Health Concerns presented by Dr. Nissenbaum

Research From Mars Hill Wind Project

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Wind turbines, health, ridgelines, and valleys
If industrial wind turbines installed in close proximity to human habitation result in sleep disturbance and stress, then it follows as surely as day follows night that wind turbines will, over the long term, result in these serious health effects and reduced quality of life. The question is, then, do they?
January 26, 2010 by Michael A. Nissenbaum, MD

Mr. Peacock’s letter of January 22, 2010 taking issue with Dr. Stan Shapiro’s piece in the Rutland Medical Center’s Heart Health News is off the mark and contains inaccuracies and misinformation.

It is a medical fact that sleep disturbance and perceived stress result in ill effects, including and especially cardiovascular disease, but also chronic feelings of depression, anger, helplessness, and, in the aggregate, the banishment of happiness and reduced quality of life. Cardiovascular disease, as we all know, leads to reduced life expectancy. Try and get reasonably priced life insurance if you are hypertensive or have suffered a heart attack.

If industrial wind turbines installed in close proximity to human habitation result in sleep disturbance and stress, then it follows as surely as day follows night that wind turbines will, over the long term, result in these serious health effects and reduced quality of life.

The question is, then, do they?

In my own work at Mars Hill, Maine, 22 out of about 33 adults who live within 3500 feet of a ridgeline arrangement of 28 1.5 megawatt wind turbines were evaluated to date, and compared with 28 people of otherwise similar age and occupation living about 3 miles away.

Here is what was found (preliminary work cited here):

82% of study subjects reported new or worsened chronic sleep disturbances, versus 3% in the control group. 36% reported new chronic headaches vs 3% in the control group. 55% reported ‘stress’ versus none in the control group, and 82% persistent anger versus none in the people living 3 miles away. Fully a third of the study subjects had new or worsened depression, with none in the control group. 95% of the study subjects perceived reduced quality of life, versus 0% in the control group. Underlining these findings, there were 25 new prescription medications offered to the study subjects, of which 15 were accepted, compared to 4 new or increased prescriptions in the control group. The prescriptions ranged from antihypertensives and antidepressants to anti migraine medications.

The Mars Hill study will soon be completed and is being prepared for publication. These preliminary findings have been presented to the Chief Medical Officer for Ontario, and will soon be formally presented to Health Canada. They have been presented to the Maine Medical Association, which followed up with a Resolution calling for caution, further study, and appropriate modification of siting regulations, where required.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, and that of other physicians who have reviewed the work, that people living within 3500 feet of a ridgeline arrangement of turbines in a rural environment will suffer negative effects at similar rates.

What is it about northeast USA ridgelines that contribute to these ill effects, and how can they be avoided?

Consider, the Northeast is prone to icing conditions. Icing will increase the sound coming off of turbines by up to 6 dbA. As the icing occurs symmetrically on all blades, imbalance detectors do not kick on, and the blades keep turning, contrary to wind industry claims.

Sound is amplified coming off of ridgelines into valleys. This is because the background noise in rural valleys is low to begin with, increasing the sensitivity to changes, particularly the beating, pulsatile nature of wind turbine noise, and sound sources at elevation do not undergo the same attenuation that occurs from groundcover when noise sources are at ground level. The noise travels farther and hits homes and people at greater amplitude that it would from a lower elevation. Even though this is not rocket science, it was conclusively proven in a NASA funded study in 1990.

Snow pack and ice contribute to increased noise transmission. Vermont valleys have both, I believe.

When pre construction modeling fails to take the pulsatile nature, propensity for icing, and ridgeline elevation into account, as well as a linear as opposed to point source of noise, problems can be expected. What distance is safe? It depends on the terrain, the climate, the size of the project and the turbines themselves. Accurate preconstruction modeling with safe targets in mind is critical. The WHO says that 30dbA is ideal, and noise levels of above 40dbA have definite health consequences. At Mars Hill, where affected homes are present at 3500 feet, sound levels have been measured at over 52.5dbA. The fiasco there has been acknowledged by the local wind energy company, and by a former Maine governor.

Vermont would do well to learn from the affected people in Mars Hill, and heed Dr. Shapiro’s well-informed warnings. Be very careful about accepting at face value the A/CANWEA white paper referred to by Mr. Peacock, which seems an industry-funded exercise in dissembling and selective review. The parallels with the tobacco industry of the 1960’s are striking.

References:

Technical Requirements for Rotor Blades Operating in Cold Climate
H. Seifert,
Deutsches Windenergie-Institut, 2003

Wind Turbine Acoustics
H. H. Hubbard, K.P. Shepard,
NASA Technical Paper 3057, DOE/NASA 20320-77, 1990

Editor’s note: Dr. Nissenbaum piece responds to letters published in Vermont’s Rutland Herald paper.

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