Abstract: People who live near wind turbines complain of symptoms that include some combination of the following: difficulty sleeping, fatigue, depression, irritability, aggressiveness, cognitive dysfunction, chest pain/pressure, headaches, joint pain, skin irritations, nausea, dizziness, tinnitus, and stress. These symptoms have been attributed to the pressure (sound) waves that wind turbines generate in the form of noise and infrasound. However, wind turbines also generate electromagnetic waves in the form of poor power quality (dirty electricity) and ground current, and these can adversely affect those who are electrically hypersensitive. Indeed, the mentioned symptoms are consistent with electrohypersensitivity. Sensitivity to both sound and electromagnetic waves differs among individuals and may explain why not everyone in the same home experiences similar effects. Ways to mitigate the adverse health effects of wind turbines are presented.
Tags: Wind Turbine, Dirty Electricity, Power Quality, Power Line Filters, Stray Voltage Isolators, Transients, Harmonic Distortions, Ground Current, Contact Current, Electrohypersensitivity, Noise, Infrasound, Vibroacoustic Disease, Wind Turbine Syndrome, Sound Waves, Pressure Waves, Difficulty Sleeping, Fatigue, Depression, Mood Disorders, Irritability, Aggressiveness, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Cognitive Dysfunction, Chest Pain, Headaches, Joint Pain, Nausea, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Stress, Electromagnetic Waves, Resonance Frequency
Wind Turbines Make Waves: Why Some Residents Near Wind Turbines Become Ill
Bulletin of Science Technology & Society published online 30 September 2011 DOI: 10.1177/0270467611417852
The online version of this article can be found at: http://bst.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/08/24/0270467611417852
Magda Havas 1 and David Colling 2
1 Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
2 Bio-Ag Consultants and Distributors, Inc., Wellesley, Ontario, Canada
Magda Havas, Trent University, Environmental and Resource Studies, 1600 West Bank Drive, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada K9J 7B8 Email: [email protected]
With growing concern about climate change, the carbon budget, depletion of fossil fuels, air pollution from dirty coal, radiation from nuclear power plants, and the need for a secure energy supply, more attention and funding are being diverted to renewable energy. Among the various types of renewable energy, wind has received a lot of attention due, in part, to opposition from communities earmarked for wind turbines and from communities that have experienced wind turbines firsthand.
Some people who live near wind turbines report difficulty sleeping and various symptoms of ill health and attribute these problems to noise and shadow flicker—two elements they can perceive. Indeed the U.S. National Research Council (Risser et al., 2007) identify noise and shadow flicker as the two key impacts of wind turbines on human health and well-being.
Not all health agencies, however, recognize that sound waves from wind turbines may cause adverse health effects. Following a review of the literature, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario (2010), concluded,
"that while some people living near wind turbines report symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and sleep disturbance, the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects. The sound level from wind turbines at common residential setbacks is not sufficient to cause hearing impairment or other direct health effects, although some people may find it annoying.
"Low frequency sound and infrasound from current generation upwind model turbines are well below the pressure sound levels at which known health effects occur. Further, there is no scientific evidence to date that vibration from low frequency wind turbine noise causes adverse health effects."
What specifically is responsible for the illness reported near wind turbines is controversial; while some of this controversy is scientifically valid, some of it is politically motivated (Phillips, 2010).
It is intriguing that not everyone in the same home experiences symptoms, and the symptoms are not necessarily worse for those nearest the turbines. Indeed, the situation may be much more complex than noise and shadow flicker.
Why do some people who live near wind turbines become sick while others feel no ill effects? What aspects of wind power generation and distribution are responsible for the health problems? What can be done to minimize adverse human biological and health effects? These are some of the questions addressed in this report.
Wind Turbines Make Waves
What aspects of wind power generation and distribution are responsible for the adverse health effects experienced by those who live near wind turbines?
The short answer to this question is that wind turbines make waves. They make pressure waves and electromagnetic waves. The pressure waves (or sound waves) generated by the moving turbines can be heard as noise and/or perceived as infrasound. The electromagnetic waves are generated by the conversion of wind energy to electricity. This conversion produces high-frequency transients and harmonics that result in poor power quality. These high frequencies can flow along the wires (dirty electricity) and along the ground, thereby causing ground current. These four types of waves—noise, infrasound, dirty electricity, and ground current—and shadow flicker are each likely to contribute to ill health among those who live near wind turbines.
Characteristics of Sound Waves and Electromagnetic Waves
Sound waves are longitudinal waves that require a medium for transport. They travel at the speed of sound (340 meters/second) through air and are much slower than electromagnetic waves that travel at the speed of light (300,000,000 meters/second) and can travel through a vacuum. Both sound waves and electromagnetic waves have a frequency (cycles per second) and an intensity (amplitude of the wave).
Frequency refers to the number of waves or cycles per second and is known as pitch for sound. The A above middle C, for example, is set to a frequency of 440 cycles per second (hertz, abbreviated as Hz). The audible range for the human ear is between 20 and 20,000 Hz. Frequencies below 20 Hz are referred to as “infrasound,” and, although they cannot be heard, they can still have an effect on the body. Infrasound can travel much greater distances than higher frequency sound waves and could potentially reach and affect a much larger population.
The frequencies of electromagnetic waves generated by wind turbines, fall within two ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum: extremely low frequency (ELF), below 1,000 Hz; and the lower range (kilohertz [kHz] to megahertz [MHz]) of the radio frequency radiation (RFR) band. Electromagnetic waves can enter homes by various paths: through the air, along wires, through the ground, and via plumbing and other metal structures. Electromagnetic waves travelling across the ground contribute to ground current.
Intensity is measured by the amplitude of the wave and, for sound, is measured in decibels (dB). Vibrations with the same frequency but different amplitude will sound the same, but one will be louder than the other. The decibel scale is logarithmic. A quiet bedroom is at 25 dB, conversation is around 60 dB, a rock group is at 110 dB, and the human threshold of pain is at 140 dB.
The intensity of electromagnetic waves is measured in various ways: electric field, magnetic field, voltage, current, and power density. The biological effects of electromagnetic energy are a function of frequency, intensity, and both the manner and the duration of exposure.
Pressure Waves: Noise
Most people who live near wind turbines and complain of ill effects blame the effects on the noise generated by the turbines (Frey & Hadden, 2007).
"Everything changed... when the wind turbines arrived... approximately 700 metres away from our property... Within days of the windfarm coming into operation we began to hear a terrible noise... The noise drove us mad. Gave us headaches. Kept us awake at night. Prevented us from having windows and doors open in hot weather, and was extremely disturbing.
"This noise is like a washing machine that’s gone wrong. It’s whooshing, drumming, constant drumming, noise. It is agitating. It is frustrating. It is annoying. It wears you down. You can’t sleep at night and you can’t concentrate during the day... It just goes on and on... It’s torture... [4 years later] You just don’t get a full night’s sleep and when you drop off it is always disturbed and only like “cat napping.” You then get up, tired, agitated and depressed and it makes you short-tempered... Our lives are hell."
The French National Academy of Medicine (Chouard, 2006) issued a report that concludes,
"People living near the towers, the heights of which vary from 10 to 100 meters, sometimes complain of functional disturbances similar to those observed in syndromes of chronic sound trauma...
"The sounds emitted by the blades being low frequency, which therefore travel easily and vary according to the wind... constitute a permanent risk for the people exposed to them...
... sound levels 1 km from an installation occasionally exceeded allowable limits.
... the Academy recommends halting wind turbine construction closer than 1.5 km from residences." (Translated from French)
Noise, especially at night, has been associated with an increase in stress hormones leading to hypertension, stroke, heart failure, and immune problems. It is discussed in greater detail elsewhere in this journal.
Pressure Waves: Infrasound
Repetitive noise can be disturbing, especially at night, when sound seems amplified. However, pressure waves at levels outside the range of human hearing can also have unpleasant side effects.
In Nova Scotia, one family was unable to remain in their home and blamed their loss of sleep and headaches on vibrations from 17 turbines (Keller, 2006).
"The d’Entremont family complained of noise and low frequency vibrations in their house after the wind turbines began operation in May 2005. The inaudible noise deprived his family of sleep, gave his children and wife headaches, and “made it impossible for them to concentrate.” They now live nearby; if they return to their home, the symptoms return.
Natural Resources Canada, which oversees funding for wind farm projects, found no problems with low-frequency noise or infrasound. The government report concludes that the measurements:
"indicate sound at infrasonic frequencies below typical thresholds of perception; infrasound is not an issue." (cited in Frey & Hadden, 2007)
Gordon Whitehead, a retired audiologist with 20 years of experience at Dalhousie University in Halifax, conducted tests and found similar results but came up with a different conclusion:
"They’re [Natural Resources Canada] viewing it from the standpoint of an engineer; I’m viewing it from the standpoint of an audiologist who works with ears... The report should read that (the sound) is well below the auditory threshold for perception. In other words, it’s quiet enough that people would not be able to hear it. But that doesn’t mean that people would not be able to perceive it.
“... low-frequency noise can affect the balance system of the ear, leading to a range of symptoms including nausea, dizziness and vision problems. It’s not perceptible to the ear but it is perceptible. It’s perceptible to people with very sensitive balance mechanisms and that’s generally people who get very easily seasick."
Resonance may explain why infrasound is harmful at low intensities. Different parts of the human body have different resonance frequencies. When the external frequency generated by a wind turbine approaches the resonance frequency of a part of the human body, that body part will preferentially absorb the energy and begin to vibrate. For example, frequencies that affect the inner ear (between 0.5 and 10 Hz) can interfere with balance, cause dizziness or vertigo, contribute to nausea, and be experienced as tinnitus or ringing in the ears. According to the International Standards Organization (ISO Standards 2631), frequencies for the eye are between 20 and 90 Hz, head 20 and 30 Hz, chest wall 50 and 100 Hz, abdomen 4 and 8 Hz, and spinal column 10 and 12 Hz. Some of the symptoms documented at infrasonic frequencies (between 4 and 20 Hz) include general feeling of discomfort, problems with breathing, abdominal and chest pain, urge to urinate, lump in throat, effect on speech, and head symptoms (Frey & Hadden, 2007).
According to a report by the U.S. Air Force, Institute for National Security Studies, acoustic infrasound can have dramatic and serious effects on human physiology (Bunker, 1997).
"Acoustic, infrasound: very low frequency sound which can travel long distances and easily penetrate most buildings and vehicles. Transmission of long wavelength sound creates biophysical effects, nausea, loss of bowels, disorientation, vomiting, potential organ damage or death may occur. Superior to ultrasound because it is “inband,” meaning it does not lose its properties when it changes mediums such as air to tissue. By 1972 an infrasound generator had been built in France, which generated waves at 7Hz. When activated it made the people in range sick for hours."
In a paper known as “The Darmstadt Manifesto,” published in September 1998 by the German Academic Initiative Group and endorsed by more than 100 university professors in Germany, the German experience with wind turbines is described as follows (cited in Frey & Hadden, 2007):
"More and more people are describing their lives as unbearable when they are directly exposed to the acoustic and optical effects of wind farms. There are reports of people being signed off sick and unfit for work, there is a growing number of complaints about symptoms such as pulse irregularities and states of anxiety, which are known to be from the effects of infrasound [sound frequencies below the normal audible limit]."
Infrasound is influenced by topography, distance, and wind direction (Rogers, Manwell, & Wright, 2006) and differs from home to home and room to room because each room is a distinct cavity with its own resonant frequency. Whether a door is open or closed can alter the effect.
The biological effects of low-frequency noise (20-100 Hz) and infrasound (less than 20 Hz) are a function of intensity, frequency, duration of exposure, and direction of the vibration.
Wind Turbine Syndrome and Vibroacoustic Disease
Exposure to low-frequency noise and infrasound may produce a set of symptoms that include depression, irritability, aggressiveness, cognitive dysfunction, sleep disorder, fatigue, chest pain/pressure, headaches, joint pain, nausea, dizziness, vertigo, tinnitus, stress, heart palpitations, and other symptoms. Not everyone has the same sensitivity. Those who experience motion sickness (car, boat, plane), get dizzy or nauseous on carnival rides, have migraine headaches, or have eye or ear problems may be particularly susceptible to low-frequency vibrations.
Two different “diseases” have been associated with low-frequency noise exposure and infrasound. They are wind turbine syndrome—coined by Pierpont (2009) in her book by the same name—and vibroacoustic disease (VAD). VAD is a whole-body, systemic pathology characterized by the abnormal proliferation of extracellular matrices and caused by excessive exposure to low-frequency noise (Castelo Branco & Alves-Pereira, 2004). These two “diseases” differ as described by Pierpont (2009).
"Wind Turbine Syndrome, I propose, is mediated by the vestibular system—by disturbed sensory input to eyes, inner 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.
Vibroacoustic Disease, on the other hand, is hypothesized to be caused by direct tissue damage to a variety of organs, creating thickening of supporting structures and other pathological changes. The suspected agent is high amplitude (high power or intensity) low frequency noise. (p. 13)"
VAD seems to be dose dependent, with symptoms becoming progressively worse with continued exposure. Three stages have been identified based on 70 aircraft technicians who, presumably, were exposed to much higher intensities of low-frequency noise than those who live near wind turbines (Castelo Branco, 1999, Castelo Branco & Alves-Pereira, 2004).
Stage 1: Mild, 1 to 4 years, slight mood swings, indigestion, heartburn, mouth/throat infections, bronchitis
Stage 2: Moderate, 4 to 10 years, depression, aggressiveness, pericardial thickening, light to moderate hearing impairment, chest pain, definite mood swings, back pain, fatigue, skin infections (fungal, viral, parasitic), inflammation of stomach lining, pain during urination, blood in urine, conjunctivitis, allergies
Stage 3: Severe, more than 10 years, myocardial infarction, stroke, malignancy, epilepsy, psychiatric disturbances, hemorrhages (nasal, digestive, conjunctive mucosa), varicose veins, hemorrhoids, duodenal ulcers, colitis, decrease in visual acuity, headaches, severe joint pain, intense muscular pain, neurological disturbances
Whatever name is given to the symptoms, the symptoms are real and can be caused by low-frequency sound waves and infrasound.
One undesirable consequence of wind-generated electricity is poor power quality due to variable weather conditions, mechanical construction of the towers, and the electronic equipment used (Lobos, Rezmer, Sikorski, & Waclawek, 2008). Electricity in North America has a frequency of 60 Hz and is a sine wave when viewed on an oscilloscope (Figure 1). When a wind turbine generates electricity, the frequency must be converted to 60 Hz by power converters; that conversion generates a large spectrum of current and voltage oscillations leading to poor power quality (Lobos et al., 2008). Wind turbines can generate a wide range of frequencies—from less than 1 Hz (Lobos et al., 2008), with the majority of the frequencies in the kHz range associated with power conversion.
Figure 1. Good power quality exemplified by the 60-Hz sine wave
High-frequency transient spikes that contribute to poor power quality, also known as dirty electricity, can flow along wires, damage sensitive electronic equipment, and adversely affect human and animal health.
After wind turbines were activated in Ripley, Ontario, several of the residents complained of ill health. Residents suffered from headaches, poor sleep, elevated blood pressure (requiring medication), heart palpitations, itching, ringing and pain in the ears, watering eyes, and pressure on the chest causing difficulty breathing. These symptoms disappear when the residents leave the area. Some residents were forced to move out of their homes because the symptoms were so severe. Locals complain of headaches and poor radio reception when they drive near these power lines.
One of the authors (DC) measured the power quality near several residences where people were unwell. The primary neutral-to-earth voltage (PNEV) is the electrical potential difference between the earth and the neutral wire on the primary distribution line, as shown in Figure 2. Measurements taken before wind turbines were installed and after they were installed and operating (Figure 3) clearly show the distortion (spikes on the waveform) generated by the wind turbines.
Figure 2. Diagram demonstrating how primary neutral-to-earth voltage (PNEV) and ground voltage measurements are taken
Figure 3. Primary neutral-to-earth voltage (PNEV) at Residence No. 3 in Ripley, Ontario, before wind turbines were installed (July 2, 2007) and when five wind turbines were operating (May 9, 2008) Note. Collection line was not buried.
In this area, wind turbines are variable speed and are interconnected. The collection lines connecting the wind turbines to the substation are attached to the same utility pole as the home owners’ lines.
According to one of the authors (DC; September 30, 2008),
"We had four families move out of their homes and now if I spend too much time in these homes I get the same symptoms, which is ear aches, ringing in the ears and pressure in the ears. [name removed] eventually buried a portion of the line but have only isolated the lines by insulators so it is better, however there is still some high frequency coming into the houses. The three families that now have buried lines are back in their homes, but things are far from ideal."
Dirty electricity in the kHz range affects human health; this has been shown in schools and homes in both Canada and the United States. Power quality can be improved both on electrical wires by using power line filters (Ontario Hydro, 1998) and inside buildings by using special surge suppressors or power filters that dampen the voltage spikes (http://www.stetzerelectric.com).
In one Wisconsin School that had “sick building syndrome,” once power quality was improved, the health of both teachers’ and students’ improved. According to the school nurse, both staff and students have more energy, fewer allergies, and fewer migraine headaches, and asthmatics rely less on their inhalers (Havas, 2006a).
In a Toronto School, improvements in power quality were accompanied by improvements in teachers’ health and students’ behavior. Teachers were less tired, less frustrated, less irritable; they had better health and more energy; they had a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment; they were more focused and experienced less pain. Students’ behavior also improved especially in the elementary grades (Havas, Illiatovitch, & Proctor, 2004). Similar results were reported in a placebo-blinded study in three Minnesota schools (Havas & Olstad, 2008).
Dirty electricity has been associated with increased risk of various types of cancers among teachers in a California school (Milham & Morgan, 2008), with higher blood sugar levels among diabetics, and with exacerbation of tremors and difficulty walking among those with multiple sclerosis (Havas, 2006b). People who are adversely affected by dirty electricity are classified as electrically hypersensitive.
Just as dirty electricity can flow along wires, it can also flow along the ground resulting in ground current. Ground current (often measured as voltage and called stray voltage or tingle voltage) is a serious problem in certain locations and has been shown to adversely affect the health of farm families and the health and productivity of farm animals, especially dairy cattle.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (2007) provides information on symptoms experienced by farm animals, pets, and people who are exposed to tingle voltage as follows:
"Farmers and their families who suffer from immune disorders such as allergies or rheumatoid arthritis find their symptoms worsen or go into remission in close coordination with livestock symptoms. Periods of fatigue increase. Sleep disorders may increase.
"Cats leave the farm, become ill, cease to bear litters or have small, unhealthy litters, or die; coats are usually dull and shaggy and eyes are runny.
"Horses may paw the ground and shy away from watering or feeding troughs; behaviour and handling becomes more difficult.
"Pigs often take to ear and tail biting; mastitis and baby pig scours are common; piglet mortality may increase.
"Cattle lap water from the trough or bowl; feed in the bottom of the manger is not cleaned up; milk out is slow and uneven; cows are reluctant to enter the milk parlour and quick to leave; slow growth in calves and heifers; somatic cell counts are high; unexplained spontaneous abortions of calves; bulls become markedly more irritable."
According to the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) Handbook (Clapp, 1997),
"When the earth returns were used in some rural areas prior to the 1960’s, they became notorious offenders in dairy areas because circulating currents often cause both step and touch potentials.
"In some cases, they have adversely affected milking operations by shocking the cattle when they were connected to the milking machines, and have affected feeding. (p. 152)"
According to Lefcourt (1991) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture book titled Effects of Electrical Voltage/Current on Farm Animals: How to Detect and Remedy Problems:
"The effect of a transient voltage superimposed on the regular power voltage (dc or ac) is to cause a momentary change in the waveform. When the transient causes the momentary voltage to be greater than normal, it may cause a transient current to flow in an animal. If the transient waveform has sufficient energy (magnitude and duration), there may be an animal response. (p. 63-64)"
Indeed, dirty electricity flowing along the ground may be more harmful to farm animals than the 60-Hz ground current (Hillman et al., 2003):
"Cows were sensitive to harmonic distortions of step-potential voltage, suggesting that utility compliance with IEEE standards on dairy farms may need to be addressed.
Power quality varied greatly from farm to farm and day to day. Milk production responses to changes in power quality varied inversely with the number of transient events recorded with event recorders, oscilloscope, and power quality meters. Harmonics often gave better estimates of electrical effects on milk production than voltage per se. (p. 19)"
Do wind turbines generate ground current? They can if proper safeguards are not taken. Generally, this is a problem with power distribution once the energy leaves the turbine.
Figure 4 shows the waveform of ground voltage near an industrial wind farm in Palm Springs, California (as shown in Figure 5 photographs). The waveform distortion in Figure 3 and 4 are considerable when compared with Figure 1.
Figure 4. Ground voltage measured at the Palm Springs wind farm in California using 50 feet of copper wire attached to two metal rods in the earth. Note. The top graph shows the distorted 60-Hz waveform, and the bottom graph shows the harmonic frequencies. Data courtesy of Dr. Sam Milham.
Figure 5. Wind farm in Palm Springs, California, showing (A) location of ground voltage readings; (B), view of wind turbines from the ground; and (C) view of wind turbines from the air. Note. Photograph A from Dr. Sam Milham. Photographs B and C from Google maps.
Burying the collection line may not eliminate the ground voltage but can improve power quality, as shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6. Primary neutral-to-earth voltage (PNEV) at Residence 1 in Ripley, Ontario, when wind turbines were operating Note. Collection line from wind turbines was buried on September 20, 2008 (bottom graph), but not on April 29, 2008 (top graph).
Just as animals are adversely affected by dirty ground current, so are people. If ground current enters a home via the plumbing, touching any part of the plumbing (e.g., faucet) induces a current in the body, known as contact current.
In one Ripley home, the frequency fingerprint (relative intensities of various frequencies) on the plumbing (sink to floor measurement) was similar to the PNEV, indicating that the source of the ground voltage was the wind turbines’ collection line (Figure 7). In this home, the sink to floor contact current was calculated to be 400 microamperes (peak to peak based on 200 millivolts and 500 ohms), and this value is 22 times higher than levels associated with cancer according to Kavet, Zaffanella, Daigle, and Ebi (2000).
Figure 7. The primary neutral-to-earth voltage (PNEV) and the sink-to-floor voltage for Residence 1 in Ripley, Ontario (top graph), and the harmonic figure print for these voltages (bottom graph).
“The absolute (as well as modest) level of contact current modeled (18 micro Amps) produces average electric fields in tissue along its path that exceed 1 mV/m. At and above this level, the NIEHS Working Group  accepts that biological effects relevant to cancer have been reported in “numerous well-programmed studies.” (p. 547)
Wertheimer, Savitz, and Leeper (1995) documented the link between ground current and cancer in Denver, Colorado. They found that leukemia risk increased by 300% among children exposed to elevated magnetic field from ground current that enters the home through conductive plumbing.
Why do some people who live near wind turbines become sick while others feel no ill effects?
Exposure to both pressure waves and electromagnetic waves is highly variable—spatially and temporally—as is sensitivity to these vibrations. Not everyone in the same home is going to have the same exposure or the same sensitivity. People who have balance problems, experience motion sickness, or have ear or eye problems are more likely to react to low-frequency sound vibrations. Those who are electrically hypersensitive are more likely to suffer from dirty electricity and contact current. As a result, people living in the same home may have very different sensitivities and may respond differently to these vibrations.
At the Working Group meeting on EMF Hypersensitivity in Prague, the World Health Organization (2004) described electrosensitivity as,
"a phenomenon where individuals experience adverse health effects while using or being in the vicinity of devices emanating electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
Whatever its cause, EHS is a real and sometimes a debilitating problem for the affected persons, while the level of EMF in their neighborhood is no greater than is encountered in normal living environments. Their exposures are generally several orders of magnitude under the limits in internationally accepted standards."
Symptoms include cognitive dysfunction (memory, concentration, problem solving); fatigue and poor sleep; body aches and headaches; mood disorders (depression, anxiety, irritability, frustration, temper); nausea; problems with balance, dizziness, and vertigo; facial flushing, skin irritations, and skin rashes; chest pressure, rapid heart rate, and altered blood pressure; ringing in the ear (tinnitus); and nosebleeds. A comprehensive list of the symptoms is provided in Table 1.
Table 1. Comprehensive List of Electrohypersensitivity (EHS) Symptoms (Bevington, 2010)
In Sweden, EHS is recognized as a functional impairment (not as a disease). Between 230,000 and 290,000 Swedes (about 3% of the Swedish population) may be electrohypersensitive (Johansson, 2006). The number of people complaining of EHS seems to be increasing as is the medication sold to deal with the symptoms of insomnia, pain, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. By 2017, as many as 50% of the population may experience these symptoms (Hallberg & Oberfeld, 2006).
Some individuals may have a predisposition to EHS. Those who have experienced physical trauma to their nervous system (whiplash), electrical trauma in the form of multiple shocks or several severe shocks, and/or chemical exposure to mercury or pesticides are likely to be more electrically sensitive. Children, the elderly, and those with impaired immune systems are also likely to be more electrically sensitive.
It is not possible to determine which factors are contributing to ill health until appropriate monitoring is conducted and steps are taken to reduce exposure to the offending agents. Monitoring of both electromagnetic waves and pressure waves in homes where people report ill health is highly recommended as are the mitigation techniques mentioned below.
What can be done to minimize adverse biological and health effects for those living near wind turbines?
One obvious step is to eliminate or reduce exposure to the agent(s) causing the illness.
1. To minimize noise and exposure to infrasound, the following steps should be taken:
a. Wind turbines should be placed as far away as possible from residential areas. The French National Academy of Medicine (Chouard, 2006) recommends 1.5 km from residential areas.
b. Buffers can be constructed to disrupt pressure waves and to absorb or deflect sound waves in areas where turbines are closer to homes or where problems have been documented,
2. To improve power quality, the following steps should be taken:
a. The electricity should be “filtered” at all inverters before it leaves the wind turbine. Ontario Hydro (1998) provides information on power line filters and other ways to improve power quality.
b. The collector lines from the wind turbines should be attached to utility poles that do not provide power to homes.c. Power from the substation supplied by the wind turbines should be filtered before it is distributed to customers.d. Wind power electrical substations that require power from an external source (electrical distribution network) must ensure that the power quality of this eternal source is not affected as this can result in power quality problems for customers connected to the same external power source.e. Nearby home owners may need to install power line filters in their homes if levels of dirty electricity remain high.
3. To reduce ground current/voltage, the following steps should be taken:
a A proper neutral system (possibly a five-wire system) should be installed to handle the high-frequency return current in overhead lines (Electric Power Research Institute, 1995).b. Insulators can be placed between the neutral line and the grounding grid for the wind turbine.c. The collection lines from the wind turbine to the substation should be buried if the other techniques to minimize dirty ground current are ineffective.d. Local home owners may need to install stray voltage isolators near their transformers until the electric utility can resolve the problem (Hydro One, 2007). If these steps are taken, improved quality of life and a feeling of wellness may return to some of the people adversely affected by nearby wind turbines.
A subset of the population living near wind turbines is experiencing symptoms of ill health. These symptoms are likely caused by a combination of noise, infrasound, dirty electricity, ground current, and shadow flicker. These frequencies can be highly viable spatially and temporally and are affected by distance; terrain; wind speed and direction; shape, size, and type of dwelling; type of power converters used; state of the electrical distribution line; type and number of grounding systems; and even the type of plumbing in homes. Furthermore, not everyone has the same sensitivity to sound and electromagnetic radiation nor do they have the same symptoms. The following symptoms seem to be quite common: sleeplessness, fatigue, pain, dizziness, nausea, mood disorders, cognitive difficulties, skin irritations, and tinnitus. To help alleviate symptoms in areas where wind turbines have been erected, remediation is necessary to reduce or eliminate both sound waves and electromagnetic waves. More research is required to help us better understand the relative importance of the various factors contributing to poor health. This type of information will enable a healthy coexistence between wind turbines and the people living nearby.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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Magda Havas, PhD, is an associate professor at Trent University where she teaches and conducts research on the biological and health effects of electromagnetic and chemical pollutants. She received her BSc and PhD at the University of Toronto and did postdoctoral research at Cornell University on acid rain and aluminum toxicity.
David Colling has applied his electrical engineering studies at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute and his specialized training in electrical pollution to conduct electrical pollution testing for Bio-Ag on farms, homes, and office buildings. Some of the homes tested are located in the environs of industrial wind turbines.