“Next to aesthetic impact, no aspect of wind energy creates more alarm or more debate than noise…. Wind turbines are not silent. They are audible. All wind turbines create unwanted sound, that is, noise. Some do so to a greater degree than others. And the sounds they produce—the swish of blades through the air, the whir of gears inside the transmission, and the hum of the generator—are typically foreign to rural settings where wind turbines are the most often used.”
– Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995), p. 371.
“Why is sensitisation to noise and vibration important? From a public health perspective, sensitisation of individuals to noise will predictably lead to worsening individual health outcomes, especially via the well-known disease pathways associated with chronic stress, and chronic sleep deprivation.”
– Dr. Laurie Sarah (note to Sherri Lange: December 16, 2017)
“… the [Australian] Tribunal recognized that ‘wind turbine noise at times exceeds 40 dB(A), (which is a recognised threshold for annoyance/sleep disturbance)’; that a significant amount of sound energy emitted by wind turbines is in the low frequency noise range, so using the dB(A) weighting system is therefore inappropriate. The Tribunal recognized that ‘humans are more sensitive to low frequency sound, and it can therefore cause greater annoyance than higher frequency sound’; and that “even if it is not audible, low frequency noise and infrasound may have other effects on the human body, which are not mediated by hearing but also not fully understood. Those effects may include motion-sickness-like symptoms, vertigo, and tinnitus-like symptoms.”
– Dr. Laurie Sarah, note to North America Platform Against Wind Power (NA-PAW), December 17, 2017.
There have been recent developments in the debate over the health effects of inaudible low frequency noise in the vicinity of industrial wind turbines for human neighbors. First, a direct causal link has been determined between exposure to pulsing inaudible low frequency noise and human responses. Second, the Australian judiciary has recognized wind noise as a plausible pathway to disease, demoting the prior standard dB(A) noise metric. (Administrative Appeals Tribunal, AU)
Laurie/Thorne/Cooper, “Startle Reflex & Sensitisation,” ASA Conference, New Orleans, December 2017.
This paper, presented last month at the Acoustical Society of America, asks:
Why is sensitisation to noise and vibration important? From a public health perspective, sensitisation of individuals to noise will predictably lead to worsening individual health outcomes, especially via the well-known disease pathways associated with chronic stress, and chronic sleep deprivation.
Dr. Laurie, Dr Bob Thorne, and Steven Cooper outlined numerous scientifically established links between amplitude modulated sound, sleep disturbance (especially during REM sleep), startle reflex, PTSD, sensitisation and chronic stress.
Steven Cooper’s recent double-blind case control provocation laboratory study was also described. This small ground-breaking pilot study established a direct causal relationship between pulsing amplitude modulated sound, and reactions of noise sensitised people to the presence of that inaudible pulsing sound that had been taken from a WAV file recording inside a bedroom of an abandoned home at Cape Bridgewater. This study has clarified the research, put focus on the legitimate concerns of victims world wide. We reference the New Orleans Conference and the research of Mr. Cooper and others, by way of “lighting the path” to the very recent AAT decision.
Dr. Nina Pierpont, author of Wind Turbine Syndrome, 2009, was quoted by Dr. Laurie, Steven Cooper and Dr. Bob Thorne in the presentation.
Wind Turbine Syndrome, I propose, is mediated by the vestibular system-by disturbed sensory input to eyes, ears, and stretch and pressure receptors in a variety of body locations. These feed back neurologically onto a person’s sense of position and motion in space, which is in turn connected in multiple ways to brain functions as disparate as spatial memory and anxiety. Several lines of evidence suggest that the amplitude (power or intensity) of low frequency noise and vibration needed to create these effects may be even lower than the auditory threshold at the same low frequencies. Re-stating this, it appears that even low frequency noise and vibration too weak to hear can still stimulate the human vestibular system, opening the door for the symptoms I call Wind Turbine Syndrome.
Steven Cooper’s laboratory study showed that Dr Nina Pierpont was indeed scientifically correct in 2009 that inaudible sound could induce the symptoms and sensations of “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, known to acousticians as “annoyance”.
Drs Pierpont and Laurie, and other trained medical practitioners reporting on adverse health effects in their own patients, long have had research dismissed or challenged: Dr Amanda Harry (UK 2003), Dr David Iser (Australia 2004) and Dr Nina Pierpont, (USA 2009).
Overcoming Critics & Legal Vindication
These authors have withstood years of challenges from the wind industry: they have variously been referred to as propagandists, and sensationalist, encouragers of hysteria, and inducers of illness. Needless to say, the public, many suffering, and some of their treating health professionals, have understood the value of the work of both medical pioneers (and others), and their clear explanations for the suffering. The term coined by Pierpont, Wind Turbine Syndrome, has now become a well accepted phrase amongst those who experience these effects. See here for a description.
This past week, vindication in a legal setting came via the Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).
The AAT arrived at some “first of their kind” remarkable admissions (for this kind of administrative/legal body) with respect to sensitization, triggers, appropriate measures of wind turbine noise, and pathways to disease.
Dr. Laurie’s own words on the importance of the Tribunal’s rulings (email to NA-PAW):
This decision contains critically important legal rulings on wind turbine noise and the plausible pathways to serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease via noise annoyance. These rulings are internationally relevant, and will set a legal precedent (starting from para 467).
Specifically, the Tribunal members recognized that “wind turbine noise at times exceeds 40 dB(A), (which is a recognised threshold for annoyance/sleep disturbance)”; that a significant amount of sound energy emitted by wind turbines is in the low frequency noise range, so using the dB(A) weighting system is therefore inappropriate. The Tribunal recognized that “humans are more sensitive to low frequency sound, and it can therefore cause greater annoyance than higher frequency sound”; and that “even if it is not audible, low frequency noise and infrasound may have other effects on the human body, which are not mediated by hearing but also not fully understood. Those effects may include motion-sickness-like symptoms, vertigo, and tinnitus-like symptoms.
AAT Decision: Some Quotations
Below, you will find quotes and a synthesis of new important research on wind turbine impacts from the AAT Tribunal, that reflect a new and decidedly improved judicial understanding of some of the relevant acoustic and clinical issues.
First-order criteria (all four of the following must be present) (a) Domicile within up to 10 km from IWT [Industrial Wind Turbines] … (b) Altered health status following the start-up of, or initial exposure to, and during the operation of IWT. There may be a latent period of up to six months. (c) Amelioration of symptoms when more than 10 km from the environs of IWT. (d) Recurrence of symptoms upon return to environs of IWT.
Second-order criteria (at least three of the following occur or worsen after the initiation of operation of IWT) (a) Compromise of quality of life. (b) Continuing sleep disturbance, difficulty initiating sleep and/or difficulty with sleep disruption. (c) Annoyance producing increased levels of stress and/or psychological distress. (d) Preference to leave residence temporarily or permanently for sleep and/or restoration.
Three or more of the following frequently occur or worsen following the initiation of IWT. If the symptoms described in second-order criteria ((b) and (c)) are present, no further symptoms or complaints are required for the probable diagnosis. Based on the authors’ experience, the following list provides an indication of the more common symptoms:
a. Neurological (a) Tinnitus (b) Dizziness (c) Difficulties with balance (d) Ear ache (e) Nausea (f) HeadacheCognitive (a) Difficulty in concentrating (b) Problems with recall or difficulties with recall Cardiovascular (a) Hypertension (b) Palpitations (c) Enlarges heart (cardiomegaly)
b. Psychological (a) Mood disorder, i.e. depression and anxiety (b) Frustration (c) Feelings of distress (d) Anger Regulatory disorders (a) Difficulty in diabetes control (b) Onset of thyroid disorders or difficulty controlling hypo- or hyper-thyroidism
c. Systemic (a) Fatigue (b) Sleepiness.18
d. With respect to more specific impacts, the authors also reported that:
Both short-term laboratory studies of human beings and long-term studies of animals have provided biological mechanisms and plausibility for the theory that long-term exposure to environmental noise affects the cardiovascular system and causes manifest diseases (including hypertension, ischaemic heart diseases, and stroke).188
Participants living within 1.4 km of an IWT had worse sleep, were sleepier during the day, and had worse SF36 Mental Component Scores compared to those living further than 1.4 km away. Significant dose-response relationships between PSQI, ESS, SF36 Mental Component Score, and log-distance to the nearest IWT were identified after controlling for gender, age, and household clustering. The adverse event reports of sleep disturbance and ill health by those living close to IWTs are supported.190
For at least four decades, there have been reports in scientific literature of people experiencing motion sickness-like symptoms attributed to low-frequency sound and infrasound. In the last several years, there have been an increasing number of such reports with respect to wind turbines; this corresponds to wind turbines becoming more prevalent.
A study in Shirley, WI, has led to interesting findings that include: (1) To induce major effects, it appears that the source must be at a very low frequency, about 0.8 Hz and below with maximum effects at about 0.2 Hz; (2) the largest, newest wind turbines are moving down in frequency into this range; (3) the symptoms of motion sickness and wind turbine acoustic emissions “sickness” are very similar; (4) and it appears that the same organs in the inner ear, the otoliths may be central to both conditions. Given that the same organs may produce the same symptoms, one explanation is that the wind turbine acoustic emissions may, in fact, induce motion sickness in those prone to this affliction.192
The article made recommendations for further research. 193
Although the cells that provide hearing are insensitive to infrasound, other sensory cells in the ear are much more sensitive, which can be demonstrated by electrical recordings. Responses to infrasound reach the brain through pathways that do not involve conscious hearing, but instead may produce sensations of fullness, pressure or tinnitus or have no sensation. Activation of subconscious pathways by infrasound could disturb sleep. Based on our current knowledge of how the ear works, it is quite possible that low frequency sounds at the levels generated by wind turbines could affect those living nearby.196
In a later article, published in 2014, the same authors provided a diagram illustrating the portion of “the wind turbine sound spectrum” which is too low to be heard, but “sufficient to stimulate the OHC of the ear”.197 They also stated that:
Evidence is mounting that loss of or even just overstimulation of OHCs may lead to major disturbances in the balance of excitatory and inhibitory influences in the dorsal cochlear nucleus. One product of this disturbance is the emergency of hyperactivity, which is widely believed to contribute to the perception of phantom sounds or tinnitus. The granule cell system also connects to numerous auditory and nonauditory centres of the brain. Some of these centres are directly involved in audition, but others serve functions as diverse as attentional control, arousal, startle, the sense of balance, and the monitoring of head and ear position.198 … Although there have been many studies of infrasound on humans, these have typically involved higher levels for limited periods (typically of up to 24 hours). In a search of the literature, no studies were found that have come close to replicating the long-term exposures to low-level infrasound experienced by those living near wind turbines. So, to date, there are no published studies showing that such prolonged exposures do not harm humans. On the other hand, there are now numerous reports (e.g., Pierpont, 2009; Punch and James, 2016), discussed extensively in this journal, that are highly suggestive that individuals living near wind turbines are made ill, with a plethora of symptoms that commonly include chronic sleep disturbance. The fact that such reports are being dismissed on the grounds that the level of infrasound produced by wind turbines is at too low a level to be heard appears to totally ignore the known physiology of the ear.199
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 (sic) 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 (sic) 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.
Testimony of Expert Witnesses to the the Tribunal
World experts were asked to determine definitions of “disease.” (They were then asked to define and associate industrial sound, vibration and relations of these to “disease.”)
World experts, credentials noted and accepted by the Tribunal, were:
(a) Dr Bruce Rapley who describes himself as an “independent consulting scientist”. Dr Rapley has a B.Sc (Biological Systems), MPhil (his thesis concerned “System design and testing of a medical biostimulator”), and a PhD (Environmental Health, Acoustics, Human Health and Cognition).
(b) Dr Robert Thorne. As noted earlier, Dr Thorne is presently the Chief Executive Officer and Registrar of the Board of Studies of Acoustar Work Health and Safety Training Centre, a training organisation which he established in 2014. He has a number of academic qualifications including a PhD in Health Science (“Assessing intrusive noise and low amplitude sound” awarded by Massey University in 2007), a Diploma in Science (Noise Management) and Diploma in Acoustics and Noise Control awarded by the UK Institute of Acoustics in 1985.
(c) Mr Steven Cooper who is an acoustical consulting engineer. Mr Cooper holds a BSc (Engineering) from the University of New South Wales and a MSc (Architecture) from the University of Sydney.
(d) Mr William Huson who is an acoustical consultant. Mr Huson has a BSc (Hons) in Applied Physics obtained in the United Kingdom in 1975 and a MSc (Sound and Vibration Studies) from the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research at Southampton obtained in 1977.
(e) Dr Mariana Alves-Pereira who is an Associate Professor in the School of Economic Sciences and Organizations at the Universidade Lusófona in Lisbon, Portugal. Dr Alves-Pereira has a Bachelor degree in Physics, a Masters degree in Biomedical Engineering and a Doctoral degree in Environmental Science, the latter from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Caparica, Portugal. Dr Alves-Pereira is not a medical practitioner but through her work has learnt some medical concepts.
(f) Dr David McBride who is Associate Professor in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Dr McBride is a fellow of the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and has completed a PhD in occupational health concerning the health effects of noise, especially impulse noise.
All experts were variously questioned about “industrial noise, sleep disturbance, annoyance, and mental disorders.” They were asked to comment on:
(a) industrial noise and vibration is associated with, contributes to, or causes “diseases” in human beings; and
(b) wind farm noise, including low frequency noise and infrasound or vibration, is associated with, contributes to, or causes “diseases” in human beings.
(It is interesting to note that the Tribunal appeared “daunted” by the sheer volume of materials presented by these experts.)
We note that Mr Cooper’s and Mr Huson’s evidence in this respect was consistent with the following passage of the Guidelines for Community Noise published by the World Health Organization in 1999:
Mr Cooper also referred to an investigation undertaken by him of the Cape Bridgewater Wind Farm. He explained that:
The study involved noise and vibration monitoring over an eight-week period utilising three houses at Cape Bridgewater being the designated houses of the “specific local residents”. Included in the study was a period of approximately two weeks that covered a planned shutdown of the entire wind farm for the purpose of high-voltage cabling work at a main substation. Monitoring occurred during the shutdown period so as to identify the existing acoustic and vibration environment at the nominated houses when the wind farm was not operating but wind was occurring as part of the natural environment.302
The examination of the resident’s observations versus the data from the wind farm found that there was a link between the operation of the wind farm and the high levels of sensation, with severity 5 being equivalent to creating a physical harm to the residents and/or their perspective the sensation was of such an extent and magnitude that required them to leave the homes (or wishing to leave their homes).
SUMMARY OF THE TRIBUNAL
On our analysis, a number of propositions emerge from the medical and scientific evidence. Some of those propositions had unanimous support by the relevant experts, and others had the support of most.
The Tribunal also accepts:
When it is present, due to its particular characteristics, low frequency noise and infrasound can be greater indoors than outdoors at the same location, and can cause a building to vibrate, resulting in resonance;
Humans are more sensitive to low frequency sound, and it can therefore cause greater annoyance than higher frequency sound;
Even if it is not audible, low frequency noise and infrasound may have other effects on the human body, which are not mediated by hearing but also not fully understood. Those effects may include motion-sickness-like symptoms, vertigo, and tinnitus-like symptoms. However, the material before us does not include any study which has explored a possible connection between such symptoms and wind turbine emissions in a particular population.
We consider that the evidence justifies the following conclusions:
The proposition that sound emissions from wind farms directly cause any adverse health effects which could be regarded as a “disease” for the purposes of the ACNC Act is not established;
Nor, on the current evidence, is there any plausible basis for concluding that wind farm emissions may directly cause any disease;
However, noise annoyance is a plausible pathway to disease (Our emphasis)
We also note that the evidence indicated that the annoyance resulting from noise during sleeping times may be greater for those with a noise sensitivity or who have become sensitised to noise.
A major limitation (of the Health Canada Study) is that the conclusions of the study were based on calculated, rather than actual, noise measurements (although some of the calculated noise levels were based on measurements). However, as we understand the evidence, the sound generated by wind turbines is so variable that actual measurements are to be preferred. We accept that measurements based on estimates or averages may not accurately reflect the sound which was present when the particular level of annoyance was experienced or recorded.
Another significant drawback of the Health Canada study, as we understand it, is that the WTN was measured in dB(A) and dB(C). All of the evidence before us is to the effect that WTN cannot be accurately captured in dB(A), or even dB(C) (although dB(C) is preferable). The preponderance of the acoustic evidence is also to the effect that by far the best way of capturing the sound produced by wind farms is to take unweighted measurements, and then subject them to detailed analysis, including narrow band analysis, to determine the components of the sound which is present.
It follows in our view that the applicant has established that there is a plausible basis for thinking that wind turbine sound (mediated by annoyance) may lead to adverse health outcomes, such as to warrant further investigation. It is unnecessary for us to draw conclusions as to the precise nature of the annoyance which is caused, and whether annoyance may be caused by sound which is not audible (infrasound). That is something which we expect will be the subject of further study and investigation. For our purposes, it is sufficient that annoyance is produced, and it appears that it may be associated with adverse health outcomes.
We also note that sensitization is not completely reversible.
Once sensitized to low frequency noise, that effect appears to stay with people even in the absence of ongoing exposure, ready to be retriggered when they are re exposed to the amplitude modulated pulsing sound. [Notes to NA-PAW from Dr. Laurie, with permission.]
The evidence is accruing, and emphatic. People are being seriously harmed; current and historic assessments and testing methodology of “noise,” vibration, shadow flicker, ILFN, and amplitude modification are unethical, and meaningless.
Cooperating or permitting government bodies must immediately heed the wider implications of these findings of the Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal.