Last update: June 25, 2017

Keith Stelling August 4, 2015 OntarioCanada

Infrasound / low frequency noise and industrial wind turbines

“With the proliferation of recent research and the rediscovery of earlier, until now largely ignored studies, infrasound and low frequency noise (LFN) can no longer be dismissed as irrelevant.”

ILFN and IWT

An information report prepared for the
MULTI-MUNICIPAL WIND TURBINE WORKING GROUP

Compiled by Keith Stelling, MA, (McMaster) MNIMH, MCPP (England)

Reviewed by William K. Palmer, P. Eng.
Carmen Krogh, BSc (Pharm), provided comments on the health component

Introduction

The Multi-municipal Wind Turbine Working Group was formed by municipal councillors in Grey, Bruce, and Huron Counties in Ontario in response to the growing number of complaints they were receiving from constituents concerning the installation of industrial wind turbines throughout the area. Councillors were aware of their responsibility regarding the health, safety, and well-being of their constituents. The Multi-municipal Wind Turbine Working Group was set up to share ideas on how to fulfill that responsibility. Complaints from citizens, including reports of adverse health impacts have persisted and increased as more turbines have been installed. The reported symptoms conform to those described internationally by many people living near wind turbines.

With the proliferation of recent research and the rediscovery of earlier, until now largely ignored studies, infrasound and low frequency noise (LFN) can no longer be dismissed as irrelevant. This report shows why it must be given full consideration as a contributing cause of the distress of some of those people living near wind turbine installations. It also demonstrates why the Ontario and Canadian governments must pay attention to this research, fulfill their obligation to protect the health of our citizens and amend their wind turbine regulations and policies.

Executive summary

Typically, regulating authorities have not required the measurement of infrasound (sound below 20 Hz in frequency) and low frequency (LFN) (generally sound from 200 Hz to 20 Hz) inside homes adjacent to wind turbines as a condition of their installation and operational monitoring. The health risk of infrasound from wind turbines has been dismissed by the wind industry as insignificant. It has maintained that since the typical loudness and frequency of wind turbine sound within a home is not audible, it cannot have any effect on human health.

Noise measurements for most studies and environmental assessments have been limited to the measurement of audible sound outside homes-- using dBA weighted monitoring which is insensitive to infrasound frequencies. Some studies and environmental assessments have even relied on projected audible sound averages from computer produced models.

Such observations and projections fail to take appropriate account of the distinguishing signature of the sound from a wind turbine. Unlike the more random naturally occurring sounds (such as wind or lake waves which may themselves have an infrasound component), the sound from wind turbines displays characteristics that produce a pattern that the ear and audio processing in the brain recognize. Our hearing is strongly influenced by pattern recognition. (This is why we can pick out the sound of a familiar voice even in a crowded room with many people speaking).

One recognizable wind turbine pattern is a tonal signal of sharply rising and falling pulses in the infrasound range, (typically about 0.75 Hz, 1.5 Hz, 2.25 Hz, 3.0 Hz, and so on). It is produced by the blade passing the tower. At this frequency these pulses may be “felt or sensed” more than “heard” by the ears. Research by Dr. Alec Salt and others has demonstrated that subaudible infrasound does result in a physiological response from various systems within the body.

The second recognizable pattern is the amplitude modulation. This is the typical “swoosh” rising and falling that is audible.

A third recognizable pattern of sound from wind turbines results from the equipment in the nacelle (such as the gearbox if the turbine has one) and ventilating fans. Although in some cases this third sound source may become predominant, it is usually of lesser effect that the first two.

We now know that subaudible pulsating infrasound can be detected inside homes near operating wind turbines. It can also be identified up to 10 kilometres distant. We know also that very low levels of infrasound and LFN are registered by the nervous system and affect the body even though they cannot be heard. The research cited in this report implicates these infrasonic pulsations as the cause of some of the most commonly reported “sensations” experienced by many people living close to wind turbines including chronic sleep disturbance, dizziness, tinnitus, heart palpitations, vibrations and pressure sensations in the head and chest etc.

Similarly, there is medical research (also cited below) which demonstrates that pulsating infrasound can be a direct cause of sleep disturbance. In clinical medicine, chronic sleep interruption and deprivation is acknowledged as a trigger of serious health problems.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Keith Stelling is an independent researcher and writer with many articles on health issues published in Canada and the United Kingdom.

After graduating from McMaster University with an Honours B.A. and M.A., he completed three years of post graduate studies at the School of Phytotherapy in England, obtaining the Diploma in Phytotherapy and becoming the first Canadian member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists of Great Britain and the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy (England). After returning to Ontario he taught courses, ran his own practice and founded and edited the Canadian Journal of Herbalism. He also served as a peer reviewer on the editorial board of the British Journal of Phytotherapy, and as a member of the Government of Canada Second Expert Advisory Committee on Herbs and Botanical Preparations, presented to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, and contributed a number of monographs to the Canadian Pharmacists Association and the Canadian Medical Association guide to botanical medicine (Chandler F, editor. 2000. “Herbs: Everyday Reference for Health Professionals”).

After retiring to rural Bruce County, he became aware of the health and environmental issues associated with nearby wind turbines and has spent the last nine years researching these concerns. He was appointed a citizen member of the Multi-municipal Wind Turbine Working Group comprised of elected municipal councillors from Bruce, Grey, and Huron Counties. He was a founding member of Wind Concerns Ontario and in 2008 he formed a local conservation group, “The Friends of Arran Lake” with the aim of preventing the significant wildlife habitat in his neighbourhood from being degraded by a wind turbine development.

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Keith Stelling | August 4, 2015