Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is 'wind turbine syndrome' real?

Posted By on Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 11:22 AM

It's hard to fight wind power. It's clean and futuristic and it doesn't result in things like this or this or this.

But some opponents have argued that the spinning of wind turbine blades close to residential areas can play tricks on residents' minds — and their health. One doctor, in the face of much skepticism, began calling it "wind turbine syndrome," a whirlwind of headaches, dizziness, ear pain and difficulty sleeping.

It's been an especially big topic in states on the East Coast, where wind farms are typically closer to towns than they are in western states. A documentary called "Windfall" came out last year documenting controversies around a wind farm in upstate New York, including health concerns. And when First Wind starting planning for its Palouse Wind Project south of Spokane, one local resident appealed their building permits because of concerns about the wind farm's impact on his health and property value. (He eventually settled and moved away.)

Now, new studies are adding a bit more weight to those claims. A review article published in last month's Journal of Laryngology and Otology concluded that infrasound, like that produced by the spinning of wind turbines, can affect the ears and brain.

Dr. Amir Farboud, one of the review's authors, told NPR he used to doubt the seriousness of such effects.

"The more you look into it," he says, "the more you realize there's some science behind this."

Farboud and others caution against jumping to conclusions, even with new research. The symptoms are still "vague," he says, and more research needs to be done. Other studies, like this one from the University of Sydney, point to wind farms that drew no noise or health complaints until anti-wind-power activism picked up around 2009.

In their conclusion, the authors of that study write that, "health problems arising are 'communicated diseases' with nocebo effects." 

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About The Author

Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...