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Opinions about wind turbine sickness due to infrasound

PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 10:53 pm
by HVPA_research
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* Archived from Rivers SOS mailing list *

Here is an interesting discussion about infra-sound and wind turbines that took place few weeks ago. It is now archived here so that we can return to this topic one day. Why should we? I can offer two reasons. Reason 1: Opponents of the wind wind power think that the turbines are damaging to human health and environment while coal mining and CSG are fine. Reason 2: We live about 6 km from an open cut coal mine and on bad nights are woken-up by low frequency noise. If local residents have the right of veto within 10km from the wind turbines so should have we in the Hunter.

For the Renewable Energy proponents - an article casting doubts on the "Wind Turbine sickness" which has been used by conservative State Governments all around Australia as an excuse to oppose Wind Energy as a renewable resource.

Denis Wilson

Mar 17

to Rivers, Post
Further to my note covering an article on Wind Turbine Sickness, I am now forwarding a detailed reply I received on this subject from Dr Steve Robinson, from Barrington Tops, who has made a study of "infrasound" - the very low frequency noises created by heavy industrial machinery..

I am happy to circulate this as I know that several people have been seriously affected by "infrasound" from enormous coal mines, (in this case, not wind farms) but the issue is largely the same - low throbbing noises which never stop. People who experience these noises on a permanent basis eventually seem to find themselves tormented by the constant throbbing noises, even if occasional visitors and friends seem not to notice the noises. As Steve suggests, they become sensitized to the noises (my words, not his). It does not mean they are imagining it. On the contrary, it is a cumulative effect of something which most people barely notice.

Steve's response is here below:

Hi Denis

The review that Dr. Simon Chapman relies on is a 2010 review and the state of knowledge about infrasound was much less then, than now. He is an expert in cigarette smoking and doesn't have any specialist expertise in noise. The review he relies on is of studies using the "A weighted" sound measuring system which is specifically designed for medium and high frequency noise such as in speech and it underestimates low frequency noise increasingly the lower it gets. It is essential the "C weighted" noise measuring system is used for low frequency noise issues.

The acousticians who are expert in noise measurements and their effects are not medical doctors and their research is not written in journals normally read by medicos. Mainstream medicine historically has been interested in hearing problems such as deafness, and in sleep problems such as sleeplessness due to psychological problems and pain, also narcolepsy and sleep apnoea but they have not been educated in the particular properties of low frequency noise. It is the acousticians who best understand types of noise and have been measuring the disturbance of sleep quality and increased next day sleepiness and annoyance that can result from low frequency noise. The Industrial Noise Policy was originally developed to try to prevent Industrial deafness which arises from excessive middle and high frequency noise hence it's reliance on the A weighted sound measuring system. Since the medical profession has had no working experience/expertise in low frequency noise problems, to my mind it therefore has questionable credibility in this area. It is true that some people may go to doctors hoping for help but if they don't know the underlying science they are unlikely to be much help.

In the federal govt senate enquiry they heard evidence from researchers who have published peer reviewed articles in prestigious journals about the health impact of low frequency noise. Important advances came in 2012 so it is essential these are considered in any discussion of the evidence regarding adverse health impacts from the various sources of low frequency noise. Prior to this infrasound (below 20Hz) WAS SAID TO BE INAUDIBLE AND THEREFORE it was argued how could it hurt you? (For interest the lowest note on a full sized piano is 28Hz and I know of no-one who has difficulty hearing that). As the frequency gets even lower the energy is more a vibration moving through solids than a sound energy moving through air and I think you perceive these low frequencies both via the auditory system and the proprioceptive system in your skin. The auditory system may gradually fade out but it doesn't suddenly do this at 20Hz so far as I understand.

Last year Firstly Prof Alex Salt of Washington University demonstrated that the outer hair cells of the cochlear respond to infrasound frequencies and this was therefore potentially an anatomical route for perceiving infrasound. Then a group of acousticians demonstrated that the low frequency noise generated from wind farms caused a decrease in sleep quality and an increase in daytime sleepiness. (Disturbance of sleep is an accepted physiological stressor} They (Michael Nissenbaum et al, Bob Thorne etc used valid measuring scales (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, Ebworth Sleepiness Scale) and the SF36 which is a general health rating scale that includes a mental health component which was depressed increasingly the closer you live to a wind farm.

It is possible that some people who describe symptoms of 'the wind farm syndrome' have symptoms suggested to them. (People with motion sickness can make others feel nauseated) but it appears that there is also a group who on the balance of current evidence are suffering real adverse effects of low frequency noise. They may be a noise sensitive group just as the tendency to motion sickness is variable. The solution is to have a buffer zone around wind farms which will depend in size according to the power of the wind farm but 2km is a reasonable buffer for current farms. To my mind this doesn't discredit wind farms, they are still a hell of a lot more acceptable as a source of energy than CSG and open cut mines. They just aren't perfect.

Wind farms produce noise that pulses often at a frequency similar to some underlying body rhythms and this may be the thing upsetting our bodies, but probably there is more to it than that. The Autonomic Nervous System becomes aroused.

Researchers (Perera) in Portugal have described thickening of the wall of blood vessels in response to chronic vibrations. They call this vibro-acoustic disease and it doesn't seem to have either been discredited or verified by the English language medical fraternity. It's status seems therefore still uncertain.
I acknowledge I have no first hand experience with sufferers of wind farm generated low frequency noise but I do come across people tormented by mining machinery, pumps etc generating low frequency noise in rural settings.

Low frequency noise is not attenuated much in the air so travels much farther than the higher frequencies which are the focus of sound monitoring near mines, e.g.10km in some conditions. The large mining machines are at their loudest at the low frequency range but this is being grossly underestimated because of the inappropriate use of the A weighted system. The absence of blocking higher frequency noise at night-time seems to make the disturbance it causes at night more intense. I am not aware of research that has focussed on this mechanical source of noise which so far as I know doesn't have a phasic character but it has an unpleasant grating character which we find stress-inducing in contrast to pure sounds of a similar wavelength.

For years psychologists have reported cognitive disturbances in children arising from long term nocturnal railway noise disrupting sleep. This is increasingly important in those living near rail corridors with coal being transported around the clock.

The various community groups should be lobbying for changes to the Industrial Noise Policy and research in this area.

If you know Lenore Taylor's email address she might be interested to read another view of what she has written about. (I thought she was a finance journalist).

Steve Robinson

Read more:

DJW note:
Steve - Thanks for that detailed response.

I will get your response to Lenore Taylor, who is Chief Political Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald.

Denis Wilson

Thanks Denis, I'd be interested to know what Steve Robinson's background is?

FWIW his apparently dismissively characterising Simon Chapman as an "expert in cigarette smoking" seems a tad short of correct - he's Professor & Director of Research at Uni Sydney's School of Public Health and has built up a bit of a track record on assessing peer reviewed assessments of health impacts of wind turbines.

In saying that I confess to being biased in being a fan (so to speak) of wind power as a cheap and readily deployed source of energy.

Perhaps of interest, at one of the Sydney hearings of the NSW Coal Sean Gas Inquiry I took the liberty of pointing out that, evidently without adverse health impacts, Germany has (at that time) more than 29 GW (29,000 MW) of installed wind driven generator capacity, with 2007 MW installed in 2011 alone, in contrast to the (then) total Australian capacity of about 2000 MW with the NSW capacity being (then) less than 200 MW. Given Germany has a land area just under half of that of NSW and a population of 81 million, in contrast to the 7 million people of NSW, Germany should surely be paralysed with an epidemic of wind turbine related health effects by now.

A little later I was very surprised when Robert Brown, of Hunters and Shooters and Chair of the Committee, confessed he too was a fan of wind power.

Cheers, Peter.


Murray Scott <>

Mar 25

to sowca, rivers-sos
Hi Dennis and all,

We must keep in mind that mining opponents (including me) may also be predisposed to blame mining noise, dust, pollution etc. for low morale and psychosomatic symptoms based on unrelated concerns over land and stream degradation, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas impacts, aquifer damage, potential food scarcity, community disruption, landscape disfigurement etc., shared to varying extent by members of our rivers-sos, sowca and generally green communities.

While not dismissing real health impacts, we must recognise that these may be experienced more acutely through despair at our perceived powerlessness to stop mining, similar perhaps to that of wind-farm "sufferers", although what comparably justifiable concerns they might attach to wind turbines I can't imagine. Even greenies are not immune from exaggerating eg. birdstrike concerns.

I suspect that, as with political tribalism, windfarm-phobia may boil down to perceived threats to income or wealth, eg. through land values. {"If I don't like wind turbines, then neither will potential buyers of my property..") Maybe it is the same for mines, Obeid family excluded.

I recall in a radio program a Danish villager, part-owner of a community windfarm, saying in effect " every swish of that turbine is money in my pocket". That bloke is unlikely to suffer from disturbed sleep. Lets hope the pollies do not come up with a scheme for landowner or resident shares of mining royalties, potentially creating a similarly favorable attitude to mining which would be disasterous.