By Sherri Lange
While only “conditional,” acknowledgement is given to pulsation (impulsive amplitude modification, as Mr. Steven Cooper calls it) and ILFN (Infra and Low Frequency Noise), the new World Health Organization report underscores the failure of current regulations of dB to manage health impacts from industrial wind installations worldwide.
The other irrefutable conclusion is that the wind industry has been given a regulatory path to profits with an unfathomable license to hurt in the form of sleep deprivation (and associated disease) for a very long time. Master Resource reported earlier on the findings of the Australian Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines (June 29, 2015). This court established that there is a direct pathway to disease resulting from wind turbine noise.
For years, a host of professionals and interested parties have asked World Health Organization to include wind turbine noise in its Guidelines. For the first time, WHO has announced guidelines for wind turbine ‘noise.’
While issued only for the European Region (with data compiled from various continents), worldwide industry, governments, and interested and impacted people will all take note. (Key people in the presentation of copious and reputable information to the WHO for years, have been Christine Metcalfe of the UK, and Dr. Sarah Laurie of AU.)
This Guideline recognizes that the “noise” is more than ‘annoyance’ (and “annoyance” is of lesser concern than sleep deprivation)–and that chronic noise contributes to cardiovascular disease; lack of sleep, hearing loss, tinnitus and stress; and increased changes in blood pressure and heart health. These, of course, are well known impacts to communities and professionals worldwide. These negative impacts have, however, been slow to be recognized at levels such as the WHO.
The impacts recognized by the WHO Guidelines are likely to cause some concern for the wind industry that has chronically, methodically, and systemically, over a long period of time, blocked the flow of information, denying, obfuscating, and blaming helpless victims for “poor coping skills.”
Analyses of the WHO findings are happening around the world, with some looking to the anticipated mass of class action lawsuits, and others more cautiously examining the omissions, and overly cautious, and even erroneous WHO findings, which conclude that there is insufficient evidence to provide night time wind turbine noise guidelines.
Also, but only gently underscored, not highlighted in the Wind Turbine Noise Guidelines, are the now obvious and historically reported impacts of ILFN, shadow flicker, vibration, pressure pulsation.
A summary of findings:
Officially launched to countries and stakeholders in Basel, Switzerland on 10 October 2018, the document identifies levels at which noise has significant health impacts and recommends actions to reduce exposure. For the first time, a comprehensive and rigorous methodological framework was applied to develop the recommendations.
“Noise pollution in our towns and cities is increasing, blighting the lives of many European citizens. More than a nuisance, excessive noise is a health risk – contributing to cardiovascular diseases, for example. We need to act on the many sources of noise pollution – from motorized vehicles to loud nightclubs and concerts – to protect our health,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The new WHO guidelines define exposure levels to noise that should not be exceeded to minimize adverse health effects and we urge European policy-makers to make good use of this guidance for the benefit of all Europeans.”
Compared to previous WHO guidelines on noise, this version contains five significant developments:
- stronger evidence of the cardiovascular and metabolic effects of environmental noise;
- inclusion of new noise sources, namely wind turbine noise and leisure noise, in addition to noise from transportation (aircraft, rail and road traffic);
- use of a standardized approach to assess the evidence;
- a systematic review of evidence, defining the relationship between noise exposure and risk of adverse health outcomes;
- use of long-term average noise exposure indicators to better predict adverse health outcomes.
The executive summary can be found here:
For average noise exposure (WIND TURBINES), the GDG (Guideline Development Group) conditionally recommends reducing noise levels produced by wind turbines below 45 dB Lden, as wind turbine noise above this level is associated with adverse health effects.
The report has conditional statements:
No recommendation is made for average night noise exposure Lnight of wind turbines. The quality of evidence of night-time exposure to wind turbine noise is too low to allow a recommendation.
To reduce health effects, the GDG conditionally recommends that policy-makers implement suitable measures to reduce noise exposure from wind turbines in the population exposed to levels above the guideline values for average noise exposure.
No evidence is available, however, to facilitate the recommendation of one particular type of intervention over another.
WHO’s use of “conditional” is opposed to “strong.” The report defines strong as being likely to be reasonably adopted into policy in most cases, while conditional references require a policy-making process “with substantial debate.” “There may be circumstances or settings in which it will not apply.”
The Burden of Environmental Noise Exposure
There is an additional emphasis in the Guide to acknowledge the “burden of environmental noise” exposure.
The public health burden from environmental noise Exposure to noise can lead to auditory and nonauditory effects on health. Through direct injury to the auditory system, noise leads to auditory effects such as hearing loss and tinnitus. Noise is also a nonspecific stressor that has been shown to have an adverse effect on human health, especially following long-term exposure. These effects are the result of psychological and physiological distress, as well as a disturbance of the organism’s homeostasis and increasing allostatic load (Basner et al., 2014). This is further outlined in the WHO narrative review of the biological mechanisms of nonauditory effects (Eriksson et al., 2018)...
Sufficient information was deemed available to quantify the burden of disease from environmental noise (our emphasis) for cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in children, sleep disturbance, tinnitus and annoyance. The report, based on a limited set of data, estimated that DALYs lost from environmental noise in western European countries are equivalent to 61 000 years for ischaemic (sic) heart disease (IHD), 45 000 years for cognitive impairment in children, 903 000 years for sleep disturbance, 22 000 years for tinnitus and 654 000 years for annoyance (WHO Regional Office for Europe & JRC, 2011). These results indicate that at least one million healthy years of life are lost every year from traffic-related environmental noise in western Europe. Sleep disturbance and annoyance, mostly related to road traffic noise, constitute the bulk of this burden. (Our emphasis) Available assessments place the burden of disease from environmental noise as the second highest after air pollution (WHO Regional Office for Europe & JRC, 2011; Hänninen et al., 2014; WHO 2014b).
While the new 2018 Guidelines suggest there is insufficient evidence for the WHO to prescribe or suggest acceptable night time noise levels for wind turbines, other WHO documents suggest strongly that the evidence has accrued and been applied for other agents of noise: road traffic, rail, air traffic, etc. These guidelines, such as for Community Noise, suggest that children and the ill, who spend more time proportionately in beds and sleep modes, will require reduced noise levels.
How loud is too loud? WHO asks:
The WHO guidelines for community noise recommend less than 30 A-weighted decibels (dB(A)) in bedrooms during the night for a sleep of good quality and less than 35 dB(A) in classrooms to allow good teaching and learning conditions.
The WHO guidelines for night noise recommend less than 40 dB(A) of annual average (Lnight) outside of bedrooms to prevent adverse health effects from night noise.
An Open Letter drafted by Ms. Metcalfe to Mme Heroux and members of the panel developing these guidelines, compellingly requests:
One of the sources of noise you are investigating is that from wind turbines which was not addressed in previous guidelines. We welcome your review because, despite mounting anecdotal and academic evidence, for too long mitigation against adverse health effects following the construction of wind turbines has been absent from planning guidelines and noise pollution regulations in many European countries, especially with respect to sound below 200 Hz. There is a pressing need for new guidelines to encourage governments better to safeguard the health of their citizens. You will be aware that these problems are not confined to Europe. Neither are they confined to human beings. We are hopeful that your deliberations will result in tough new European guidelines which in turn will prompt a serious worldwide examination of all aspects of this problem, including the widely-reported effects on animals.
While the Guidelines now acknowledge the impacts of wind turbine noise and implications to negative health, including cardiovascular diseases, corollary questions of devastating impacts to animals, linger. Also absent is acknowledgement of the growing call for night time shut down of wind turbines, completely. Given that nighttime shut down of turbines is more and more becoming a demand from the impacted and communities, this appears to be a glaring oversight. (This is not a demand likely to be adopted by any developer, anywhere.)
Sweden already has regionally adopted a 40dB(A) “praxis” (accepted practice), which is not proving useful, and experts there have noted that even a few night time disruptions are as harmful or more so than multiple exposures and disruptions during the day. (Information provided in an email from Ove Bjorkland.)
Lack of Current International Standards of Measurement for Noise and Pulsation/Pressure Levels
WHO Guideline appears to have something for everyone. Some developers and cooperating governments will gloat that they are already operating at or below the WHO 45 dB L(den) suggested guideline. Others may find it a useful tool to pressure for a downsize of their existing regulations. There are no international regulations.
We add that current regulations, decided by country, region, or even locally, on audible noise caused by the unique and various grinding, vibrating, screeching, and whomping sounds of a wind turbine, do nothing for health protection with respect to the even more dangerous sub acoustic impacts.
The cocktail of acoustic events, many registered by the body, not the ear, impact entire lives, and that of companion animals, or livestock, and these cannot be ignored, nor measured simply with dB. An acoustic report from the University of Notre Dame states that: “there is no completely satisfactory manner to measure the subjective effects of noise, or the corresponding reactions of annoyance or dissatisfaction….”
This report goes on to say that at the present time, “there are no common international noise standards or regulations for sound pressure levels.”
What would have added substantially to the WHO “conditional” acknowledgement of harm from wind turbine noise, would have been a hefty or certain “nod” to infra and low frequency impacts and pressure pulsation. These impacts have numerously been reported and recognized by volumes of professionals, including Dr. Mariana Alves Pereira, whose work on vibro-acoustic disease is irrefutably clear. Below, Dr. Laurie confirms the body of research conducted by NASA some thirty years ago.
“There has been pretence that there is no evidence of harm at the levels of infrasound and low-frequency noise being emitted. This is untrue. There is an extensive body of research conducted by NASA and the US Department of Energy 30 years ago, which: established direct causation of sleep disturbance and a range of physiological effects euphemistically called ‘annoyance’,”
Despite inadequacies, the WHO Guidelines are now finally inclusive of wind turbine “noise” and these now bolster what has been known for over 30 years: harm has been and continues to be administered. As erroneously suggested by the industry, victims are not poorly adapting, or having poor coping skills, or inflicted with prior tendency to fear or neuroses.
The harm is real, ongoing, and sinister, because people have known, do know, and continue the profiteering.
The burden of environmental noise with wind turbines is not episodic or random: for the most part its effects are constant and unrelenting (nothing like an occasional aircraft over the house, nor the 70 plus dB experienced at a concert for a few hours). This is an undeniable health pressure of enormous magnitude.
As the WHO prescribes various adjustments or mitigation, say, for road traffic (choice of tires, road surface, lowering traffic flow, different adjustments to road tunnels, insulation, etc.), it acknowledges that it does not have the ability or facts to recommend mitigation for the burden of wind turbine noise. However, to so many now studied persons about noise and night time sleep disruptions, the remediation is fairly obvious.
This particular burden, wind turbine noise, one unto itself in terms of environmental noise, unique in noise dynamics, heard, and felt sound pulsations/pressures, deserves a full-blown international guideline/regulation on all the sound “assets” of the machine.
While the WHO acknowledges finally after many years that health effects can be reduced from industrial wind, and “conditionally” recommends that “policymakers implement suitable measures to reduce noise exposure from wind turbines in the population exposed to levels above the guideline values for average noise exposure,” its recommendations are disappointingly scant or non-existent on three very important impacts:
- pressure pulsation and ILFN, and vibration.
- acknowledgement and recommendations of the tens of thousands or even millions of persons worldwide, many children and elderly, who have registered complaints of seriously disrupted sleep. These are anecdotal and recorded in numerous papers and findings. Missing completely is the seriously necessary Guideline for Night time noise with wind turbines.
- Impacts reported worldwide to animals, livestock, pets, wildlife. Of every description, wild, domesticated and “husbanded”.
The wind industry has denied and ignored evidence directly linking wind turbines and sleep disruption leading to negative human and animal impacts worldwide. Expect WHO’s new Guidelines to give rise to new standards to mitigate if not eliminate this ongoing suffering.
http://hearinghealthmatters.org/journalresearchposters/files/2016/09/16-10-21-Wind-Turbine-Noise-Post-Publication-Manuscript-HHTM-Punch-James.pdf (Wind Turbine Noise and Human Health: A Four-Decade History of Evidence that Wind Turbines Pose Risks* Jerry L. Punch, and Richard R. James)
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23117539 (Nissenbaum, Aramini, and Hanning, Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health, 2012)