Debunking the much-hyped claims of "wind turbine syndrome," an independent panel of experts has determined that there is no evidence of adverse health effects resulting from exposure to wind turbines.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, convened the panel, which comprised physicians and scientists with expertise in areas such as acoustical noise/infrasound, public health, sleep disturbance, mechanical engineering, epidemiology and neuroscience.
The panel was asked to identify any documented or potential human health impacts or risks that may be associated with exposure to wind turbines. The panel was also asked to offer suggestions relative to best practices.
The findings of the study were documented in a report, “Wind Turbine Health Impact Study: Report of the Independent Expert Panel,” which found that many claims associated with wind turbines and health are, indeed, false.
For instance, claims that infrasound from wind turbines directly impacts the vestibular system have not been demonstrated scientifically, as available evidence shows that the infrasound levels near wind turbines cannot impact the vestibular system.
There was also no evidence to suggest an association between noise from wind turbines and psychological distress or mental health problems. None of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggested an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, or headache/migraine.
Furthermore, there was limited evidence suggesting an association between noise from wind turbines and sleep disruption. In other words, it is possible that noise from some wind turbines can cause sleep disruption. Whether annoyance from wind turbines leads to sleep issues or stress has not been sufficiently quantified.
As for the infamous “shadow flicker” claims, the study found no scientific evidence that wind turbines pose a risk of eliciting seizures as a result of photic stimulation. However, there is limited scientific evidence of an association between annoyance from prolonged shadow flicker (exceeding 30 minutes per day) and potential transitory cognitive and physical health effects.
"This is a complex issue that the panel spent many months studying. We took our work very seriously," says panel member Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Ph.D., who is an associate professor of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health. "By reviewing the available data and information, we believe that we have significantly added to the understanding of the potential for health effects from wind turbines."
The panel's charge did not include investigating or addressing reported problems at any particular wind turbine installation, though the panel did receive extensive public comment, including from residents who live near wind turbines. Instead, the panel was tasked with reviewing extensive existing information within their areas of expertise to determine the potential for health effects. They looked at both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed studies.
Three public meetings on the report will be held in February as part of a 60-day comment period.