Cut Noise

The answer is (not) blowing in the wind


Wind turbines create noise problems. It is a fact which should never have been in dispute. It only ever was because a rapacious wind power industry, often buoyed by generous subsidies, claimed there was no problem. There is no point mincing our words. It was a lie. The World Health Organisation in its latest report (1) has shown quite convincingly that wind turbines cause noise problems. In fact people start to get annoyed at lower levels by wind turbine noise than by any other noise - see chart right. This is almost certainly down to the high-level of low-frequency in wind turbine noise.

As early as 2006 we wrote in Location, Location, Location (2) about the serious impact wind turbine noise was having on some people. The industry has reluctantly admitted there may be noise problems and is talking about mitigation measures or offering people money who live beside turbines. And some governments are now insisting that turbines can only be built within so many miles from the nearest residential property. Distance can deal with the noise but not always. Low-frequency noise can travel further and can penetrate buildings. In any noise audit of new energy sources wind turbines would come close to the bottom of the list. 

In the immediate term all wind turbines which cause people problems should be demolished forthwith (with companies compensated if necessary) in to allow people who have been damaged by turbines to try and get their life back together again.

References: (1).


World Health Organisation wind recommendations


There is a lot less research into wind turbine noise than road, rail or air. There are not reliable figures yet for the numbers exposed across Europe. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that, like aircraft noise, people start to get highly annoyed by wind turbine noise at lower levels than road or rail noise. Because 10% of people are annoyed at levels of 45Lden (and therefore their health might be affected) that is recommended as the safe noise guideline for wind turbine noise.

WHO has stressed that, because there is not yet enough research to make a recommendation about night noise from wind turbines, it does not mean that they are not causing problems. The WHO has recognised that there is research currently being done which may fill the gap and one of the report’s recommendations is that more wind turbine research is undertaken.

Further WHO findings

"Wind turbines can generate infrasound or lower frequencies of sound than traffic sources. However, few studies relating exposure to such noise from wind turbines to health effects are available. It is also unknown whether lower frequencies of sound generated outdoors are audible indoors, particularly when windows are closed.

"The noise emitted from wind turbines has other characteristics, including the repetitive nature of the sound of the rotating blades and atmospheric influence leading to a variability of amplitude modulation, which can be a source of above average annoyance (Schäffer et al., 2016). This differentiates it from noise from other sources and has not always been properly characterized.

"Standard methods of measuring sound, most commonly including A-weighting, may not capture the low-frequency sound and amplitude modulation characteristic of wind turbine noise (Council of Canadian Academies, 2015).  Based on all these factors, it may be concluded that the acoustical description of wind turbine noise by means of Lden or Lnight may be a poor characterization of wind turbine noise and may limit the ability to observe associations between wind turbine noise and health outcomes.

"Further work is required to assess fully the benefits and harms of exposure to environmental noise from wind turbines and to clarify whether the potential benefits associated with reducing exposure to environmental noise for individuals living in the vicinity of wind turbines outweigh the impact on the development of renewable energy policies in the WHO European Region. 

WHO report

Exposing how the wind power industry discredits noise experts


This is an abridged version of the article by Jerry Punch, PhD and Richard James, INCE, BME from Hearing NewsWatch

This article is the culmination of about 15 years of our combined experience with wind turbine noise issues. We first submitted an article resembling the current one to an international journal, Noise & Health, where it received multiple reviews by a single reviewer. We addressed all but two of that reviewer’s criticisms, namely that the manuscript was too lengthy for publication in the journal and the reviewer’s insistence that we accept the notion that infrasound at levels produced by wind turbines cannot cause adverse health effects. Underlying that reviewer’s position was the belief that “What you can’t hear, you can’t feel.”

In fact, decades of research have shown that the dynamically amplitude-modulated short bursts of energy, or pressure pulsations, are a characteristic of all modern industrial wind turbine emissions. These pressure peaks can be perceived by humans at levels far below the commonly accepted thresholds of perception and can lead to adverse symptoms such as sleep disturbance, headaches, tinnitus, ear pain, vertigo, and nausea.

The editor of Noise & Health offered an additional review cycle by a second reviewer. We chose instead to withdraw the manuscript from consideration because we were unwilling to either shorten it considerably or to mischaracterize the literature on the subject at hand. We are grateful to HHTM for allowing us to share this information through its widely accessible website.

Peer Reviewed Paper

This paper has been reviewed both by the anonymous Noise & Health reviewer and by three other reviewers who have substantial professional experience in the area of wind turbine noise. We gratefully acknowledge the helpful contributions of Keith Johnson, Esq., Michael Nissenbaum, MD, and Daniel Shepherd, PhD. Mr. Johnson provided a review from the perspective of an attorney who represents interveners in wind turbine siting cases. Dr. Nissenbaum provided a review from the perspective of a medical professional and expert in how ionizing and non-ionizing radiation affects humans. Dr. Shepherd provided a review from the perspective of a psychoacoustician with experience in how wind turbine sound affects people. Each of these reviewers’ comments on earlier versions of our manuscript led to the final document. The opinions or assertions contained herein, however, are the personal views of the authors and are not to be construed as reflecting the views of Michigan State University or Central Michigan University.

The article’s unusual length stems not only from the number of topics covered, but also from our desire to quote literally and liberally from researchers and others on matters related to some of the key points in support of the link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects. Given the length, interested readers will likely require multiple sessions to read the article in its entirety. Although the article has been reviewed by four qualified professional peers, we believe that it can stand largely on the merits of its contents, which can be judged and fact-checked by readers.

Even though wind turbine noise does not normally cause hearing loss, we believe that audiologists, particularly those interested in community noise, should embrace the notion that all forms of noise, if sufficiently intense and prolonged, can be detrimental to public health. Audiologists should also be sensitive to the non-auditory aspects of acoustic energy, including dynamically modulated infrasound and low-frequency sound.

It is worth noting that two of the seven co-authors of the original white-paper report of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), which promoted the idea that wind turbines were harmless, were audiologists.

We believe that the basic conclusions of that paper, which was not peer reviewed and written by a panel hand-picked by wind industry trade associations, unjustifiably favored the wind industry. It is particularly noteworthy that those major wind industry associations have acknowledged the audiology profession as having a credible say on the issue of wind turbine noise.

Interestingly, now that the tide is turning against the wind industry in many ways and in many places, its advocates are trying to discredit the views of audiologists, physicians, acousticians, and others who speak out in opposition of wind-energy development in populated areas. Concerned audiologists, especially those with expertise in cochlear and vestibular responses to noise and vibration, need to be heard on this issue.

Finally, let it not be said that either of us believes in making any less than the best possible effort to develop clean and efficient sources of energy. Rather, we hope that our article will be instrumental in promoting public health through a better understanding of the issues underlying the potentially harmful effects of audible and inaudible noise from industrial wind turbines when the turbines are sited too close to where people live and work. 

Read the full article at the HHTM Journal: Wind Turbine Noise and Human Health: A Four-Decade History of Evidence that Wind Turbines Pose Risks