Clean and green wind power is the latest renewable energy source promoted by both the private and public sectors. According to the Earth Policy Institute, the “total capacity for the world’s wind farms…is near 240,000 megawatts.” Compared with the current solar panel capacity (70,000 megawatts) and geothermal power plants capacity (11,000 megawatts), it’s easy to see why wind power is now leading the way with nearly 80 countries establishing and supporting wind farms.
And while there is no argument over the fact that wind power is an ample, carbon-free, regenerating and sustainable local resource, some believe that there are health side affects to harvesting this renewable energy.
What is Wind Turbine Syndrome?
Wind Turbine Syndrome is a newly alleged condition proposed by Dr. Nina Pierpont, a New York pediatrician. Symptoms of this new syndrome include headaches, depression, hypertension, sleeping difficulties, mental health problems and concentration difficulties. In her book, Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment, Dr. Pierpont discusses the health problems associated with those who live close to wind turbines and “explains in simple, layman’s terms how turbine infrasound and low frequency noise (ILFN) create the seemingly incongruous constellation of symptoms she has christened Wind Turbine Syndrome.” Detractors, however, are quick to point out that Dr. Pierpont’s book has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, surveyed only a small number of people, and that she is a known anti-wind campaigner, which could be the premise behind the book and study.
The question of whether this is a real physical problem or a psychological one is currently being debated by people like Dr. Simon Chapman, professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia. In October 2010, Australia was already leading the way in wind power with 52 wind farms; a large portion focused in the southern half of the country.
But, in a recent article, Dr. Chapman notes that:
Wind farms have existed in Australia long before the first claims about health ever surfaced. The Ten Mile Lagoon wind farm near Esperance, Western Australia has been operational for 19 years. Victoria’s first, the Codrington wind farm, just celebrated its 11th birthday, and has 14 turbines each capable of producing 1.3 megawatts. And yet health complaints are relatively recent, with the few in Codrington post-dating a visit to the area by a vocal opponent, spreading anxiety.
Easy enough to dismiss, but not so easy if you are someone who lives next to a wind turbine or wind farm and have been experiencing health issues similar to those symptoms listed above, such as Aileen Jackson, a woman whose family has exhibited all of these symptoms since the installation of a wind turbine on their neighbor’s property line.
Pressure on Wind Farms
Globally, more reports are surfacing about groups of people affected (or supposedly affected) by wind farms. Recently, in the United States, a group in Massachusetts filed a complaint about a local wind turbine making them ill. Public filings like this are beginning to put pressure on environmental agencies to start studying the health affects of wind turbines and their associated turbulence. For example, in response to the Massachusetts complaint, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is currently studying this issue through an independent expert panel Wind Turbine Health Impact Study.
Conflicting messages continue to circulate. Within the past few months, there have been reports of inconclusive evidence that Wind Turbine Syndrome and its accompanying symptoms are a real disorder as well as current studies finding a link between wind farm noise and sleep patterns. When will Wind Turbine Syndrome be a diagnosable disorder? Is it just a matter of time as reports of symptoms continue where wind farms are located? Will it create mass hysteria when future wind farms are proposed?
Do you think Wind Turbine Syndrome is a “communicable” disease, passed along by word of mouth based on proximity to the actual wind turbines? Or is it a real health problem as a result of this newly pursued renewable energy source?