TODAY’S STUDY: The Science On Wind Turbines And Health
Wind Turbines And Health Peter S. Thorne, David Osterberg, Kerri Johannsen, January 2019 (Environmental Health Sciences Research Center/Iowa Policy Project/Iowa Environmental Council)
Wind produced electricity has made an extraordinary expansion. In just over 20 years, global wind electricity generating capacity has increased almost 100 fold (6,100 megawatts (MWs) in 1996; 539,123 MW in 2017).1
While Asia, Europe, and North America all contain countries that lead in wind-produced electricity (China, Germany, U.S.), just 10 countries are responsible for more than 80 percent of all production.2 Specifi c states within the United States are responsible for the majority of production. Iowa has 10 times the capacity of neighboring Wisconsini and five times the capacity of better wind-resourced Nebraska.3
Internationally and within the United States, the availability of renewable resources (e.g., wind, solar, hydro, geothermal), the cost of renewables compared to traditional generating sources, and government policy drive the amount of renewable electricity produced. Citizen support also impacts the development of renewable energy and such support is infl uenced by public perceptions about the benefi ts and risks related to wind power, the largest source of new renewable electricity in the U.S.
This joint statement from the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center at the University ofiowa College of Public Health, Iowa Policy Project, and the Iowa Environmental Council summarizes the results of the best research available and concludes that there is little scientifi c evidence that sound from wind turbines represents a risk to human health among neighboring residents…
Reputable Reviews Of Wind Turbine Exposures And Hazard Potential
Two authoritative peer-reviewed, critical reviews have been done on the topic of wind turbines and health.ii Perhaps the most thorough review on the subject was published in 2015 by the Council of Canadian Academies. That organization “is an independent, not-for-profi t organization that supports independent, science-based, authoritative expert assessments to inform public policy development in Canada.”4 The Council review summarized here was written by an expert panel of nine university professors and an engineering fi rm CEO and was extensively peer reviewed.
The expert panel started by looking at a wide range of relevant peer-reviewed journal articles, web pages, legal decisions, and the grey literature (non-peer-reviewed publications such as websites) on wind turbine health e ects. They compiled a list of 32 symptoms and health conditions referenced in this literature and found that the health e ects most commonly blamed on turbine sound include: annoyance, sleep disturbance, and stress-related conditions.5 The authors used this list as a starting point to assess whether there are any causal links between exposure to wind turbine noise and health impacts. Next, they reviewed the available literature to evaluate the claims.
The expert panel’s evaluation of the scientific evidence regarding various complaints led to the following overall conclusions:
• Current evidence is sufficient to establish a causal relationship between a person’s exposure to wind turbine noise and feelings of annoyance. iii
• Current evidence is limited for a causal relationship between exposure to wind turbine noise and sleep disturbance. iv
• Current evidence is inadequate to determine whether there is a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and stress or other health outcomes. v
• There is evidence of no causal relationship between hearing loss and exposure to noise at any distance at the sound pressure levels that are associated with wind turbines.vi
While the expert panel found sufficient evidence the wind turbines can cause annoyance, they also noted that current evidence is not sufficient to establish whether the level of annoyance is related to the visual impact of the turbines or other factors such as personal attitudes. Studies completed so far do not measure noise independently from these factors.
There is also a lack of data about baseline levels of annoyance without the turbines, the size of the annoyance ect, and how the impact changes in di erent wind and weather conditions.6 There is also a question in the scientifi c literature about the magnitude of citizen concern and about how that compares to energy production from alternative sources. According to one of the papers evaluated by the expert panel, noise complaints between the years 2007 and 2011 in the Province of Alberta were fewer than complaints about other energy activities such as oil and gas operations.7
The second critical review, published in 2014, is by Robert J. McCunney, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and several others.8 The authors state that their work received funding from the Canadian Wind Energy Association but that the funder “did not take part in editorial decisions or reviews of the manuscript.” MIT conducted an independent review of the work and determined there was academic independence and the work was without bias.
This review found no evidence that people residing close to wind turbines experience disease outcomes but did fi nd that some people experienced annoyance with the turbines or turbine noise, similar to the fi ndings in the Council of Canadian Academies review. However, this review also found that the percent of participants expressing annoyance varied across the studies they reviewed…
When people experience symptoms of compromised health, yet there is not enough evidence to fi nd more than annoyance and no other health e ects, it is reasonable to look for other explanations, including confounding factors. Confounding factors are things that can “muddy” the results of otherwise well-designed scientifi c studies. One such factor is the “nocebo e ect.” Related to the similar-sounding placebo e ect, the nocebo e ect comes into play, in this case, when people are predisposed to believe they will experience health consequences from wind turbines coming to their area…
…nocebo [noh-see-boh] noun A detrimental e ect on health produced by psychological or psychosomatic factors such as negative expectations of treatment or prognosis…
There is no authoritative evidence that sound from wind turbines represents a risk to human health among neighboring residents. The only causal link that can be identifi ed is that wind turbines may pose an annoyance to some who live near them. However, annoyance is likely infl uenced by a person’s feelings about the impacts of wind turbines on viewsheds, whether they get an economic benefit from the turbines, whether they have had a say in the siting process, and attitudes about wind power generally.
’ Given the evidence and confounding factors, and the well-documented negative health and environmental impacts of power produced with fossil fuels, we conclude that development of electricity from wind is a benefit to the environment. We have not seen evidence that wind turbines pose a threat to neighbors. We conclude that wind energy should result in a net positive benefit to human health.