Wind turbines pose no serious health risks to people living nearby, though noise from turbines could cause sleep disruption, panel finds
January 18, 2012
Wind turbines do not pose serious health risks to people living nearby, though noise from some turbines could be annoying and cause sleep disruption, a state-appointed panel of experts says in a report Tuesday.
The report was commissioned by Massachusetts public health and environmental agencies after residents who live near existing or proposed wind energy projects raised concerns.
"There is no evidence for a set of health effects ... that could be characterized as 'Wind Turbine Syndrome,'" the report concluded.
But the panel urged that more study be done on the sleep issue and also recommended that Massachusetts adopt noise limits for wind turbines similar to guidelines in place in Germany and Denmark.
Three public meetings are scheduled next month to hear comments about the report, in Boston, the Berkshires and on Cape Cod. Officials insist the findings will not be adopted or implemented until after the meetings.
In the report, the panel said it found no scientific evidence that low-frequency sound emitted by turbines affects the inner ear and balance, or the vestibular system. It also said the "weight of evidence" didn't point to any links between the turbines and diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure and migraine headaches.
"The strongest epidemiological study suggests that there is not an association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems," the report continued, but added that "limited evidence" exists that noise from louder turbines could cause annoyance or disrupt sleep.
Scientists on the panel said the link between turbine noise and sleep disruption was tenuous and based primarily on people who self-reported trouble sleeping.
A coalition called Windwise Massachusetts called last year for a statewide moratorium on construction of industrial wind turbines until potential health effects were studied. Representatives of the group questioned the findings of the report Tuesday. They said the panel relied on pre-existing data and studies rather than holding public hearings or speaking directly to people who claim to have been adversely affected by turbines.
"There is definitely a total lack of transparency here," said Virginia Irvine, a member of the coalition's steering committee. "The (panel) met in secret, their deliberations were in secret and it did not have any public input."
The group also questioned the objectivity of the panel, claiming at least one member had performed work on behalf of the wind energy industry and suggesting the report had a "predetermined outcome."
Gov. Deval Patrick's administration has strongly advocated for both land-based and offshore wind power and other renewable energy sources to lessen the state's dependence on fossil fuels. But Kenneth Kimmell, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, said in a conference call with reporters that members who were chosen for the panel had no preconceived views about wind turbines and no connections to either the wind industry or opponents of wind turbines.
"We believed that these are independent scientific experts who bring integrity and credibility to their task, and we are not concerned that there will be a claim that the panel had a bias," Kimmell said.
Some Cape Cod residents said they have felt low-frequency vibrations inside their homes, known as infrasound, from a turbine in Falmouth, an experience likened to "living in a drum," Irvine said. But the panel said the scientific evidence suggested that infrasound produced by wind turbines even at extremely close distances was far too low to be felt as vibrations or pressure within the human body.
Still, local residents want the state to do more study.
"We've been begging (the state) to come down and do an epidemiological study of wind turbine neighbors, and got nowhere," said Mark Cool of Falmouth. "They did not contact us for this report."
Among those praising the panel's findings was Sue Reid, head of the environmental group Conservation Law Foundation, who said it "debunks common misunderstandings regarding potential health impacts of wind turbines."
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