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Toxicology Reflections

Human Health Risk Associated With Wind Turbine Noise

22 Comments

Human Health Risk Associated With Wind Turbine Noise

Wind turbines have the potential to contribute to global electricity generation as a clean, emission-free, and increasingly cost-effective energy solution.  Wind power is positioned to contribute, along with other renewable energy sources, increasingly to a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions while becoming less expensive as technologies improve (Sims et al 2003) Despite this, wind turbines remain controversial due to the perception that they pose a human health risk.  In popular literature, the term “Wind Turbine Syndrome” has been used to describe the perceived suite of health effects associated with wind turbine noise (Knopper and Ollson 2011; Bolin et al 2011) The major issues arise from the wind turbines’ structural features and wind turbine noise (Knopper and Ollson 2011) with the latter largely being the source of public concern. Prolonged exposure to low frequency sound may cause difficulty concentrating, fatigue, sleep disturbance and physiological stress (Bolin et al 2011; Pedersen and Persson Waye 2007).  Popular literature claims more serious symptoms such as cardiovascular disease and epilepsy are associated with wind turbine noise but these effects have not been proven. The potential for health effects has led to the development of minimum setback distances for wind turbines near residential areas.  For example, the Ontario Renewable Energy Approval (REA) Regulation states that “a minimum setback distance of 550 m must exist between the centre of the base of the wind turbine and the nearest noise receptor”.  The 550 m distance was developed through noise modeling under worst-case conditions to give a conservative estimate of the required distance to attain an A-weighted sound level of 40 decibels (Ontario Ministry of the Environment).

 In regards to the construction of wind turbines, these conflicting sources of information have often led to reluctance of local residents. “Not in my backyard” (NIMBY) is a common term cited in the literature in reference to the feelings of people living in areas where wind turbines have been proposed.  In fact, wind turbine noise has been shown to annoy people who can see them more than people who cannot. In addition, people who benefit economically from the wind turbines report less annoyance due to noise than others (Pedersen et al 2009).  Clearly the uncertainty surrounding wind turbine noise is problematic.  This is exacerbated by the fact that large wind turbines for energy production are relatively new technology and few scientific studies of potential long-term adverse health effects exist.

 

Noise with infrasound (1–20 Hz) and low frequency (20–200 Hz) components, such as that associated with wind turbines, may be more disruptive to the health and well-being of humans than sounds with higher frequencies (Bolin et al 2011).  Various studies have shown that loudness and annoyance increases more rapidly with increasing sound pressure for low frequency sounds than those with higher frequencies (Moller and Pedersen 2004, Leventhall 2004).  While low frequency noise or infrasound is emitted by other common sources (vehicular road traffic, air transportation and industry) wind turbine noise has been perceived to be more bothersome, likely due to the “swishing” sound caused by the rotation of the blades, variability (i.e. from wind speed changes) and lack of nighttime abatement (Pedersen et al 2009).  A review by Salt and Hullar 2010 is often cited as proof of adverse effects caused by wind turbine noise.  This paper, which focuses on the effects of infrasound, suggests that infrasound generated by wind turbines has the potential to causes changes to the human inner ear resulting in adverse health effects. Bolin et al 2011 and Knopper and Ollson 2011 both state that the lack of empirical evidence connecting this statement with wind turbine noise experienced at the residential level discredit this finding.  Bolin et al 2011 also argue that despite the existence of two published studies showing potentially damaging levels of infrasound being emitted from wind turbines, these studies were conducted at distances much closer to the turbines than minimum set-back distances.  Thus, noise from these studies could not possibly be at the same level it would be near residential homes.

 

It is difficult to sort out which residents are expressing the NIMBY attitude and which residents are truly sensitive to wind turbine noise such that their health is affected.  Most studies state “annoyance” as the main form of discomfort to people living in the vicinity of wind turbines while evidence for other health effects is lacking, although there has been some correlation between wind turbine noise and sleep disturbance (Bolin et al 2011).  Chronic, long term exposure to something causing stress and sleep disturbance such as wind turbine noise, could potentially lead to cardiovascular problems (Bolin et al 2011).  In addition, there are members of the population who are more sensitive to sound than others, thus the potential for such health effects shouldn’t be dismissed.  While the two recent review papers cited here (Bolin et al 2011and Knopper and Ollson 2011) agree that evidence of serious health problems caused by wind turbine noise is lacking, few, if any, long term studies exist.  The collection of long term data from residents living near wind farms is warranted to determine if chronic effects exist in those exposed to low frequency noise emitted from wind turbines.

 

Author’s note:

This showed up on CBC news this morning: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/story/2013/09/11/saskatoon-community-wind-meeting.html.  Would you support wind power in your community?

 

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22 thoughts on “Human Health Risk Associated With Wind Turbine Noise

  1. This is an interesting topic. Intuitively, it seems like there should be no adverse effects from noise. People typically adapt to their surroundings. My wife grew up near traintracks but the noise never bothered her or her family. However, studies investigating traffic noise and cardiovascular disease have found some correlations including increased blood pressure in children (although there is no link to clinical hypertension) and a slight increase in heart attacks (Babisch, 2000). The proposed mechanism is an increase in stress horomones but the evidence remains inconclusive.

  2. Author –
    Wind Turbine Noise and Human Health:

    Despite the lack of evidence pertaining to health effects of wind turbine noise, at high enough levels, infrasound and low frequency noise present a very real risk to human health. Rogers et al 2006 define human health effects at these approximate sound pressure ranges: at ≤ 90 dB there is no evidence of adverse effects; at 115 dB fatigue, apathy, abdominal symptoms, and hypertension appear in some humans; at 120 dB there is an approximate threshold of pain at 10 Hz; and at ≥ 120 – 130 dB, exposure for 24 hours causes physiological damage.

    Near residential areas, wind turbine noise falls well below the NOAEL level of 90 dB, usually constrained by regulations to be 40dB or less (Knopper and Ollson 2011). For comparison, 40 dB is equivalent to sound in a quiet room (Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety 2006). However, small wind turbines such as those often associated with residential power supply can be more problematic than other larger turbines. Small turbines cause more noise because they rotate more quickly and have a tendency to furl (turning out of high wind as a power limiting mechanism), such that at high wind speeds sound levels can exceed those that are acceptable at typical setback distances (Rogers et al 2006). This problem highlights the importance of adequate noise impact assessment prior to erecting turbines near residential areas.

    Sleep disturbance is the most evident health effect associated with wind turbine noise. Adequate sleep is important for human health, especially in children (Hanning and Evans 2012). Self-reported health status data was collected over three studies conducted from 2000 to 2007. A meta-analysis of these three studies indicated disturbed sleep to be significantly associated with wind turbine noise level in two of the three studies (Pedersen 2009).

    The lack of access to electricity in many countries around the world is a great detriment to human health and wellbeing. However, electricity generation from the dominant source, fossil fuels, also causes substantial adverse health effects (Markandya and Wilkinson 2007). Therefore, to assess the human health risks associated with wind power, risks associated with fossil fuel-based power production, should also be considered. There are many serious human health risks associated with emissions from the fossil fuels used for a large proportion of energy production worldwide. Air emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels (e.g. from coal-fired power plants) include gaseous pollutants that contribute to global climate change, persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, and particulates (Kampa and Castanas 2008). These pollutants have the ability to cause effects in a variety of ways. These include respiratory irritation, chronic respiratory and heart diseases, lung cancer, aggravation of pre-existing heart and lung diseases, and asthma. Humans are usually exposed to complex pollutant mixtures rather than single substances. This can lead to a wide range of impacts on human health from nausea, difficulty breathing or skin irritation, to cancer. These can also include birth defects, developmental delays in children, and impairment of the immune system. Short- and long-term exposures to air pollutants arising from fossil fuel combustion have also been associated with premature mortality and reduced life expectancy. (Kampa and Castanas 2008)

    In addition to the health effects associated with direct exposure to air pollutants, greenhouse gas production from the burning of fossil fuels is expected to lead to a suite of other indirect health effects. Predicted temperature extremes, flooding events, aero-allergen production, increase in diarrheal disease (food poisoning illnesses), increase in water-borne disease (e.g. cholera), increase in vector-borne disease, changes in regional crop yields, changes to local fisheries and sea level rise are all expected to cause largely adverse health effects (McMichael et al 2006).

    Clearly, when compared with the risks associated with the primary alternative method of power generation, the health risk associated with wind turbines is very small. The major problem is that people are wary of wind turbines and often misinformed (Knopper and Ollson 2011, Bolin et al 2011). The issue of wind turbine noise highlights the importance of public perception of risk. There is a lack of communication by regional and federal governments which drives this misinformed perception. While it shouldn’t be dismissed that sleep disturbance may be problematic near wind farms, the general public should not be lead to believe that wind farms make people sick when in fact fossil fuels do make people sick.

  3. I am curious about the “hidden” oil & gas consumption costs of wind turbines. Often traditional industry points out that green technology uses products from “dirty” sources either in parts or production to legitamize the continued use of traditional energy. Have you been able to find anything on this?

    You mention that a negative public perception is often due to a lack of communication from governing bodies. Do you have any examples of this? Any places where interested parties of the general public could go for unbiased information?

    This is kind of an aside, but I recently hiked Grouse mountain in North Vancouver and at the top there is a wind turbine called the Eye of the Wind. This is a new tourist attraction advertising as “Inspiring and revolutionary, this is the world’s first and only wind turbine that allows you to stand in a clear glass viewPOD at the top of the tower, three metres from its massive, rotating blades.” If it’s a tourist attraction it can’t be that detrimental to human health I wouldn’t think. Or maybe it should be shut down?

  4. This topic is very controversial in Ontario right now. The Liberal government in Ontario has been doing a lot of work to support production of renewable energy in the province, which has translated into wind turbine projects in a number of municipalities. The impact on human health is often the first issue mentioned by community and lobby groups but I’ve read that wind turbines may have an adverse effects on bird and bat populations (Kunz et al. 2007; Cryan and Barclay 2009; Masden et al. 2010). It makes me wonder about the adverse effect that wind farms may have on the environment. I know this is outside the content of our course but important when making informed decisions on the societial value of wind farms. There was an interesting editorial in the globe and mail about wind farms in Ontario (McGuinty’s Legacy is a Green Nightmare)

    Kunz TH et al. 2007. Ecological impacts of wind energy development on bats: questions, research needs, and hypotheses. Frontieres in Ecology and the Environment, 5:315-324.

    Cryan PM, Barclay RMR. 2009. Causes of bat fatalities at wind turbines: hypotheses and predictions. Journal of Mammalogy, 90:1330-1340.

    Masden EA et al. 2010. Cumulative impact assessments and bird/wind farm interactions: developing a conceptual framework. Environmental Impact Asssessment Review, 30:1-7.

  5. I am excited to learn more about this! I had never thought of turbines causing noise pollution before. I am really curious to know if the “wind turbine syndrom” is real or if it is more influenced by the sufferers’ perception of turbine effects. Pedersen et al’s finding that people were more likely to be annoyed if they could see it or didn’t benefit economically suggests this. The acceptable noise level of 40dB is so extremely low that I wonder people could complain about it. I found a chart listing that a whisper is roughly 30dB, a stream or humming fridge is 40dB, and a quiet office is 50-60dB. People normally appreciate the sound of a stream or wind in the trees so I wonder that they complain about the “swishing” of the blades. Any further findings on this?

    A couple of people from the SENS program I am in attended the proposed wind farm meeting at the farmer’s market last week but I have yet to talk to them about it. I like the idea of being able to choose how our power is generated, as brought up in the CBC article. It really relieves the pressure on policy/decision makers when the people can make real choices themselves.

  6. Author –

    Is “wind turbine syndrome” real?

    In previous posts, the term wind turbine syndrome has been used to describe the perceived set of adverse health symptoms described by people living near wind turbines. In the comments, the question: “Is wind turbine syndrome real?” was asked. This week’s post will provide a critical examination of wind turbine syndrome in an effort to separate fact from fiction.

    Nina Pierpont invented the term “wind turbine syndrome” and has authored a book of the same name (Pierpont 2009*). Pierpont, a medical doctor, developed case studies based on patients’ reported symptoms allegedly connected to wind turbines near residential homes. Reported health effects included nausea, vertigo or illusory movement, blurred vision, unsteadiness, difficulty reading, remembering, and thinking spatially (Pierpont 2009*). Pierpont makes a convincing case on Wind Turbine Syndrome’s dedicated website including “peer reviews” by supporters of her cause and various links to claims that wind power is “dirty”, Ontario’s renewable energy program is “ridiculous”, wind turbines decrease property values and that she has been vilified by the scientific community. It is difficult to look at the website from a scientific standpoint without seeing the content as propaganda, but it is also easy to see how members of the general public with little scientific background would be convinced.

    So, is wind turbine syndrome real? Generally, the scientific community does not agree with Pierpont’s findings of adverse health effects related to wind turbine noise (Knopper and Ollson 2011; Bolin et al 2011; Farboud et al 2013). In fact, prior to the release of Wind Turbine Syndrome, Pierpont was identified as a known objector with a tendency to falsify scientific information (Leventhall 2006) However, in recent years various studies have hinted that noise-induced health effects may be more important than previously thought. Recent work suggests that A-weighting, the filtering process which aims to simulate human hearing during sound measurement, may not be adequate for measurement of wind turbine noise (Farboud et al 2013) Despite the multidimensional nature of sound, A-weighting reduces noise to one dimension (Leventhall 2006) resulting in a de-emphasis of noise with frequencies less than 500 Hz – the noise in the low frequency and infrasound range (Farboud et al 2013). As mentioned in a previous post, there is evidence of adverse effects on sensory cells of the human ear exposed to infrasound (Salt and Hullar 2010; Salt and Kaltenbach 2011) but these effects have not been proven outside the laboratory.

    Pierpont’s case studies, which are based on interviews with 38 people, lack actual sound measurements, provide no reference group (i.e. people who are not exposed to turbines) or assessment of health status prior to erection of turbines. In addition the small sample size of Pierpont’s study is contradicted by several larger studies (Bolin et al 2011; Pedersen 2011). Wind turbine syndrome as described by Pierpont is not real. However, the scientific community has identified that some people are more sensitive to low frequency sound than others and that relationships between wind turbine noise, annoyance, sleep and stress may exist and require further study (Pedersen 2011). If anything, the anti-wind turbine movement that has been spurred on by popular literature such as Pierpont’s Wind Turbine Syndrome has prompted the scientific community to recognize a need for effective, research-based fact finding.

    In the coming weeks I plan to further explore several areas related to this topic including the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) concept and the importance of public perception of risk, the structure of a noise health assessment associated with wind farm development and a more detailed look at interactions between low frequency noise and infrasound and the human ear.

    *Pierpont’s book is not primary scientific literature

  7. This is a really interesting topic. I’m back and forth whether wind turbine syndrome is real. There isn’t a clear mechanism to explain proximity to wind turbines and the symptoms that people report. However, there are a number of reports of adverse health effects (e.g., sleep disturbance, headaches, depression, etc.) in people living near industrial wind turbines. On the other hand, their seems to be a lack of well designed studies specifically trying to answer the question of wind turbines effects on human health. Jeffrey et al. (2013) provides a compelling review in the Canadian Family Physician of literature on wind turbines and adverse health effect. The article warns family physicians in Ontario that they may encounter patients reporting intense and pervasive symptoms due to wind turbines and patients may feel further victimized by a lack of understanding from the healthcare establishment.

    I’m looking forward to your future posts.

    Jeffrey et al. 2013. Adverse health effects of industrial wind turbines. Canadian Family Physician, 59:473-475.

  8. This is an interesting view point . I believe an earlier comment was alluding to this in a similar discussion on uranium use and the anxiety/stress people place on potential exposure. Interestingly enough, uranium was blamed as the culprit to the “Gulf War Syndrome” which is a chronic multi-symptom disorder affecting veterans who fought in the war. The wide range and variety of symptoms reported to have been a result to U exposure have never conclusively been shown to be linked to U. Other suggested causes of symptoms apparent in veterans include sarin gas, smoke from burning oil wells, vaccinations, combat stress and psychological factors (Chisholm, 1999). I realize causation is sometimes difficult to determine, as discussed in class, but I am curious whether or not this is more of a “hypochondriac” response similar to the wind turbine symptoms. I think the study by Pedersen and Waye (2007) that Jenna mentioned earlier demonstrating that symptoms and annoyance in individuals was not as apparent in individuals who benefited economically from wind turbines is a telling sign. Perhaps we should be investigating better way of controlling for human perception in studies examining potential adverse health effects.

    Chisholm, J. (1999). Gulf war syndrome. BMJ, 318, 274-5. http://pubmedcentralcanada.ca/pmcc/articles/PMC1114762/pdf/274.pdf

    Pedersen, E., & Waye, K. P. (2007). Wind turbine noise, annoyance and self-reported health and well-being in different living environments. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 64(7), 480-486. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078467/

  9. Interesting stuff so far. I am curious to read more on the infrasound in the coming weeks. I came across a paper by Crichton et al. 2013 that was related to the infrasound and seemed interesting.

    Crichton F, Dodd G, Schmid G, Gamble G, Petrie KJ. 2013. Can expectations produce symptoms from infrasound associated with wind turbines? Health Psychol. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23477573

  10. Like some of the others, I am not sold on the existence of health effects related to wind turbine, but am realizing there are some possible mechanisms that could be influencing health that deserve more study. I looked for some epidemiological studies of effects, and found this one by Nissenbaum et al (2012). At first glance I discounted it somewhat due to the self-reported nature of the effects reported, but there did seem to be a distance (analagous to dose in this case, I suppose) effect to the reported effects and after reading the discussion I was a bit more convinced that there might be some real effects. However, it seems that unless there could be some objective measure of health effects, assessments of the health risks will always be tainted with the possibility of bias. In any case, I am looking forward to learning more about this issue in the upcoming reflections.

  11. Author –
    Wind Turbines and Human Health: The Role of Public Perception

    Last week’s post on “wind turbine syndrome” highlighted the important connection between public opinion and perceived risk. Like any new energy technology, wind power faces the obstacle of gaining social acceptance. Prior to popularization of wind turbine syndrome, noise pollution was not considered a major source of opposition to wind farms (Wolsink 2000). In a 2007 special issue on public acceptance of renewable energy in the journal Energy Policy, Wustenhagen et al 2007 outlined some key reasons for public opposition to wind farms. These included the following:

    In comparison to conventional power plants, wind turbines are small-scale and numerous, thus more siting decisions are required.
    Wind turbines produce power in a more visible way than conventional energy production (i.e. fossil fuels and nuclear energy produced underground are “invisible” to the average person) such that the relative visual impact per MWh of output is higher; and wind turbines are often erected in closer proximity to the residences of energy consumers.
    Renewable technologies like wind turbines do not compete equally with traditional energy technologies making acceptance a choice between short-term costs and long-term benefits.
    When renewable energy technologies were beginning to be implemented in the 1980’s, little thought was given to public acceptance because initial public surveys were strongly in favour of wind power (Wustenhagen et al 2007). In the 1990’s, studies carried out in the USA and the Netherlands revealed that the aesthetic value of wind, particularly visual, had the strongest impact on public acceptance of wind turbines (Wolsink 2000). It was found that the perceived impact of wind turbines on scenery and visual intrusion of the landscape was a much stronger predictor of a person’s attitude than the perceived environmental benefits of wind power such as reduced carbon dioxide emissions (Wolsink 2000).

    Risk perception of the new and unfamiliar is an important factor in the opposition to proposed wind farms (van der Horst 2007). In a study on public attitudes towards wind farms, Warren et al 2005 found that 24% of respondents living close to a wind farm reported that their views had changed to support the wind farm once it was built because the feared impacts did not happen.

    The NIMBY or “not in my backyard” attitude towards wind turbines can be described as the phenomenon that, although wind power is considered beneficial by the majority of the population in principle, proposed turbines that provide this service are often strongly opposed by local residents (van der Horst 2007). The NIMBY definition has become somewhat convoluted in the scientific literature due to various factors that influence people’s attitudes and sometimes make the “my backyard” element inaccurate. These include pressure from outside activist groups, the group mentality brought on by strong local opposition and local politics (van der Horst 2007).

    In previous posts I have stated that, for the most part, the scientific community rejects the concept of wind turbine syndrome (Knopper and Ollson 2011; Bolin et al 2011; Farboud et al 2013). Despite this, strong local opposition has resulted in wind energy developing more slowly than expected since it has become a reliable and feasible option (Wolsink 2000). The controversy surrounding wind turbine development highlights the impact that local politics, misinformation and activism can have on perception of risk, despite the fact that the use of an emission-free energy source is associated with a much lower health risk than traditional power generation (Markandya and Wilkinson 2007).

  12. It seems like every comment i write comes back to my own topic, but when dealing with issues of risp perception, it is easy to use fluoride as an example. However, in this case, i am going to take fluoride as an example of a success, or at leas of a partial one.

    Since the first studies in the forties linking fluoride concentrations in natural water with decreased risk of dental cavities it took little more than 5 years fro fluoride treatment spread through north america, and a large mayority of the cities have applied the process for at least some time.

    I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, but i believe in the power of lobby groups, specially the big ones! No such groups were present when the beneficial effects of fluoride where detected, How do you think the potential interest of certain lobby groups could have influenced the public perception in the case of wind turbines?

  13. Author –
    I think lobby groups, particularly the group led by Nina Pierpont (author of Wind Turbine Syndrome), have a huge influence on the perception of health risk associated with wind turbines. As a matter of fact, there is a presentation written by Pierpont that was circulated in the anti-turbine groups which was used as a means to lobby against wind turbines right here in Saskatoon when the city proposed a single turbine be placed on the edge of the city.

  14. I am not surprised! I gotta tell you, you guys have so much potential in Saskatoon. As a Spaniard, (we have a bit of a thing for wind turbines, you know…) the first thing I thought when I saw Saskatchewan from the air was the potential for wind farms that your geography has. It is indeed a pity how public perception gets on the way of things like this just because of a few people’s opinions.

  15. I thought that your posts on the human health effect of wind power generation have been very interesting. I particularly liked the role that public perceptions of risk play. For a topic like energy generation how the public or the government views the risk can be very important. This got me thinking about how just the perception of risk can dramatically influence how a country generates power and can go against the scientific literature. My thought was how does wind power generation relate to other methods of energy generation?

    I found a report by the international energy agency (http://www.ieahydro.org/reports/ST3-020613b.pdf) which compared the human and environmental effect of all forms of energy generation to that of hydroelectric power. Nuclear energy generation came out as the safest for human health with coal as the worst. I thought this was very interesting and significant in the context of German’s switch from nuclear power. In this report there I a section on the health risk from wind generation. The article does however cover the “hidden” energy cost of wind generation with estimates for the usage of energy from non-renewable sources. The report is from 2002 so there will have been shifts in the contribution in the amount of energy from non-renewable s. But the amount of “hidden” energy was low and the use of non-renewable sources in total (plastics, metals) was relatively low also.

    I have emailed my friend who is doing a PhD in low carbon technologies at the University of Leeds to see if she had some more up to date information on the energy cost of wind generation.

  16. Author-
    Thanks, I would be interested in hearing what your friend has to say!

    It is true that renewables are associated with a higher cost, but they are improving to the point that wind energy has become more cost effective. I think a lot of the problem these days has to do with high initial start-up costs of renewables vs. lower but continual costs of large energy producers. Not to mention it is pretty hard to compete with government subsidised Crown corporations if you’re an independant renewable energy producer. See more on the challenge faced by renewable energy producers here.

  17. Alright so I may be ‘jumping the gun’ here but it seems like an easy solution to NIMBY might be zoning-laws. In Saskatchewan, as in most other provinces, zoning by-laws are regulated by municipalities and govern in what areas certain types of development can occur1. Generally, you have residential and industrial. Project zones are usually assessed on a site-by-site basis and include risk assessments and community meetings. This is all outlined on this website: http://municipal.gov.sk.ca/Programs-Services/Community-Planning/Zoning.

    I found a perfect example in Ontario. Apparently, The Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEA), 2009 allowed the Ontario government to approve renewable energy projects in municipal jurisdictions2. Basically, any projects that provided green energy were exempt from the municipal zoning bylaws and instead the provincial government oversaw the projects development. However, a Bill introduced in 2013 asked to amend the GEA because of a proposed wind turbine farm in a local municipality that stated it wanted no part in industrial wind turbine farms3,4. This example highlights a reason why municipal zoning by-laws would be preferred and would allow communities to decide if they want that development within their jurisdiction and if so they could place restrictions on its location (eg. must be located >50 meters from residential). One thing I am not quite sure about and may be you could address is how far the energy generated from a wind turbine can be transferred on a grid? In other words, do residences have to be located near the energy farm because the energy is travelling directly to that house or does the energy enter a grid and is transferred on that grid to many energy receptors?

    Government of Saskatchewan. (2012). Community Planning, Land Use and Subdivision: Zoning. http://municipal.gov.sk.ca/Programs-Services/Community-Planning/Zoning (accessed Oct 8, 2013).
    Ontario Ministry of Energy. (2013). Green Energy Act. Government of Ontario. http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/en/green-energy-act/ (accessed October 8, 2013)
    Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Official Records for 20 February 2013. Hansard Transcripts. http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/house-proceedings/house_detail.do?Date=2013-02-20&Parl=40&Sess=2&locale=en#PARA569 (accessed October 8, 2013)
    Wes Keller. Wind power opponents taking heart at new court ruling. The Citizen. http://www.citizen.on.ca/news/2013-04-25/Front_Page/Wind_power_opponents_taking_heart_at_new_court_rul.html (accessed October 8, 2012)

  18. Author –
    Thanks for your comment – it would seem easy but unfortunately the NIMBY attitude exists DESPITE setback distances that are quite far. The World Health Organization has set a 40 db limit and individual governments are then responsible for carrying out an assessment and placing the turbines at an appropriate distance such that the 40 db limit is not exceeded in homes or public places. For example, in Ontario, the provincial government’s setback distance is 550 m. I would be curious to know the community’s reasons for not wanting windfarms in their vicinity…perhaps certain lobby groups are playing a role. Another note, at 550 m you can’t hear the turbines but you can see them…

  19. This issue of risk perception is really interesting. In your last two paragraphs, you mention the influence of activist groups and community opposition on decision making. You are discussing it in terms of wind turbine projects but it also applies to a number of other threads in our discussion forum. For example, the residential use of 2,4-D and other pesticides was not seen as a risk to human health by the scientific community yet many municipalities and eventually the province of Ontario ban the use of pesticides for residential use. This decision was not based in science but the communities perception of risk, which can be influenced by “interest” groups. The same opposition is emerging against triclosan. The public perceives an imminent risk. The communities perception has been influenced by media reports and/or “interest” groups/persons that have convincing blogs or other forms of media that espouse the adverse effects of triclosan without putting the adverse effects into context or in many cases without ever citing primary scientific literature.

  20. I completely agree and included public perception in my last discussion post. It could have easily been an entire post on its own. I think that science is obviously the basis for decisions as they relate to the determination of acceptable daily intake values and when using traditional risk assessment methods based on quantitative information; however, there have been efforts to use a more integrated approach which includes qualitative data as well. I am just looking into this as it is the topic area of my masters but I am very intrigued by the use of integrated/holistic methods of risk assessment as an alternative to the traditional method. These methods have been used in both health and environmental risk assessment but not often.

    Great topic! I remember when they put the windmills in around Gull Lake, Saskatchewan. I was pretty excited to have windmills in Saskatchewan and I have even been driving down there and been able to tour inside one. What keeps on nagging me is that if there are serious health risks associated with wind turbines then why have European countries with lots of wind-driven energy not packed them up already? Are the perceptions different from North America or the communication of risk? Again, I have enjoyed your topic!

  21. That is an interesting point. North Americans tend to take their cues from Europe, and it is interesting we don’t have the same outlook on all levels. Trying to think of some examples, the view on organics and pesticides seem to be taken from Europe in an example of neonicotinoids and the collapse of bee colonies. This has been a concern for a while in Europe with this compound having been banned in some of the major EU countries. But it has taken some controversial collapses in North America to actually take any action. Additionally, many EU countries have a very positive outlook on nuclear energy with school kids even getting tours of facilities, whereas North Americans still try to stay as far away from nuclear power plants. So I wonder where this difference in risk perception of wind turbines arise.

    Wind turbines tend to be in open areas so I would not imagine that it should bother too many people. But I also find wind turbines fun to look at too Lorelei and am aware of the benefit from clean energy production. Perhaps if the public knew more about the alternatives to energy production (i.e., coal burning/fossil fuels mentioned earlier) and how much it costs our environment and health before they question the placement of wind turbines in surrounding areas.

  22. To wrap-up this topic, I am going to discuss what happens when a wind farm is proposed in Canada. Because the majority of wind power in Canada is currently produced in Ontario, I will use Ontario as an example.

    Section 47.3(1) of the Environmental Protection Act provides regulators with a matrix of different setback distances for land-based wind power projects ranging from 550 to 1500 m, depending on the capacity and number of the proposed turbines. Based on the World Health Organization’s recommendation that sound measured at homes and public places should not exceed 40 DB, the Government of Ontario regulates a setback distance for wind turbines of 550 m. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment states that there is “no direct health risk from wind turbine sound at Ontario’s regulated setback distance” (Ontario Ministry of the Environment 2013).This is supported in a report by Howe 2010.

    A proponent who wants to develop a wind farm in Ontario must abide by the Renewable Energy Approvals regulation. This includes a consultation process in which concerns expressed by the public, municipal groups and Aboriginal peoples are addressed. Once the consultation has occurred and the proponent can prove that they have addressed any concerns effectively, the proposal is submitted for initial assessment by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. The proposal will then be listed on Ontario’s Environmental Registry and it open for comment from the public. The Ministry then uses these comments in conjunction with the assessment to make a decision about the project.

    When complaints about wind turbine noise are received, information about the nature of the complaint is recorded and sound may be measured to ensure that the turbines are operating in compliance with regulations. If non-compliance occurs, enforced abatement measures are used to reduce noise, or in extreme cases, shut down turbines (Ontario Ministry of the Environment 2013).

    While it is widely accepted that turbines operating at regulated distances do not cause human health effects, the recent concerns surrounding wind turbine noise have prompted Canada’s Minister of Health, on behalf of Health Canada, to appoint an expert panel to further explore the relationship between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects (CCA 2012). As you have seen from my previous posts, there is a lot of controversy surrounding wind turbines and their potential to cause health effects. Going forward, I hope to see sound scientific conclusions in regards to noise and allowable noise limits. Wind turbines offer a clean, carbon-free energy solution that is becoming increasingly cost effective. It would be a great disappointment to see misinformed opinions get in the way of efforts to reduce global reliance on fossil fuels.

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