‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’: fact or fiction?
Researchers looking into ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’ – where people exposed to wind turbine noise have reported tinnitus, ear pain and vertigo – have called for further investigation into the effects of infrasound and low frequency noise.
There are currently 3,744 wind turbines in the UK and this figure is set to triple over the coming years, leading to an increase in the number of people exposed to this type of low frequency noise, and increased concerns about the health effects of wind turbines.
The authors of the paper have reviewed the effects of infrasound and low frequency noise produced by wind turbines to determine whether the perceived risks of living near a wind farm are real or not.
People living close to wind turbines have described symptoms including vertigo, tinnitus and ear pain which they believe to be caused by exposure to wind turbine noise. Other symptoms include sleep disturbance, headaches and concentration problems.
But how many of these problems are actually caused by wind turbines, and how many are just perceived to be caused by wind turbines?
Wind turbines are a new source of community noise to which relatively few people have been exposed, and the noise they make is dominated by infrasound and low frequency noise. Evaluating this noise can be difficult due to a lack of suitable equipment and the difference of weighting measures available.
There is evidence to suggest that low frequency noise can affect inner ear function; the outer hair cells of the cochlear respond to sounds at frequencies known to be produced by wind turbines, but no alteration in perception or function has been proven.
Infrasound and low frequency noise is controversially described as a potential health hazard, causing various somatic and psychosomatic diseases such as sleep disorders, chronic fatigue, hypertension and vibroacoustic disease.
Wind turbine noise also affects people differently. Public concerns about low frequency noise tend to be subjective, and personal issues tend to be involved – for example, people living in rural areas may well have moved there for the peace and quiet.
What is known is that the variation in human response is wide. There is no doubt that some people exposed to infrasound and low frequency noise experience abnormal ear symptoms that are stressful and the effects of this can be far reaching.
Mr Amir Farboud, one of the authors of the review paper who is an ear, nose and throat specialist at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, Wales, said: “We believe there is evidence of symptoms in patients exposed to wind turbine noise, but some maintain that the effects of Wind Turbine Syndrome are just examples of the well-known stress effects of exposure to noise.
“However, there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that there are physiological effects of infrasound and low frequency noise on the ear. Until these effects are fully understood it is impossible to say that exposure to wind turbine noise does not cause any of the symptoms described.
“We believe that more research needs to be done, as many more people are set to be exposed to this type of low frequency noise as wind farm numbers grow.”