Wind farms are a renewable energy source that has been rapidly introduced into the United States. One of the many advantages of wind farms is that they do not produce emissions or pollutants during their operation, which reduces greenhouse gases and ensures cleaner air.
However, some people believe living near a wind farm can be hazardous to one’s health and may cause physical damage such as hearing loss, mental impairment, and insomnia. These symptoms are commonly referred to as wind turbine syndrome (WTS).
While the symptoms of WTS may be real, there is no scientific evidence that they can be caused by wind turbines. Wind farms produce infrasound and low-frequency sound waves which cannot physically harm humans. A study conducted by the Australian Department of Health and Aging (2011) concluded that WTS is not a medical condition.
This study was not the only one to show evidence against the existence of WTS; in fact, many other researchers have proven no direct correlation between wind turbines and adverse health effects in humans. According to John O’Connor, an Irish physician who has conducted research on the topic, “wind turbine syndrome is a combination of many different set of circumstances.”
O’Connor believes that, rather than providing evidence for WTS, some reports simply reflect the pre-existing conditions of those who are claiming to be affected. Thus, people who believe they are suffering from the symptoms of WTS may not realize they are having anxious feelings due to the presence of wind turbines nearby.
O’Connor also claims that reports of people who claim to have been harmed by wind turbines often involve those who live “within a kilometer or two” and rarely include those living further away (Morton, 2012).
Many previous studies that found evidence for WTS were conducted by anti-wind energy interest groups that may have had conflict of interest; however, many other studies found no evidence for the condition.
For instance, an international report was issued in 2010 by the Health Council of the Netherlands (HCN), which included scientific reviews on the topic (HCN, 2010). The HCN study included data on case histories of patients who were diagnosed with the condition by doctors and psychologists, but also included geographic data that showed no relationship between wind farms and adverse health effects.
The report concluded there was “insufficient evidence to prove that exposure causes annoyance or sleep problems” (HCN, 2010). The HCN study demonstrated that many reports on WTS are based on hearsay, which is not considered scientific evidence.
A 2009 study in Sweden that included data from three Scandinavian countries also showed no correlation between wind turbines and adverse health effects in humans. This study analyzed the sound levels of wind turbines in relation to their distance from homes, and found there were higher sound levels closer to homes where people had filed complaints (Berendt, 2009).
This piece of evidence showed that the sound levels were not high enough to affect human health; however, it did show that noise levels were relatively higher in areas where people had already complained. This may be due to noisy environments causing stress and anxiety in humans, which manifests as symptoms such as insomnia and headaches.
Another study that examined the sound pressure levels of wind farms in Australia found no correlation between the noise levels and annoyance or other adverse effects (Danish Ministry of Environment, 2012). The study also stated that even if there was a correlation, the calculated risk would be “extremely small.”
One reason why people believe WTS can affect humans is that the sub-audible sound waves produced by wind turbines can affect animals like dogs, cats, and horses. However, there is no evidence that these frequencies are harmful to humans (CWFSA, 2010).
As far as infrasound goes, it cannot be heard; thus, WTS cannot cause harm through this channel either (CWFSA, 2010).
Another reason why people might believe in WTS is that wind turbines can cause disruptions in cellular phone service and radio transmissions. However, the correlations between these disturbances and adverse health effects have not been found (CWFSA, 2010).
According to John O’Connor, who has studied the topic extensively, “The science is flawed. I think the evidence shows that living near a wind farm does not make you sick” (Parsons, 2012).
In this regard, it is possible that many reports of adverse effects from wind turbines may be due to pre-existing conditions or psychological stress in those who believe they are suffering from WTS.
In conclusion, there isn’t one answer that seems to solve whether or not living near a wind farm is safe for humans. We say just go with what you feel is best for you and trust whichever report makes the most sense for you. We live in a world that information is at the tips of our fingers, but you can find multiple sides to every question you ask.
Do your best to learn more about wind farms and how living near one may impact your family before you move to a new location that’s placed near a wind farm.