Adverse health effects of industrial wind turbines: a preliminary report
This report of the results of Dr. Michael Nissenbaum's investigation into turbine noise impacts on residents living near the Mars Hill ME and Vinalhaven ME wind energy facilities was presented at the 10th International Congress on Noise as a Public Health Problem (ICBEN) 2011 in London.
Dr. Nissenbaum's journal paper is being modified/expanded to include sound levels at various distances at Mars Hill. The results of his study were presented at the 10th International Congress on Noise as a Public Health Problem 2011 held in London, UK in July 2011. Below is the discussion section of his report as presented at the ICBEN 2001. The full report can be accessed by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.
This study, which is the first controlled study of the effects of IWT noise on sleep and health, shows that those living within 1.4 km of IWT have suffered sleep disruption which is sufficiently severe as to affect their daytime functioning and mental health. Both the ESS and PSQI are averaged measures, i.e. they ask the subject to assess their daytime sleepiness and sleep quality respectively, over a period of several weeks leading up to the present. For the ESS to increase, sleep must have been shortened or fragmented to a sufficient degree on sufficient nights for normal compensatory mechanisms to have been overcome. The effects of sleep loss and daytime sleepiness on cognitive function, accident rate and mental health are well established (WHO 2009) and it must be concluded that at least some of the residents living near the Vinalhaven and Mars Hill IWT installations have suffered serious harm to their sleep and health.
The significant relationship between the symptoms and distance from the IWTs, the subjects’ report that their symptoms followed the start of IWT operations, the congruence of the symptoms reported here with previous research and reports and the clear mechanism is strong evidence that IWT noise is the cause of the observed effects.
IWT noise has an impulsive character and is several times more annoying than other sources of noise for the same sound pressure level (Pedersen & Persson Waye 2004). It can prevent the onset of sleep and the return to sleep after a spontaneous or induced awakening. Road, rail and aircraft noise causes arousals, brief lightening of sleep which are not recalled. While not proven, it is highly likely that IWT noise will cause arousals which may prove to be the major mechanism for sleep disruption. It is possible that the low frequency and infrasound components of IWT noise might contribute to the sleep disruption and health effects by other mechanisms but this remains to be determined and further research is needed.
Attitudes to IWT and visual impact have been shown to be factors in annoyance to IWT noise (Pedersen et al. 2009) but have not been demonstrated for sleep disturbance. Most respondents in the present study welcomed the IWT installations as offering economic benefits. The visual impact of IWT decreases with distance, as does the noise impact making separation of these factors impossible.
We conclude that IWT noise at these two sites disrupts the sleep and adversely affects the health of those living nearby. The current ordinances determining setback are inadequate to protect the residents and setbacks of less than 1.5 km must be regarded as unsafe. Further research is needed to determine a safe setback distance and to investigate the mechanisms of causation.