance and spatial orientation). Over a sustained period of time, people living too close to the wind farms can develop a disorder related to the inner ear disruption, WTS, which can cause nervousness, heart disorders, nightmares, problems and even cognitive development issues in small children.

Other researchers, from Salford University and UK government agencies, have previously said that noise and vibrations from wind turbines do not cause health problems, says the Independent, so it will be interesting to see how the scientific community responds to Pierpont’s latest research. While Pierpont’s research sounds plausible, her reactionary comparisons, do her a disservice:

The wind industry will try to discredit me and disparage me, but I can cope with that. This is not unlike the tobacco industry dismissing health issues from smoking.

The tobacco industry covering up cancer from smoking, one of the biggest causes of preventable death in the world, is a slightly larger problem (yes, that’s sarcastic) than an industry just learning about the possibility of panic attacks caused by wind turbines. But if the research is reproduced and backed up by further studies, it could actually have a big effect on the siting and zoning of wind farms — a 2-kilometer buffer between wind farms and buildings is substantial. It’s not like we needed more reasons to slow down the installation of clean power, but if there’s merit to the findings, they should be taken seriously.

Image courtesy of NREL.

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