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Outlook on WT Noise Research

January 2, 2014

EHP-cover_2-1-14The news for January 1, 2014–from a focus article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives–affirms there is something to the claims of harm associated with wind turbines (“Wind Turbines: A Different Breed of Noise?“).

Nate Seltenrich, who reports on science and the environment, provides a round-up of recent publications documenting the issues: symptoms, claims of causation, and counter arguments. He introduces the science from the perspective of people whose well-being has been disrupted in Falmouth–Sue Hobart and Annie Hart Cool.

“The gold standard for proving causality of an exposure,” Seltenrich writes, “is the randomized clinical trial. But when it comes to testing the health effects of noise exposure on humans, such a study design is likely to be not only impractical and difficult to implement, but also unethical.”

Seltenrich quotes Jim Cummings, editor of Acoustic Ecology Institute’s blog (a site which gathers news and reports about sound), “There are some studies looking at whether wind turbine infrasound may have specific qualities that make it more apt to trigger health effects, especially nausea, than ‘normal’ infrasound from wind or waves or traffic, but these are still very preliminary.”

Cross-sectional studies, instead, are the most common type of research to date, and cannot pinpoint causality.

The next-best evidence would come from longitudinal field research, many researchers agree, such as long-term studies that assess the health of a community before a turbine project is ever proposed and then continue to follow up during operation. [Dr. Peter] Lercher notes that some effects of chronic noise exposure such as elevated blood pressure could take one or two decades to manifest at significant levels.

Seltenrich captures the concept of annoyance by its health science meaning rather than everyday usage:

Based on its standing definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” the WHO concludes that noise-induced annoyance “may be considered an adverse effect on health.”17 High levels of annoyance have also been shown to lead to stress responses and sleep loss, including attendant symptoms such as headache, gastrointestinal upset, anxiety, fatigue, and hypertension.18,19,20

The interest in wind turbine noise as a public health issue is mounting. Conferences addressing noise now feature “nearly as many sessions organized around wind turbine noise as in all categories of transportation noise combined,” wrote Seltenrich.

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