David Suzuki: Health effects from wind power unfounded
Opposition to windmills often centres on health effects, but what is it about wind power that causes people to feel ill? According to recent research, it may not be the infrasound from wind-energy installations but, oddly enough, the warnings from opponents.
For a study published in the American Psychological Association’s Health Psychology journal, researchers from New Zealand’s University of Auckland showed readily available anti-wind-power film footage to 27 people. Another 27 were shown interviews with experts who said infrasound, such as that created by wind turbines, can’t directly cause negative health effects. Subjects were then told they would be exposed to two 10-minute periods of infrasound, but were actually only exposed to one.
After both real and “sham” exposure, people in the first group were far more likely to report negative symptoms than those in the second. In fact, subjects in the second group reported “no symptomatic changes” after either exposure. According to the researchers, “Results suggest psychological expectations could explain the link between wind turbine exposure and health complaints.”
Another study, which has yet to be published, shows people living near wind-power installations report more health problems during anti-wind campaigns. Researchers from Australia’s Sydney University found only 120 complaints from people living within five kilometres of the country’s 49 wind farms between 1993 and 2012. But 68 percent were from people living near five wind farms targeted by anti-wind-farm groups, and 82 per cent occurred after 2009, when wind-energy opponents started highlighting health scares in their campaigns
The power of suggestion can be extremely effective, especially when it comes to human health. Unfortunately, in the case of wind energy, this can delay or even stop wind-power installations that are a necessary part of the shift from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy, as has happened recently in Canada.
In fact, science shows that wind energy does not negatively affect human health in any significant way. An independent panel convened by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection reviewed the available research and released a report last year. It found no scientific evidence to support most claims about “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, infrasound effects and harm blamed on wind power such as pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease and headache/migraine.
At worst, there is some evidence that wind installations may cause annoyance and sleep disruption. But most of the resulting minor effects can be overcome by regulations governing how close windmills are to residences. In Ontario, the required setback is 550 metres. At this distance, audible sound from windmills is normally below 40 decibels, which is about what you’d find in most bedrooms and living rooms.
On the other hand, we know that using fossil fuels for energy has profound effects on human health—and on the economy. The Canadian Medical Association reports that in 2008 air pollution in Canada was responsible for 21,000 premature deaths, 92,000 emergency room visits and 620,000 visits to a doctor’s office. And a new study by the Pembina Institute found that “health impact costs associated with burning coal for electricity in Alberta are close to $300 million annually.”
According to Pembina researchers, “Coal plants are a major source of toxic air contaminants, including mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter. The study shows that in Alberta each year this pollution contributes to over 4,000 asthma episodes, over 700 emergency visits for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and around 80 hospital admissions, with chronic exposures resulting in nearly 100 premature deaths.”
Factor these costs into the equation, and coal and other fossil fuels don’t seem like the bargain they’re purported to be—especially considering the sector is subsidized by about $1.9 trillion a year worldwide, according to the International Monetary Fund. With the costs of renewable energy coming down, and the technology improving, more and more research shows that switching from fossil fuels to clean energy is feasible.
When it comes to wind power, we have to be careful to ensure that impacts on the environment and on animals such as birds and bats are minimized, and we should continue to study possible effects on health. But we must also be wary of false arguments against it.
Apr 16, 2013 at 6:03pm
Comeon on David, go to Ontario and try to sell this to the neighbors of wind farms. Be courageous...
Apr 16, 2013 at 6:43pm
Why is it that those who say there are no health effects don't have an industrial wind turbine within 50 miles of THEIR house?? Ever!!!
You never see someone whose home is surrounded by these 500 foot industrial wind factories say, "Oh they're just wonderful! We don't have any negative effects!!"
People like Suzuki who make statements that there are no effects, are green hypocritical cowards.
Apr 16, 2013 at 7:30pm
Bang on. The evidence is in. 17 reviews of the research world-wide by credible independent bodies found no health impacts or mechanisms for health impacts from wind farms.
Now the studies are piling up from Australia, New Zealand and the UK that the problem is stress and suggestion from anti-wind lobbyists.
The ones who are claiming to be part of the solution are actually the problem.
Apr 16, 2013 at 8:12pm
Laura, you may want to do three minutes of research before posting ridiculous comments. You'll find numerous accounts from people around the world who are quite happy to live near wind farms. There is lots of research as well, including surveys by Eon in the U.K., which "show that the vast majority (up to 80%) of UK residents are supportive of the installation of wind farms and their energy contributions, with an astounding 94% of people who live near wind farms even more positive about their use."
Apr 16, 2013 at 8:23pm
I just returned from a week in Germany. I spoke to many people who live among turbines and not one had anything negative to say about them. They do however live in constant worry about the nuclear stations in their midst. We have now graduated from the "model T" Turbines to the '55 Chevy models. Each step of the way they get more powerful and quieter. We have to go through these steps to reach our goal.
Apr 17, 2013 at 2:14am
Zimmerman and Steve -- And yet there are over 100 anti-wind groups in Germany and over 200 anti-wind groups in the UK. Doesn't sound to me like people over there like them so much.
And the surveys you quote do NOT say anything about 'wind' energy. The surveys always ask if people are for renewable energy and the answer is always a resounding yes. We all are. They specifically phrase the question that way to make it seem like people are for wind energy and they can run around quoting those results.
If the question is targeted to wind energy, the results are always much MUCH lower.
As for those 17 peer reviewed studies Mike Barnard. You know as well as I do that most of those were paid for by the wind industry. Most of them had members of the wind industry sitting on the boards that did the reviews AND most of those 17 reviews are just rehashes of a couple of studies that were done years ago, long before IWT's were 500 feet tall and being placed 550m from people's homes.
But most importantly, not ONE of those studies involved any actual field research. No one who lived near a wind turbine was contacted. No ones health records were examined. There were no epidemiological studies done. No field measurements. Nothing.
And yet the dozens of studies that have been done by non-biased researchers, doctors, acousticians, etc. who actually went out and did testing and field research and who examined the medical data of those living next to IWT's, which shows that people are legitimately getting sick from the infrasound, shadow flicker and vibrations are completely discounted by the wind industry. Gee, wonder why that is?
Couldn't have anything to do with $$$$$$$$$ could it?
Apr 17, 2013 at 2:43am
The studies cited in the article have been demonstratively shown to be lacking in proper survey methods. 17 reviews are shown to be produced by primarily those in wind related positions. EON in the UK is heavily involved in the wind industry there. So in terms of survey results, what did you expect?
Wind cannot and will never be a serious player in the overall generation mix. It's a technological cul-de-sac and won't solve any environmental goals cited by it's proponents. We've had enough years of proof of this. Once again, I'd like to ask all those who claim there are no adverse health effects , to come and talk face to face to those men, women and children that have been effected. Look them in the eye and tell them that it's all in their heads. To date, all have cowardly refused.
Apr 17, 2013 at 3:15am
Why not have your little article printed in a main stream publication? Could it be that no one wanted it?
How about the University of Sydney study? I have read the stupid thing. That study is nothing more than a rant against those who oppose wind turbines with holes in logic big enough to drive a truck through. The study grouped many IWT installations whether they in remote locations or built close to populations. Also they used a 5km distance where most problems occur within a 2km radius. At no time did the study consider that may IWT opposition started as a result of health issues.
David, you are supposed to be an environmentalist. IWT cause a whole lot of damage to the environment and wildlife. What a loser hypocrite!
Apr 17, 2013 at 3:45am
Why not consider this eyewitness account in MI? 494' tall turbine at 1,139" from his home. He and his wife are sleeping on an air mattress in the basement when the turbines are operating. When they are off, they sleep in their own bed.I know the man personally.
His neighbor has a signed lease and was an enthusiastic supporter. Now he stays away from his home as often as possible, describing it as the "worst place on earth".
What happened to the environmental movement? I thought they opposed industrial noise pollution?
Now they have become apologists for the fossil fuel and nuclear industrialists who inflict this nuisance upon rural residents? Is Mr Suzuki a scientist or a paid lobbyist for BP Wind?
It is time to take of your ideological blinders, Mr. Suzuki. People are suffering.
Worse, wind energy has essentially no ability to wean us from fossil fuel or it's attendant emissions.
AWEA board member E.ON, which operates German transmission grids and also builds wind plants in the US, is succinct:
"Wind energy is only able to replace traditional power stations to a limited extent. Their dependence on the prevailing wind conditions means that wind power has a limited load factor even when technically available…. Consequently, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently online [and burning fuel] in order to guarantee power supply at all times"
This means wind generation cannot replace fossil generating plants to any meaningful extent.
But CCGT can eliminate PM2.5 and Hg while reducing co2/MWh by 60% while yielding very cheap power. And nuclear can eliminate all three emissions.
Question: when the enviro movement repeatedly makes shrill claims about human deaths and health impacts from coal generation yet then opposes the only two proven replacements for coal generation-gas and nuclear-at what point do they become culpable for those alleged health effects?
Apr 17, 2013 at 5:55am
Anyone who wants to know the truth, is wasting their time talking to anyone who is connected in any way to the wind industry.
They have been brainwashed, and drank the green kool-aid. Money has allowed them to shut off their brains, and their consciences. If they wanted to prove there was no health effects, they would be lining up to fill a community with turbine lovers, so that they could be studies at depth, and we would not have to worry about all of the nasty accusations of nocebo effect, hysteria, hypochondria...etc. Lets make up a list of volunteers. I can hardly wait to begin studying them!!!