Wind turbines and health, an interview with Dr. Nissenbaum (Part 1 of 2)
This two-part radio interview features Dr. Michael Nissenbaum of Fort Kent Maine. Dr. Nissenbaum conducted medical interviews with the families of Mars Hill, Maine who live within 3600-feet of turbines. He discusses his findings, and more, in this interview with Brian O'Neil of WLEA radio in New York. A presentation of his data can be found here: http://www.windaction.org/documents/20497 .
Part 1: 8 minutes 30 seconds
Part 2: 9 minutes 35 seconds
A full transcript of the interview is provided below. Windaction.org wishes to express our sincere thanks to Lynda Barry of Better Plan WI for preparing this transcript.
Brian O’ Neil: Welcome to Connections. Brian O’ Neil on the phone this morning with a doctor from Maine who’s done an interesting study on the health effects of wind turbines, Dr. Mike Nissenbaum.
And what makes Dr. Nissenbaum so interesting is that he did a study on the effects of wind turbines. And it’s the exact same company in Maine where he is that has a wind farm in Cohocton. So what Dr. Nissenbaum is talking about is relevant to the people in Steuben County, in fact maybe even more so, because there are more wind turbines in Cohocton than there are in Mars Hill in Maine where Dr. Nissenbaum is, and as I said, it’s the same exact wind company.
Doctor, good morning, and welcome to Connections.
Dr. Michael Nissenbaum: Good Morning.
O’ Neil: Dr. Nissenbaum, here’s the deal. I’m a reporter and the other day I was covering a town hall meeting and a woman at the meeting complained that people were getting migraine headaches in Cohocton since the wind turbines went up there, and after that I checked with two Cohocton residents and they told me their wives are getting headaches in Cohocton, one of them is actually a wind farmer.
So, Doctor Nissenbaum, does that surprise you that people are complaining about migraine headaches because of wind turbines?
Nissenbaum: Well, it doesn’t surprise me that people are complaining about headaches. Migraines, specifically, are a subset of headaches. I can tell you what I’ve found in Mars Hill.
In Mars Hill there are about twenty homes that exist within 3500 feet of a ridgeline arrangement of twenty-eight turbines. I interviewed 15 of the adults, which represents about half of the adults living in that area. All of my findings up to this point are based on that. I can tell you that of those-- headaches, increased headaches---occurred in eight out of those fifteen, which is just over fifty percent.
In six of those eight, these were entirely new onset headaches, in other words, people who never experienced headaches before. And two of those eight described an increase frequency of migraines.
One of those two, attributed increased migraine frequency—she felt that the shadow flicker from the turbines would bring on her migraine in increased frequency.
So that’s the story as far as headaches are concerned in those 15 people that I interviewed up to this point.
O’Neil: What other symptoms did you discover in your study?
Nissenbaum: Far and away the major symptom that people complained about was sleep disturbance and that was present in fourteen out of the fifteen people who I interviewed.
The fifteenth person, interestingly, was hard of hearing, and that was not an issue for him.
The sleep disturbances ranged from waking up in the middle of the night --and that occurred in 87% of the people ----to difficulty falling asleep initially and that occurred in about half the people.
And the frequencies—where their sleep was disturbed ranged from one or two times per week up to five to seven times a week in about half the people.
I’ll just add that sleep disturbances, interestingly, can lead over time in a chronic situation to a whole host of other negative health effects, including headaches.
O’Neil: Dr. Nissenbaum, what you’re telling me, is something, I have to admit, I pretty much ignored in the beginning when I heard about these sicknesses from wind protesters. Now that was before the turbines went up.
The reason being, I was so focused on the corruption stories relating to wind. You know, I was up to here in stories about politicians that had conflicts of interest and I just didn’t have time to do any work on Wind Turbine Syndrome stories, but now that the wind turbines are here in Steuben County, the stuff that I’m hearing from wind protesters of wind turbines causing medical problems, it all seems to be coming true, right here in Steuben County.
Doctor, according to your study, more people who live near wind turbines are turning to prescription drugs because of the symptoms they are getting from wind turbines. Is that right?
Nissenbaum: Well, what we found was there were 15 new prescriptions among those 15 people since the wind turbines went up. There were an additional ten prescriptions that were offered by medical practitioners that were refused by the people but 15 were accepted, so we do have an increased use of prescription medications in that population.
So we have 12 new prescriptions and three increased prescriptions. And these prescriptions range from anxiolytics and anti-depressants to blood pressure medications.
O’Neil: Anti-depressants? Why would they be going on anti-depressants?
Nissenbaum: Well, there was—people did complain—I did do functional inquiry for psychiatric symptomatology, and 11 out of 15 described feelings of stress; 13 out of 15 described anger; Six described anxiety, four irritability. Hopelessness was described in eleven out of 15 people, at least bouts of hopelessness. And eight out of 15 considered themselves as having episodes of depression.
And if we look at the medications that were prescribed -- and these were prescribed by their local practitioners ---if we look at the types of medications that were prescribed, it’s certainly consistent with that.
So there is something about their situation there that also results in a lot of negative psychiatric symptomatology.
O’Neil: Doctor, one of the big turning points around here was when Hal Graham stepped forward. Now Hal Graham is now a well known name in the wind world because he’s a wind farmer who has a wind turbine on his land in Cohocton and now he spends a lot of time going around and explaining to people who are interested in bringing wind farms to their area, the negative effects of wind turbines.
Hal says, just as it says in your study, he has trouble sleeping in his own home because of the noise, and Hal told me someone he knows has headaches since the wind turbines went up in Cohocton.
Just the other day I was reading on line, an anonymous wind farmer in Wisconsin was advising people the same thing, not to sign up to have a wind farm on their land because this man says it was a big mistake.
I’m guessing that wind farmer had to write what he did anonymously on line because wind farmers, from what I understand, are signing gag orders leases, gag orders in their leases that don’t let them publicly complain if things go wrong.
Dr. Nissenbaum, in your study, have you encountered this gag order that wind companies put in their leases where they don’t allow people to complain?
Nissenbaum: Well look. I did not address contractual issues or things like that in the study. I only looked at the health issues.
I can tell you anecdotally, that I’ve seen a couple of contracts including a contract that was circulating up in this area where I live, and there is a paragraph in there that cannot only be termed as a gag clause, but as a clause requires the wind farmer to actively facilitate the plans of the wind turbine company. In other words they can not only not say anything bad, they actually have to write letters and say good things and submit those letters in advance to the wind company for approval prior to them going out to any official agency. And that’s there in black and white in the local contract that’s being circulated.
O’Neil: Wow. That’s a new one on me.
Nissenbaum: But that was not a subject. This is just something anecdotal that I’m telling you, this was in no way part of my health survey.
O’Neil: Sure, sure. You want to stick to the health effects. I understand. We’re talking with Dr. Mike Nissenbaum on Connections here on AM 1480 WLEA, and in just a moment we’ll continue our conversation about the negative medical effects of wind energy. It’s coming up on AM 1480, WLEA.
[STATION BREAK - PART II BEGINS]
O’Neil: Welcome back to Connections on AM 1480, WLEA. Brian O’Neil on the phone with a radiologist from Maine, Dr. Michael Nissenbaum.
Dr. Nissenbaum you have a slide show that you do presentations with and I’ve seen that slide show on line. In it – and you discussed this a little bit earlier on the show—the hopelessness that people feel about living in a wind farm area. Can you tell us about that?
Nissenbaum: Well, it turns out I can tell you the quotes—I basically just quoted what people were telling me and these were all different people, the quotes ranged from “Nobody will help us,” to, “No options,” they can’t leave and they can’t live here. Another elderly woman said, “This is an awful thing to have happen to you.”
A lot of people were upset because they feel that people don’t believe them. They feel their complaints fall on deaf ears. One quote was “No one cares, no one listens.” Another quote was “They just tread on us.” And another quote was “It’s very hard watching my child suffer.”
These people here, most of them have put their life savings into their property, into their homes, these are actually nice homes that are nicely situated on a hillside in Mars Hill, a lot of pride of ownership there.
And what they found, what I did inquire in the study, was whether they’d considered moving away and the vast majority had considered moving away, and when they were asked why didn’t you move away, they also said they couldn’t afford to. Eight out of the nine homes that I had spoken with indicated that they had had official appraisals done and the drop in value in their homes was such that it made it prohibitive for them to sell and move away. So they basically were trapped in their homes, and they could not leave and yet they were putting up with this and, I believe that largely contributed to the hopelessness.
O’Neil: I can believe that. I talked with a real estate agent that told me he was unable to sell property, and I talked to a person who lives in Howard – Howard is a local town here, in Steubin County,-- and I talked to a man in Howard who said every time when he tries to sell a piece of property and he tells people about the wind turbines, that’s the end of the deal.
Nissenbaum: Right. Right.
O’Neil: Doctor, I’m wondering if it’s possible that some of the depression type feelings you discuss in your study are a result not only of the psychological pressures of not being able to sell your home, and dealing with the lack of money you’ll get if you ever are able to sell it, but is it possible that these emotional problems that are going on could be a result of the physical effects of living around wind turbines, possibly from the low frequency noise or maybe the blade flicker? Is there a possibility?
Nissenbaum: It’s a complex issue, but I think as far as most people are concerned, you have to go no farther than the sleep disturbance.
When you are chronically sleep deprived, that will result in all sorts of negative psychiatric and physical symtomatology over time. It stresses you when you don’t sleep. It has effects on blood pressure, it has effects on mood, you become irritable, you argue, this is not rocket science. This is all known. If you go for weeks and weeks and months and months with not getting the sleep that you require it will have some significant effects.
However, going beyond that, there are some very complex interplays of the nature of wind turbine sound with the neurologic system of human beings. There are low frequency sounds —I won’t say specifically that these are sounds that you can’t hear, they’re certainly sounds that you can hear.
There is something about the quality of wind turbine noise that has been shown over and over to be – at an equivalent sound pressure level, more annoying than other sources of sound, such as highway, or rail yards or even airports.
There is something about wind turbine noise that is more annoying at any given sound level compared to any other source of industrial noise in our environment. So there is something unique about it. It may be the pulsatility, it may be the frequency of the pulsatility, it may be the lower frequency components, what ever it is, it travels, and it penetrates homes, and it has much more disruptive effect on human beings than does any other source of noise in our environment. And that is proven.
O’Neil: We have a congressman in our area, his name is Eric Massa, and he’s been doing a lot of town hall meetings lately and the main thing he is talking about, of course, is the health care reform, but one subject that has been popping up a lot—because this is a big wind area—is wind energy. And he’s stressed a number of times his concern about the possibility of the turbines causing epileptic seizures in people. Any idea as to how turbines could trigger a seizure, doctor?
Nissenbaum: Well, this wasn’t something that came up in my survey. I read about it. And most people are familiar with the concept of light flickering bringing on seizures, and some physicians have opined that this is a theoretic possibility with the light flicker that may occur from the wind turbines when the sun is passing through the blades of the turbine, either in the morning or the evening, either at sunrise or sunset. But I have not seen that as being a specific complaint from the people I’ve interviewed. People have complained about issues from the flicker but not specifically seizures.
O’Neil: Doctor, when you got into this study, was there anything at the end of it that surprised you. Did you learn anything that you weren’t expecting to find out about in your study?
Nissenbaum: We’ll, I’ll tell you. First of all it’s not done, the study is about half way done. We’ve interviewed 30 control people who live about two-and-a-half miles away from the turbines.
And the control group is critical, because this allows us to compare an otherwise similar group of people who is not living close to the wind turbines, their frequency of symptoms will be compared with those people living close to the turbines so it will allow us to perform statistical analysis and really increase the significance of the findings. So all of that is still underway. So what I’m describing today are the preliminary findings, the study will be completed and we’ll have some very hard statistical data within a couple of months.
O’Neil: Do you think there is anything people can do to protect themselves if they start getting headaches or ringing in their ears or any of the other symptoms that pop up when you have wind turbines in your area?
Nissenbaum: Well, with the spirit of the new administration, I would say that prevention is more important than trying to deal with things after the fact.
I think it’s very, very hard, once these things are up and running to mitigate their effects. These are fairly low frequency sounds, they travel both through the air and through the ground, they create rumble, you cannot block their entrance into your home in any way that we know about. So, really, the best approach is to take steps to prevent these issues from ever occurring and that means proper setbacks.
O’Neil: And when you say setbacks you’re talking about the distance a wind turbine is from someone’s home or property.
Nissenbaum: Right. Someone’s home, or the buildable portion of their property. Right.
O’Neil: Well Dr. Nissenbaum, thank you for coming on Connections, AM 1480, WLEA. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share with our listeners?
Nissenbaum: I think that whether or not to proceed with wind turbines in an area is a business decision, but I think if they are going to proceed with wind turbines in an area, it should be treated like any other industry. Proper safeguards should be put in place so that people are not stampeded by the good will that—that is-- there is a certain goodwill that exists in the population toward all forms of green energy and getting us off of oil that comes from the mid-east and so on, but that goodwill should not be exploited in a head-long rush to site these things too close to where people live. There’s lots of room in both New York State, as well as in Maine, to place these things well away from from people’s homes. And I believe people to take steps to make sure that’s the way these projects are implemented.
O’Neil: Well, Dr. Michael Nissenbaum. Thanks a lots for coming here on Connections this morning, AM 1480, WLEA. I hope our listeners pay a lot more attention to you than I did to the wind protesters when they complained to me about wind turbine health problems.
Nissenbaum: Well it was my pleasure to be with you and I hope this was useful.