12/16/09 More than a feeling: Wind turbine noise, loss of sleep, human health and the word "annoyance"
"As a society, our history is filled with failures to recognize the agents that cause disease; once the causes have been recognized, we have responded reluctantly, slowly, and often inadequately."
"Despite the evidence about the many medical, social, and economic effects of noise, as a society, we continue to suffer from the same inertia, the same reluctance to change, and the same denial of the obvious that the anti-tobacco lobby faced a couple of decades ago. This inertia and denial are similar to those that delayed appropriate action on lead, mercury, and asbestos."
"Now we seem unable to make the connection between noise and disease, despite the evidence, and despite the fact, which we all recognize, that our cities are becoming increasingly more polluted with noise.Noise makers and the businesses that support them are as reluctant as smokers to give up their bad habits."
From "Noise Pollution, a Modern Plague" Southern Medical Journal 2007
The two most powerful wind industry lobbyists in North America recently released a report claiming that there are no negative health effects associated with industrial scale wind turbines. [Click here to read it]
Wind farm residents in our state who are living with a 1000 foot setback who know their health and quality of life have been compromised by wind turbine noise and shadow-flicker will wonder how that conclusion could have been reached.
It's interesting to note that this report is about those who live over half a mile (one kilometer) or more from wind turbines.
"[Dr. Robert McCunney, an author of the study] said the existing peer-reviewed literature generally examined exposure to sounds from homes or residential areas that are about one kilometre away or further from wind turbines."
The half-mile setback has been identified as the distance beyond which problems with wind turbine noise and shadow flicker are not a major problem. It's the setback many Wisconsin communites are asking for and developers are refusing.
The half mile setback this report is based on is considered too restrictive by the wind industry and vehemently opposed by the very people who funded this study.
Last week the London Times recognized the connection between wind turbine noise and negative health impacts when they reported on an intentional cover up of recommendations to lower wind turbine noise levels to protect public health. [Click here to read the story]
"Civil servants have suppressed warnings that wind turbines can generate noise damaging people’s health for several square miles around."- London Times, 12/13/09
Noise which interferes with sleep is clearly tied to negative human health impacts in this peer-reviewed report authored by Louis Hagler, MD and Lisa Goines, RN which appeared in Southern Medical Journal. (Available to the public on the MedScape website )
Wind farm residents will find this document especially interesting as it supports their complaints about living with turbine noise. The specific health effects described here will be familiar to many wind farm residents.
Here are some excerpts :
"Noise represents an important public health problem that can lead to hearing loss, sleep disruption, cardiovascular disease, social handicaps, reduced productivity, impaired teaching and learning, absenteeism, increased drug use, and accidents.
It can impair the ability to enjoy one's property and leisure time and increases the frequency of antisocial behavior. Noise adversely affects general health and well-being in the same way as does chronic stress.
Uninterrupted sleep is known to be a prerequisite for good physiologic and mental functioning in healthy individuals. Environmental noise is one of the major causes of disturbed sleep.
When sleep disruption becomes chronic, the results are mood changes, decrements in performance, and other long-term effects on health and well-being.
Much recent research has focused on noise from aircraft, roadways, and trains. It is known, for example, that continuous noise in excess of 30 dB disturbs sleep. For intermittent noise, the probability of being awakened increases with the number of noise events per night.
The primary sleep disturbances are difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings, waking too early, and alterations in sleep stages and depth, especially a reduction in REM sleep.
Apart from various effects on sleep itself, noise during sleep causes increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased pulse amplitude, vasoconstriction, changes in respiration, cardiac arrhythmias, and increased body movement. For each of these, the threshold and response relationships may be different.
Some of these effects (waking, for example) diminish with repeated exposure; others, particularly cardiovascular responses, do not.
Decreased alertness leading to accidents, injuries, and death has also been attributed to lack of sleep and disrupted circadian rhythms. Secondary effects (so-called after effects) measured the following day include fatigue, depressed mood and well-being, and decreased performance.
Long-term psychosocial effects have been related to nocturnal noise. Noise annoyance during the night increases total noise annoyance for the following 24 hours. Particularly sensitive groups include the elderly, shift workers, persons vulnerable to physical or mental disorders, and those with sleep disorders.
Other factors that influence the problem of night-time noise include its occurrence in residential areas with low background noise levels and combinations of noise and vibration such as produced by trains or heavy trucks. Low frequency sound is more disturbing, even at very low sound pressure levels; these low frequency components appear to have a significant detrimental effect on health."
NOTE FROM THE BPWI RESEARCH NERD: This peer-reviewed report notes that a continuous noise in excess of 30 dB disturbs sleep. The wind turbine noise limit currently used in Wisconsin is 50dB.