News Section
Stories from Climate Central's Science Journalists and Content Partners

Wind Turbine Syndrome? Courts Aren’t Buying It

To wind farm opponents, wind turbine syndrome is a manifold malady triggered by acoustic pulses and other unfortunate side effects of large wind turbines. To wind farm developers, syndrome claims can mean stomach-churning marches into courtrooms and municipal hearings, where legal teams defend projects against allegations they’re responsible for everything from headaches and sleeplessness to vertigo, blurred vision, and forgetfulness.

In these legal fights, the wind energy developers are winning. To the judges presiding over the cases, evidence that wind turbine syndrome exists has seemed as wispy as the cirrus clouds that can herald a stiffening breeze.

Credit: Mark Ellis/flickr

The Energy and Policy Institute, a clean energy advocacy group, reviewed rulings from 49 lawsuits and similar complaints filed in five Western countries. In a report published last week, the group says it could find just one case of a court siding with neighbors who claimed wind turbines had made them ill. That one ruling out of 49 is being appealed in Massachusetts.

“These claims about wind turbines causing health impacts are not being upheld, which means there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that wind turbines cause any problems with human health,” said Gabe Elsner, the nonprofit’s executive director. “That’s a big deal, because claims about that are used across the globe by anti-wind advocates to try to slow the development of wind farms.”

The 49 legal rulings identified by the institute came out of environmental, utility, civil, and higher courts since the late 1990s in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.K.

Elsner said the study began, in part, to provide wind developers’ attorneys with ideas and legal precedents to help them defend projects in court. “These claims about health impacts kept coming,” he said.

Of the eight American cases, the one instance where neighbors succeeded in hobbling wind turbine operations was in the Cape Cod town of Falmouth, Mass. A government board sided last year with neighbors, including a Vietnam War veteran recovering from PTSD, who said they were sickened by a pair of town-owned wind turbines. The turbines were installed in 2010 to power a wastewater treatment plant and to sell excess electricity onto the local utility’s grid.

Credit: Energy and Policy Institute.

The turbine blades are being locked down every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and all day on Sundays and some holidays, while the town appeals the ruling in superior court. “We borrowed money to pay for these things, and we need that money to pay the bonds,” Town Counsel Frank Duffy said.

The Energy and Policy Institute and others trace claims of far-reaching health problems associated with wind turbines to 2009, when an American pediatrician published a book that popularized the phrase “wind turbine syndrome.” But scientists who have examined the claimed links between wind turbines and health problems have almost universally rejected them.

“Of course wind turbines make noise, and we all know that noise can be annoying,” said Melissa Whitfield Aslund, a scientist at the Canadian consulting firm Intrinsik, whose clients include wind energy developers. “Once sited properly, where you have appropriate noise regulations in place, and where people aren’t being exposed to excessive amounts of noise, there’s no direct evidence of adverse effects on human health.”

Whitfield Aslund collaborated with six Intrinsik colleagues to review nearly 60 studies dealing with the the health effects of wind turbines. The review, which was published in June in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, includes recommendations for protecting neighbors from the noise impacts of wind turbines, such as considering local conditions affecting how far sound travels when siting wind turbines -- not just measuring the distances to the nearest home. The report says the nocebo effect, in which a patient can be convinced that something benign is making them sick, could be responsible for many of the health complaints associated with wind turbines. So, too, the scientists wrote, could be the annoyance and worries that some people experience when unwanted turbines go up in their neighborhoods. Such emotions in general have been linked by medical researchers to symptoms that resemble those of wind turbine syndrome.

“There’s really nothing else about wind turbines that’s unique to wind turbines that would be expected to cause any adverse health impacts,” Whitfield Aslund said.

But try telling that to the 19 Lake Winds Energy Park neighbors in Michigan's Mason County who are suing over what they say are reduced properties' values and pain and suffering. Headaches, ringing in the ears, dizziness, stress, "extreme fatigue," nausea, and a "diminished ability to concentrate" are among the ailments they claim to be suffering because of the constant gyrations of the 56 turbines. Their attorney, Craig Horn, who worked on a similar case in the past, is largely focused on complaints of sleeplesness and headaches.

"The further you get away from sleep disturbance and headaches, the more difficult it is to find sound science to back those up," Horn said. "I’ve had now 40 indivduals that I've represented, and their lives are markedly different than they were pre-wind farm. It's not like they're suffering from cancer or anything — they're not going to die from it. It primarily can be tied back to sleep distrurbance, and they have a greater incidence of headaches."

You May Also Like
Hot and Getting Hotter: Heat Islands Cooking U.S. Cities
Here’s How Arctic Sea Ice Could Shrink Even More
July Checks In as 4th Warmest on Record Worldwide
Bike Sharing: How Climate Friendly Is It?  
Picture This: Twin Waterspouts and Amazing Aurora
Planet is Running a Temp: State of the Climate 'Check-Up' 

Comments

By David Smith (UK)
on August 20th, 2014

The graph would be much easier to read if you chose some more contrasting colours.

Reply to this comment

By Don (Palm Springs, CA 92264)
on August 20th, 2014

Knowing a bit about wind turbines, negative health issues have a convenient scapegoat.  These are pieces of art and should be appreciated for something simple and elegant that has gentle motion and benefiting all of us.  I appreciate this art more every month as I deposit my wind-energy check.

Reply to this comment

By Marie Jane (Quincy MA 02171)
on August 22nd, 2014

Don as an authority on the art of the industrial wind turbine, can you enumerate more clearly, the benefits of the industrial wind turbine to all; not the promised benefits, but the actual benefits.  And, if you are getting a wind
energy check in the mail or by whatever means, are you/your land in a contract with a wind developer and would
you share the details of that contract and how close is the nearest industrial wind turbine to your home, the place
you reside, where you live?  Thank you.

Reply to this comment

By Mathme (68508)
on August 20th, 2014

It sounds like these windmills are causing a massive outbreak of placebola!

Reply to this comment

By GA (Las Vegas )
on August 30th, 2014

Yea, and NIMBYism.

Reply to this comment

By core_control
on August 20th, 2014

that’s like saying all the noise in the ocean has no effect on the things living in it.

Reply to this comment

By Hanna (10004)
on August 21st, 2014

I’m sure there are an endless number of other factors that bring on those symptoms. For example: high yeast diet, unbalanced ph, aspartame, fluoride in drinking water, plastic, aluminum in air etc. how could anyone pin point the perp?

Reply to this comment

By Darryl
on August 21st, 2014

I think they can pinpoint it. Since the afflictions mark ably increased after the windmills were placed.  I find the remedy to the law suits is not place the windmills near houses.

Reply to this comment

By robert christ (T or C, NM 89701)
on August 21st, 2014

Suspect many cases people probably have CFS like illness and putting it off on the windmills. (others just want to give people a hard time)  I got a death threat from a Woman who accused me of contaminating her property with mold.  Every bit as ridiculous as the allegations about the windmills.  I suspect many genuinely believe it and you’ll never get them to change their minds. Problem is when you suffer from chronic illness your constantly looking for what’s driving the symptoms.  Simply because somebody is mistaken about what’s driving there symptoms doesn’t mean their not physically ill.  What would be extraordinary is if somebody was physically ill and wasn’t interested in trying to identify the cause. I know I’ve had CFS for 17 years fooled myself many times. Narrowed it down to what I strongly suspect is mold exposure and bacterial overgrowth in GI tract. But always know I could be wrong. Doesn’t mean the condition is psychological. Very difficult suffering from a medical condition that isn’t recognized by main stream medicine.  A lot of these types of suits would go away if medical dr’s lobbied for the research to try to get to the bottom of what’s causing this illness.  It (CFS)  affects 1 to 4 million people according to CDC.

Reply to this comment

By Geoff McPherson (Cairns Australia 4868)
on August 21st, 2014

If refer to “Once sited properly, where you have appropriate noise regulations in place, and where people aren’t being exposed to excessive amounts of noise, there’s no direct evidence of adverse effects on human health.”

Thank you for so clearly confirming that people around the world unfortunate enough to be close enough to industrial wind turbines suddenly erected in non industrial settings no matter what they said about it do experience problems that are in fact adverse effects on human health.  The noise that so many people complain about may even make them ‘sick to death of the turbines’ to coin a phrase that is acceptable to most people.

The challenge is to find what distance from an industrial turbine in a non industrial area is relevant to a % of the population that are predisposed to the pressure imbalance issues, call them sea sickness symptoms for want of a term if the sickness has to be pigeonholed.  Look up sea sickness and you will find it a debilitating sickness. 

Having a nearby subwoofer never stop throughout a night or whenever the wind blows a certain way is cause for a regulatory response for medial reasons. So why when the thumping noise is generated by industrial wind turbines sited in rural settings is the noise not suddenly capable of causing problems.  Could it be that the turbine company just wants it to be so in order to maximise profits by jamming their industrial machines as close as possible to unwilling residents.so the wind industry can maximise their financial earning capacity.

The journal has international in its name and the problems are international no matter what the native language spoken.

Reply to this comment

By Ferd
on August 21st, 2014

Well, then, ethical wind developers should have no problem allocating a construction reserve to buy out those who don’t want to put up with a nearby windfarm, since your one-sided studies also show no decrease in RE value as well. Piece of cake, offer to buy folks out at fair value, then resell to deaf or blind people.

Each to their own, and for many, that doesn’t include living near these things, and their reasons are to be respected, since you sure ain’t moving next to one to prove your point.

Reply to this comment

By Ryan (Des Moines, IA 50325)
on August 21st, 2014

The audacity of people astounds me. No, lets stop all progress on clean energy because the “sound” hurts your “ears”. People will b***h about anything.

Reply to this comment

By Marie Jane (Quincy, MA 02171)
on August 22nd, 2014

Iowa the wind capitol of the country!  Tornedo Alley, the perfect host for the industrial wind turbine.  These industrial wind machines are going in places where there is insufficient wind, where the tallest allowed structures are not remotely close to the 500 feet/50+-story industrial wind turbine height. It is an archaic technology at best, it is ineffective, costly and hazardous to ones health. No audacity, but they really are not appropriate in either rural residential or suburban residential neighborhoods. Massachusetts is the 3rd or 4th most heavily populated state in the country (depending on resource).  Iowa????

Reply to this comment

By bill chastain (30707)
on August 21st, 2014

Sounds like the underhanded work of the Koch brothers.  America would be a much better place without these greedy men.

Reply to this comment

By Ash Fisher (RENO)
on August 21st, 2014

Change is the only constant.  These changes are giving our children a chance for a clean earth.  This inability to adapt, communicate, and extinguish the mode of arrogant ignorance will kill us all.  The boomers are almost gone!!!!  I will be fighting for renewable energy the rest of my life.  Hey; my neighbor just got a new paint job on his muscle car.  It’s giving me a headache; not to mention the noise in his fast-paced godless life.  I think I need to sue the paint company for blowing allowing his differences in lifestyle to be right next door to me!!!?!$%#&*

Reply to this comment

By Amory B. Lovins (Snowmass/CO/81654)
on August 21st, 2014

Complaints of “wind turbine syndrome” seem to be highly correlated with anti-windpower campaigns claiming this effect.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/mar/15/windfarm-sickness-spread-word-australia
http://www.surespanwind.com/wind-turbine-health-problems-figment-imagination/
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21628850.200-the-sickening-truth-about-wind-farm-syndrome.html#.U_Yp6ii9NvQ
http://www.noiseandhealth.org/article.asp?issn=1463-1741;year=2014;volume=16;issue=69;spage=116;epage=122;aulast=Rubin

Reply to this comment

By Richard Lester (Melbourne Australia )
on August 22nd, 2014

...and possibly an inverse correlation among those who live near by by derive income from the turbines

Reply to this comment

By Jordan
on August 21st, 2014

While the ailments listed by those affected by the wind turbines are of the sort that are difficult to empirically test, one should be aware of what effects infrasound has on the human body (vertigo, dizziness, nausea, uneasiness, fatigue). Wind turbines produce large amounts of energy in the infrasound spectrum (20Hz and lower) and are thus very likely to be contributing to the troubles these people describe. Setback regulations are useless in this sense because of the ability for infrasound to travel for miles over unimpeded land. Thus, it is further disheartening that an entire non-profit exists solely to equip defense lawyers for the energy industry in order for them to continue to profit handsomely from tax breaks and government subsidies. Most climate supporters have nothing good to say about the energy industry (coal and oil) yet in this case they are complacent. Wind companies are not saints.

Reply to this comment

By vm
on August 21st, 2014

hey, renewable energy isnt 100% problem free. There are real problems like unstable power generation and if your grid is like say japan or hawaii with no neighbors you can’t import or export electricity. But imaginary problems like this? No way, if you want to accept or deny any power source you gotta base it on science

Reply to this comment

By Barry (Bangkok, Thailand)
on August 21st, 2014

Where are all the lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry for all of the ill health it has caused?

Reply to this comment

By Annette Smith (Danby, Vermont 05739)
on August 22nd, 2014

Learn about impacts to wildlife by reading the booklet on this site and also watch the roundtable discussions among Vermont scientists and experts http://peakkeepers.org/voices-for-the-peaks/

Reply to this comment

By Dave (Beresford, SD 57004)
on August 22nd, 2014

All I can say is WOW!  I could write a book to comment on the comments.  First, please be informed and find out the entire story, there is always two sides to the story.  Much of the problem with this story is it has been one side paying and looking at wind energy.  Don’t forget, asbestos, cigarettes, etc.  These were all great things, what if we would have slowed down and looked a little closer before we caused all the problems?  One fact remains, whether it is medical or psychological, before the industrial wind farms were built the people were fine, after, they had problems.  Nothing else has changed, so please don’t be so close minded as to not understand that fact.  Dairy production goes down after the wind turbines start moving, is that just in the cow’s head’s?  There is so much we don’t know about this subject and much of what we do know is one sided, look at the scientists that are doing the research, they are working for wind companies.  I think most would agree that anything that is published is going to be in favor of the wind energy companies. 
The Koch brothers may be greedy, but don’t forget about the wind developers, companies, and landowners, they are too!
How clean is wind energy?  Do you believe it is just the wind?  Did you realize that there is a very limited mineral that they use in the turbines?  Did you know that it is only mined in a few places around the world?  Do you know how they are mining it?  It is strip mined and left after they are done with it and it is radioactive.  Is that clean enough for you?  Do you know how much petroleum products are needed to manufacture and run a turbine?  I can go on about this but please find out yourself and do the research.
Wind energy itself is very inefficient and can’t be stored.  Wind energy is more expensive on the wholesale market per KWH than what I pay for my electricity right now.  Take a look at European countries that have invested heavily into wind energy.  Germany if finding out that it is not sustainable.  The cost is so high, even with government supsidies they can’t afford it.  It isn’t just about energy cost in the home, the increased cost to companies is making it impossible for them to compete.  The cost of producing a product, due to the high cost on wind energy, is making them unable to compete against their competitors.
Real estate values.  I live in a rural community and I can see 30-40 farmsites all around me in the distance.  It is quite and peaceful.  Do you think someone will pay the same amount for my property if I can see 100’s on wind turbines?  I think reality will kick in and most will say no.  There are some good studies out there, just look at the study and find out what it is looking at, etc.  One that is sited recently from Berkley looked at property values around wind farm sites in multiple states.  The catch is it went 10 miles out and only looked at property that sold, not what didn’t sell.  The farther you go out, the less change that will be realized.  I would rather look at a study that was done within 1-2 miles of the footprint of an industrial wind farm and find out what is truely happening to the property values.  In addition you must look at the property that was up for sale and didn’t sell.  I can tell you there are many studies that will show a decreased property value anywhere from 10-60% to being non-sellable.
I will get off my soapbox and just say, please do all the research and find out the whole story!

Reply to this comment

By Paula Marshall (37148)
on August 23rd, 2014

Interesting. The only symptoms people get from windmills and smart meters are symptoms that are also psychosomatic. Coincidence much?

Reply to this comment

By Geoff McPherson (Cairns Australia 4868)
on August 26th, 2014

That assumption bears no bearing to reality, spin doctoring certainly.

A review of impact of wind turbines on health in Australia (that deliberately avoided including search words that one would regard as health impacts) was roundly criticised and often quoted as saying there was no link between industrial turbines and health.  What the review clearly said was there was insufficient evidence for clear links NOT no evidence.  This was not surprising given the Uni involved and where they obtained their funding for survival.  The review COULD NOT find evidence for any any psychosomatic issues with wind turbine noise impact that is often flippantly flung around by wind industry, called wind weasels in Australia.
Access to engineering, acoustic, noise and health, medical science journals clearly indicates that impacts of turbines on human hearing/balance/health are real but they are not given the airplay they should.  Yet if the same low sound frequencies and through ground vibrations are generated from any other source they are accepted as being a problem. Now that is science data twisting at its worst.

The wind turbine industry $$ we all pay for in taxes, no matter what country we live in,  are directing our taxes toward a last ditch survival stand for their turbines to be packed as close to homes as possible.  In most counties people complain that all these funds are being paid to foreign countries irrespective of where we live.

Speaking about wind turbine impact on health is not an expression of discontent with the concept of renewable energy.  Its about being had and not liking it.

Reply to this comment

By Reda Paley (Hardwick, VT 05843)
on August 30th, 2014

From the Conclusion of Erickson v. Director, Ministry of the Environment, one of the cases cited as rejecting wind turbine health impacts:

‘While the Appellants were not successful in their appeals, the Tribunal notes that their involvement and that of the Respondents, has served to advance the state of the debate about wind turbines and human health. This case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents. The debate has now evolved to one of degree. The question that should be asked is: What protections, such as permissible noise levels or setback distances, are appropriate to protect human health? … Just because the Appellants have not succeeded in their appeals, that is no excuse to close the book on further research. On the contrary, further research should help resolve some of the significant questions that the Appellants have raised.’

Reply to this comment

Name (required):
Email (required):
City/State/Zip:
Enter the word "climate" in the box below:

[+] View our comment guidelines.

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until reviewed by Climate Central staff. Thank you for your patience.