The evidence proving the unnecessary damage done to wind farm neighbours by the noise generated by giant industrial wind turbines is mounting by the day: Germany’s Max Planck Institute has identified sub-audible infrasound as the cause of stress, sleep disruption and more (see our post here); and a Swedish group have shown that it’s the pulsing nature of low-frequency wind turbine noise (‘amplitude modulation’) that is responsible for sleep problems in those forced to live with it (see our post here).
On the same trail, Professor Alun Evans has put together a review of the literature detailing the adverse health effects caused by wind turbine noise emissions. Alun’s paper argues that the wealth of evidence of harm requires public health bodies to do their duty, by exercising the precautionary principle in order to prevent any more unnecessary suffering.
Selected sections of Alun’s paper (minus the references) are presented below – including a helpful review of health issues associated with the sleep deprivation caused by incessant turbine generated low-frequency noise and infrasound.
Environmental Noise Pollution: Has Public Health Become too Utilitarian?
Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2017, 5, 80-107
12 May 2017
Environmental noise pollution is an ever-increasing problem. The various sources: Aircraft, Road Traffic and Wind Farms are reviewed, but the latter source, because of the intrusive, impulsive and incessant nature of the sound emitted, is the major focus of this review.
Wind turbines produce a range of sound but it is the Infrasound and low frequency noise which deserves special attention. Infrasound is considered to be below the range of human hearing so it is not measured in routine noise assessments in the wind farm planning process.
There is, however, evidence that many can register it and a sizeable minority is sensitive, or becomes sensitised to it. The actual route of transmission still requires elucidation. The net effect of the entire range of noise produced is interference with sleep and sleep deprivation.
Sleep, far from being a luxury is vitally important to health and insufficient sleep, in the long term, is associated with a spectrum of diseases, particularly Cardiovascular. The physiological benefits of sleep are reviewed, as is the range of diseases which the sleep-deprived are predisposed to.
Governments, anxious to meet Green targets and often receiving most of their advice on health matters from the wind industry, must commission independent studies so that the Health and Human Rights of their rural citizens is not infringed.
Public Health, in particular, must remember its roots in Utilitarianism which condoned the acceptance of some Collateral Damage provided that the greatest happiness of the greatest number was ensured. The degree of Collateral Damage caused by wind farms should be totally unacceptable to Public Health which must, like good government, fully exercise the Precautionary Principle.
The types of study which should be considered are discussed. Indeed, the father of Utilitarian Philosophy, Jeremy Bentham, urged that government policy should be fully evaluated.
2.3 Health Effects of Wind Turbine Noise
The major adverse health effects caused by wind turbines seem to be due to sleep disturbance and deprivation, with the main culprits identified as loud noise in the auditory range and low frequency noise, particularly Infrasound. This is inaudible in the conventional sense, and is propagated over large distances and penetrates the fabric of dwellings, where it may become amplified by resonance.
A report commissioned by the Scottish Government, which is investing in wind energy to a heroic degree, grudgingly accepts that wind turbine noise interferes with sleep. A recent Swedish study, conducted on healthy volunteers in a sleep laboratory, has shown that the noise produced by wind turbines, particularly low frequency band amplitude modulation, is disruptive to sleep. This was indicated by an increase in electro-physiological awakenings, lighter sleep with more wakefulness, and reduced deep sleep and Rapid Eye Movement sleep.
A recent review identified 146 potential papers assessing the effects of wind turbine noise, and after applying stringent criteria, came up with a shortlist of 18, of which eight were included in a meta-analysis.
All studies were crosssectional and a meta-analysis of six of these (n = 2364) revealed that the odds of being annoyed are significantly increased by wind turbine noise (OR: 4.08; 95% CI: 2.37 to 7.04; p < 0.00001). The odds of sleep disturbance were also significantly increased with greater exposure to wind turbine noise (OR: 2.94; 95% CI: 1.98 to 4.37; p < 0.00001). Four studies reported that wind turbine noise significantly interfered with Quality of Life. Furthermore, the visual perception of wind turbine generators was associated with a greater frequency of reported negative health effects.
Visual perception and sound emissions (effects of emissions after propagation on the environment) are directly related to distance so studies need to carefully differentiate the two sources of annoyance to ensure that each is properly assessed. Sleep deprivation has also been shown to be associated with heart failure in the HUNT Study.
The data are quite robust as they are based on 54,279 Norwegians free of disease at baseline (men and women aged 20 – 89 years). A total of 1,412 cases of heart failure developed over a mean follow-up of 11.3 years. A dose-dependent relationship was observed between the risk of disease and the number of reported insomnia symptoms: i) difficulty in initiating sleep; ii) difficulty in maintaining sleep; and iii) lack of restorative sleep. The Hazard Ratios were “0” for none of these; “0.96” for one; “1.35” for two; and, “4.53” for three; this achieved significance at the 2% level. This means that such a result could occur once by chance if the study were to be repeated 50 times. Significance is conventionally accepted at the 5% level.
Another important, recent study is MORGEN, which followed nearly 18,000 Dutch men and women, free of CVD at baseline, over 10 – 14 years. In this period there were 607 events: fatal CVD, non-fatal Myocardial Infarction and Stroke. Adequate sleep, defined as at least seven hours a night, was a protective factor which augmented the benefits conferred by the absence of four traditional cardiovascular risk factors. For example, the benefit of adequate sleep equalled the protective contribution of not smoking cigarettes. Given that cigarette smoking is such a potent risk factor for CVD, this result is striking.
The findings built on earlier ones from the MORGEN study. It seems that adequate sleep is important in protecting against a range of CVDs which result when arteries of different sizes are compromised: large (coronary, cerebral) arteries in heart attacks and stroke, small arteries (arterioles) in heart failure.
The mechanisms are obscure, but it is known, for example, that exposing mice to stress activates hematopietic stem cells, i.e. affects the immune system and accelerates atherosclerosis. All of these studies share the weakness that they are “observational” as opposed to “experimental” and, as such, their results do not constitute “proof”.
The results from the experimental study of sleep deprivation of fairly short durations, which affected the expression of a large range of genes, sheds light on the “Wind Turbine Syndrome (WTS)”, a cluster of symptoms which includes sleep disturbance, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, changes in mood and inability to concentrate.
In this condition, Infrasound is a likely causal agent. Another report from HUNT has examined insomnia in almost 25,000 persons and has demonstrated it to be a robust risk factor for incident physical and mental disease, which included several features of WTS. This group has now shown, in another small intervention study, that mistimed sleep desynchronized from the central circadian clock has a much larger effect on the circadian regulation of the human transcriptome (i.e., a reduction in the number of circadian transcripts from 6.4% to 1% and changes in the overall time course of expression of 34% of transcripts).
This may elucidate the reasons for the large excess of cardiovascular events associated with shift work. The results demonstrate that any interference in normal sleeping patterns is inimical to cardiovascular health. The old admonition that “What you can’t hear won’t harm you” sadly isn’t true. It is now known that the organ of Corti in the cochlea (inner ear) contains two types of sensory cells: one row of inner hair cells which are responsible for hearing; and three rows of outer hair cells which are more responsive to low frequency sound.
Another function of the outer hair cells is that, due to their extensibility, they can modify the sensitivity of the cochlea. This has relevance to low frequency hearing and also to detecting higher frequencies which are amplitude-modulated at lower, if not infrasonic, frequencies. The Infrasound produced by wind turbines is transduced by the outer hair cells and transmitted to the brain by Type II afferent fibres. The purpose is unclear as it results in sleep disturbance. This may well be the group which is also liable to travel sickness, which is a sizeable proportion of the population.
Schomer and his colleagues have since advanced the theory that as wind turbines increase in size they increasingly emit Infrasound with a frequency below 1 Hz (CPS). Below this frequency the otoliths in the inner ear respond in an exaggerated way in a susceptible minority who will suffer symptoms of WTS. Previously it was thought that the brain was only under the control of electrical and biochemical stimuli, but there is new evidence that it is sensitive, in addition, to mechanical stimuli.
There were important studies carried out in the 1980s which appear to have been forgotten and which give a clue to the mechanisms involved. Danielsson and Landström carried out a study in 20 healthy male volunteers who were bombarded with Infrasound for varying periods. Just 30 minutes’ bombardment with 125 dB at 16 Hz resulted in a mean 8 mm increase in diastolic blood pressure. On the other hand, systolic BP was not affected, whereas the Pulse Pressure decreased. This could have important effects in those exposed to environmental Infrasound, for although the intensity may not be profound, chronic exposure might raise blood pressure a little.
From a population perspective, this could raise the burden of CVD. Scientists at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace and the University of Waterloo found variability in response in volunteers exposed to Infrasound under laboratory conditions using Infrasound of 8 Hz. The adverse responses of some individuals closely resembled motion sickness. They postulated that individual differences in the reaction to Infrasound might be explained by variability of inner-ear structure or central adaptive mechanisms.
As far back as 1996, the International Standards Organisation acknowledged that motion sickness arises from low frequency oscillatory motion below 1 Hz. The report cites: “…a range of microscopic organs (mechano-receptors) distributed in the living tissues throughout the body that variously signal changing pressure, tension, position, vibratory motion, etc.” This is highly intriguing as it seems extremely plausible that the same effect obtains for Infrasound in the same frequency range and this requires urgent clarification. Indeed, the incidence of motion sickness can be predicted from the magnitude, frequency, and duration of vertical oscillation. There is also mounting evidence that jet engine Infrasound can induce Vibro-acoustic Disease.
It is recognized that around 15% – 20% of individuals are seriously affected by the Infrasound and low frequency noise produced by aircraft, particularly jets. A recent economic assessment of US environmental noise as a cardiovascular health hazard suggested that a reduction of 5 dB would reduce hypertension by 1.4% and coronary heart disease by 1.8%, with an annual economic benefit of USD3.9 billion. The threshold for the noise-exposed group was >55 dBA LDN, though there is evidence in the literature that there may be important impacts at even lower levels of noise exposure. Invariably in assessing noise exposure the average sound levels are assessed, whereas it may be that it is the peaks of sound which do the damage.
In a study of seals kept in captivity, it was shown that repeated elicitation of the acoustic startle reflex led to sensitization, subsequent avoidance behavior and induced fear conditioning. The data indicated that repeated startling by anthropogenic noise sources might have severe effects on long-term behavior.
An Iranian paper has lately reported sleep disturbance in wind turbine workers, 53 of whom fell into three groups: mechanics, security staff and officials. The results showed that there was a positive and significant relationship between age, workers’ experience, equivalent sound level, and the severity of sleep disorder. When age was constant, sleep disorders increased by 26% for each 1 dB increase in equivalent sound level.
In situations where the equivalent sound level was constant, an increase in sleep disorder of 17% occurred for each year of work experience. There was a difference in sound exposure between the different occupational groups: the effect of noise in mechanics was 3.4 times greater than in the security group and about 6.5 times greater than in the official group. Sleep disorder caused by wind turbine noise was almost twice as high in the security group in comparison to the official group. It was concluded that the noise generated by wind turbines has health implications for everyone exposed to it.
In a study reported from Japan, 15 subjects were experimentally exposed to various sound stimuli, including recorded aerodynamic noise and Infrasound, along with synthetic periodic sound, and were evaluated by electroencephalography.
The induced rate of alpha1 rhythm decreased when the test subjects listened to all the sound stimuli and decreased further with reducing frequency. In particular, the induced rate of alpha1 rhythm, when the sound stimulus lay in the frequency band of 20 Hz, produced the lowest rate of all. It was concluded that the subjects cannot relax comfortably when exposed to Infrasound.
The European Metrology Research Programme (EMRP) has now established that everyone, at least all 16 of the healthy 18 – 25-year-old volunteers studied, can perceive Infrasound down to 8 Hz. This was the lowest frequency investigated and it is likely that even lower frequencies can be perceived. ‘Perception’ was assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a significant response was detected which was localized within the auditory cortex and which was present down to 8 Hz.
The signal strength of the blood-oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) signal showed a minimum at 20 Hz, so a further investigation of BOLD-signal’s dependence on the loudness was carried out. A decreasing dynamic range of hearing in this frequency range was noted, accompanied by the finding that even sound signals with sound pressure levels only slightly above the threshold will be registered as annoying.
Several details in the brain imaging results suggested that, at frequencies around about 20 Hz, the perception mechanism might change or is realized by a combination of different processes.
One hypothesis is that a somatosensory excitation of the auditory cortex contributes at these frequencies. Thus, the idea is floated that we are perceiving Infrasound directly through our body surface. This fits in with the concept of the vibration of body structures espoused by Persinger. In the Cape Bridgewater study, in which turbines were intermittently turned on and off, the subject who could best predict whether or not the rotors were in motion or not was profoundly deaf.
The latest EMRP study conducted on 14 subjects has demonstrated, using fMRI, that Infrasound of 12 Hz administered at sound pressure levels just below the hearing threshold can induce changes in neural activity across several brain regions. Some of these regions are known to be involved in auditory processing, while others are recognized as playing key roles in emotional and autonomic control. Paradoxically, these effects were not observed when subjects were exposed to Infrasound of 12 Hz above the hearing threshold, because, apparently, the brain can adjust to it.
These findings provide intriguing evidence that continuous exposure to subliminal Infrasound may be harmful to the human brain. Such physiological or even psychological effects could be mediated via a subconscious processing route. The transient up-regulation of these brain regions in response to Infrasound at this level may therefore reflect an initial stressor response, with symptoms becoming established through constant exposure.
The EMRP authors observe that a large part of the Infrasound that we are exposed to in our daily environment is produced by continuous sources such as wind-turbines and traffic. They argue that it is these sources of constant and subtle Infrasound, which may not attain a level exceeding the threshold of perception, which exert influences on the nervous system. Thus it seems that low levels of Infrasound really are capable of getting in ‘under the radar’.
It is this very level of Infrasound which authorities such as Leventhall state cannot harm you and which WHO dismisses as having no physiological or psychological effects.
In addition, wind turbines can, and do, cause accidents by collapsing, blade snap, ice throw, and even going on fire. They induce stress and psychological disorder from shadow flicker, which also has implications for certain types of epilepsy and autism.
Even the current planning process, with its virtual absence of consultation, is stress inducing, as is the confrontation between landowners, who wish to profit from erecting turbines, and their neighbours, who dread the effects on their health.
Finally, wind turbines considerably reduce the value of dwellings nearby and this has a negative long-term effect on their owners’ and their families’ health. On top of this, increasing numbers of families will be driven into fuel poverty by spiralling electricity costs which are subsidizing wind energy.
12 May 2017
The full paper is available here: http://file.scirp.org/pdf/JSS_2017051214293370.pdf.