Canadian family physicians can expect to see increasing numbers of rural patients reporting adverse effects from exposure to industrial wind turbines (IWTs). People who live or work in close proximity to IWTs have experienced symptoms that include decreased quality of life, annoyance, stress, sleep disturbance, headache, anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction. Some have also felt anger, grief, or a sense of injustice. Suggested causes of symptoms include a combination of wind turbine noise, infrasound, dirty electricity, ground current, and shadow flicker. Family physicians should be aware that patients reporting adverse effects from IWTs might experience symptoms that are intense and pervasive and might feel further victimized by a lack of caregiver understanding.
There is increasing concern that energy generation from fossil fuels contributes to climate change and air pollution. In response to these concerns, governments around the world are encouraging the installation of renewable energy projects including IWTs. In Ontario, the Green Energy Act was designed, in part, to remove barriers to the installation of IWTs. Noise regulations can be a considerable barrier to IWT development, as they can have a substantial effect on wind turbine spacing, and therefore the cost of wind-generated electricity. Industrial wind turbines are being placed in close proximity to family homes in order to have access to transmission infrastructure.
In Ontario and elsewhere, some individuals have reported experiencing adverse health effects resulting from living near IWTs. Reports of IWT-induced adverse health effects have been dismissed by some commentators including government authorities and other organizations. Physicians have been exposed to efforts to convince the public of the benefits of IWTs while minimizing the health risks. Those concerned about adverse effects of IWTs have been stereotyped as “NIMBYs” (not in my backyard).
Industrial wind turbines can harm human health if sited too close to residents. Harm can be avoided if IWTs are situated at an appropriate distance from humans. Owing to the lack of adequately protective siting guidelines, people exposed to IWTs can be expected to present to their family physicians in increasing numbers. The documented symptoms are usually stress disorder–type diseases acting via indirect pathways and can represent serious harm to human health. Family physicians are in a position to effectively recognize the ailments and provide an empathetic response. In addition, their contributions to clinical studies are urgently needed to clarify the relationship between IWT exposure and human health and to inform regulations that will protect physical, mental, and social well-being.