Helen and Bruce Fraser’s struggles with the health effects of a wind turbine development that surrounded their central Ontario home in 2006 are detailed in Wind Turbine Syndrome, a book published in November by Dr. Nina Pierpont.
Though she lives in Malone, New York, just west of a rural landscape that is dominated by industrial wind towers, Dr. Pierpont turned to Canada to interview five of the ten families whose experience is the raw material for her book. Two families live in Ireland, one each in the United Kingdom and Italy, and only one in the United States.
The difficulty, Dr. Pierpont says in her opening chapter, “comes from the legal and financial stone wall of the gag clause.”
“Gag clauses,” she continues, “forbid people who receive payments from wind companies, or who have lost legal challenges, from saying anything negative about the turbines or developer.”
The difficulty in finding people who are free to talk about their close encounters with wind turbines, the doctor suggests, loads the argument in favor of wind power advocates.
“In the global rush to wind energy there is almost no voice heard for public health repercussions. Where it is heard — at town meetings, on the Internet, in Letters to the Editor, in courtrooms — it is routinely ridiculed. I speak from experience.”
Another reason that health problems caused by wind turbines haven’t slowed their march across the North American landscape may be that they don’t seem to be suffered universally.
Ms. Fraser is unusual in the wind turbine debate, not because she suffered sleep deprivation, ringing in her ears, and headaches that made her think the top of her head would come off; but because the wind developer involved compensated her by buying her house, and left her free to talk about her symptoms.
But of the estimated 300 households within earshot of the Melancthon EcoPower Center in central Ontario, with its 133 industrial wind turbines, the Orangeville Banner reports that 17 have lodged complaints about noise, sleep disturbance or loss of enjoyment.
Some of those uncomplaining households own land the turbines sit on, and have presumably signed away any right to seek compensation.
Much closer to home, for example, Trip Wileman of Lowell, who hopes to host a major wind turbine development, has already negotiated a lease with Green Mountain Power, which hopes to build it. A critic of the project, Kevin McGrath, provided the following details from the Lowell land records, dated July 30, 2009, and headed “other easements”:
“Grantor grants and conveys to Grantee a non-exclusive easement, right and entitlement on, over, across and under the Property to permit the Wind Farm or any component thereof to impact view or visual effects from the Property; to cause vibration; to cause electromagnetic and frequency interference; to cast shadows (including, without limitation, any from the turbines and moving blades) onto the Property; to interfere with television, radio or satellite reception; or to emit noise or sounds caused by the construction or operation of the Wind Farm.”
Even so, it seems that wind towers drive some people out of their homes — eight of the ten families documents in Wind Tower Syndrome have moved out — while leaving others unaffected.
Dr. Pierpont has a theory which not only provides an explanation for the syndrome, but also suggests why it affects some people and not others.
In the second half of her book, written for laymen rather than doctors, Dr. Pierpont — or her editor and husband, Calvin Luther Martin — offers a simplified explanation:
“Here is what’s going on, as I piece together the evidence. Low frequency noise or vibration tricks the body’s balance system into thinking it’s moving. Like seasickness.”
To maintain a sense of balance, Dr. Pierpont writes, people use four systems: the inner ear, the eyes, stretch receptors in muscles and joints, and "visceral graviceptors” in the organs of the chest and abdomen.
Any of those, the author suggests, can be disturbed by the low-frequency sound, vibration, or shadow flicker of a wind turbine.
And in people who are already coping — quite successfully — with the loss or disruption of one of these balance systems, Dr. Pierpont writes, wind turbines can raise havoc:
“People who suffer from Wind Turbine Syndrome have, I believe, a compensated balance problem…. Exposure to wind turbines pushes them over the edge, since the brain can’t ignore disorienting signals from two channels at once.”
Earlier, in the more technical section of the book, Dr. Pierpont suggests conditions that might set one up for Wind Tower Syndrome:
“Many of the affected people in the present study, I suspect, were in this condition, because their medical histories reveal a variety of risks for mild baseline balance dysfunction. These risks include motion sensitivity, migraine disorder, prior damage to inner-ear organs from industrial noise exposure or chemotherapy, autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, and normal aging (over 50). We may also consider normal early childhood (age 1-4 or so) as a time of natural mild balance dysfunction.”
One problem with low-frequency sound, Dr. Pierpont writes, is that it won’t be picked up by standard measures of sound in the normal hearing range.
David Colling of Ripley, Ontario, is focused on another way that wind turbines may cause health problems.
He studied electrical engineering for a couple of years, then spent 27 years as a dairy farmer. After that he worked for a firm that sold “livestock nutritional products,” and qualified himself to detect the stray voltages that, in a dairy barn, can sharply reduce milk production.
“In the last five years I’ve tested over 180 farms and done maybe 50 homes and a couple of office buildings.”
He started checking homes after neighbors began to complain of the effect of a new wind turbine project in his neighborhood, near Lake Huron. Some of the problems were so serious, he said, that families abandoned their homes.
The problem, he said in an interview “ended up being electrical pollution from the wind turbines.”
As he explained it, the big generators that sit atop wind towers emit “high-frequency electrical noise that gets into your home via the electrical lines.” The mechanism, Mr. Colling said, is cross-induction from the wind development’s lines to the lines servicing homes.
“It’s like living in a microwave oven,” Mr. Colling said. People hear a ringing in their ears, lose sleep, and suffer headaches, he said. In three or four homes, he said, the residents’ blood pressure went so high that they needed medication to reduce it.
“I go around speaking at public meetings now,” Mr. Colling said.
“I have been asked if Wind Turbine Syndrome could be caused by magnetic or electric fields,” Dr. Pierpont writes early in her book. “I have no reason to think so.”
It is interesting to note, however, that the head of one of her Canadian families, “Mr. C,” a 45-year-old fisherman, says that living near a turbine “feels like ‘energy coming within me,’ and ‘like being cooked alive in a microwave.’”
Mr. C, his wife and their six children split up and moved in with members of their extended family. The home Mr. C built on family land 24 years before sits vacant and for sale. There are 17 turbines on three sides of the empty house, according to Dr. Pierpont’s book, the closest at a distance of 1,000 feet.
“Mrs. I,” a 52-year-old woman living in Italy, moved out of her new home, leaving it vacant and for sale. She reports “a feeling someone has invaded not only my health and my territory, but my body.”
“All we have saved is gone,” her husband reported to Dr. Pierpont. “No one will buy our house.”
Ten turbines started spinning across the valley from their home in Italy in 2006. The closest is 2,870 feet from the house.
However complex the causes may be of the problems people report from wind turbines, Dr. Pierpont suggests that the solution is pretty simple:
“Keep wind turbines at least 1.25 miles away on the flat and two miles in the mountains….
“Second, all wind turbine ordinances should hold developers responsible for a full-price (pre-turbine) buyout of any family whose lives are ruined by turbines — to prod developers to follow realistic health-based rules and prevent the extreme economic loss of home abandonment.”
The argument for keeping turbines further away from people in mountains than on flat terrain comes from data collected in New Zealand. It is cited by both Dr. Pierpont and Carmen Krogh, a retired pharmacist who is conducting an extensive survey of wind tower neighbors in Canada.