Annoyance, another word for Torment

Last September, Concerned Citizens to Save Roxbury and others filed an appeal of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's (MEDEP) final order approving the Record Hill wind energy facility proposed for Roxbury, ME.

The appeal challenged the permit on a number of important issues including MEDEP's reliance, in part, on claims made by Maine's Center for Disease Control  that there is "no evidence in peer-reviewed medical and public health literature of adverse health effects from noise generated from wind turbines other than occasional reports of annoyances."

The near identical conclusion was published in the industry-funded report released earlier this month which stated that while noise and vibrations emitted by industrial wind turbines may be annoying the towers posed no risk to human health and any allegations of adverse health effects were as yet unproven.

We were particularly struck by how both sources characterized turbine noise as merely 'annoying' prompting us to investigate further.

According to Dr. Michael Nissenbaum, the word 'annoyance' has been "misinterpreted by the wind industry and the Maine CEC to mean an inconsequential disturbance" thus failing to comprehend the health significance or severity of the 'annoyance' in medical terms.

"Substitute 'disturbance' for the word 'annoyance'", he said, "and things look different."

Dr. Alice Suter, the distinguished acoustician in the area of hearing conservation and noise control appears to support Dr. Nissenbaum's position. In her 1991 paper entitled "Noise and Its Effects" she wrote:

"Annoyance" has been the term used to describe the community's collective feelings about noise ever since the early noise surveys in the 1950s and 1960s, although some have suggested that this term tends to minimize the impact. While "aversion" or "distress" might be more appropriate descriptors, their use would make comparisons to previous research difficult. It should be clear, however, that annoyance can connote more than a slight irritation; it can mean a significant degradation in the quality of life. This represents a degradation of health in accordance with the World Health Organization's (WHO) definition of health, meaning total physical and mental well-being, as well as the absence of disease."

We asked acoustics expert George Kamperman[1], who has over 50 years of experience in the area of community noise, to help us understand what Dr. Suter meant by her statement that other descriptors "would make comparisons to previous research difficult."

He responded with this important historical perspective:

In the mid-50s (last century) BBN performed numerous community noise surveys. Residents were requested to answer a simple questionnaire to rate their outdoor environmental noise exposure on a scale from one to five. A rating of "1" meant the noise level was acceptable and a rating of "5" was recorded by persons very upset with the noise level outside their home prompting repeated calls to complain.

Two different noise acceptance rating scales evolved from the noise surveys. The initial presentations showed the percent "Highly Annoyed" (%HA) versus noise level (dBA). The field survey responses at "1" translated to 0% HA and responses of "5" became 100% HA. Over the next couple of decades the percent "HA" evolved into "Community Reaction" ranging from 'No Overt Reaction' to 'Vigorous Actions with Threat of Legal Action'.

Fifty years ago noise 'annoyance' seemed an appropriate term.

This was also a couple of decades before OSHA. We were not exposed to jet aircraft except in the military. We did have guns and drop forge hammers but very little ear protection was even available. Our primary concerns were adequate sound isolation in multifamily housing and commercial office buildings plus good speech communication in lecture halls.

Mr. Kamperman added: "Dr. Nissenbaum has suggested wind turbine noise generates sleep 'disturbance' and not simply sleep 'annoyance.' I find this to be a very accurate distinction. The CanWEA report has sidestepped the obvious difference between noise annoyance and the noise disturbance associated with wind turbine noise immission."


According to Mr. Kamperman, Dr. Suter, Dr. Nissenbaum, and the WHO, the word 'annoyance' is an important technical term whose meaning should not be taken lightly. It would seem both MECDC and the wind industry are missing this point entirely.

Nonetheless, using the nomenclature offered by Mr. Kamperman, most would agree the individuals cited in this story are '100% HA'.

[1] Mr. Kamperman is a Bd. Cert. Member Institute of Noise Control Engineers, Fellow Member Acoustical Society of America, and Member National Council of Acoustical Consultants.

DEC 30 2009
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