A team of Iowa researchers has concluded that there's no actionable evidence that the sound of wind turbines is a danger to public. Instead, the report authors found that reported symptoms of hearing loss or poor sleep are more likely related to people’s attitudes and beliefs about wind development.
Residents in areas seeing wind development sometimes report headaches, sleep disturbance, hearing loss and other symptoms. A team of researchers from the University of Iowa, the Iowa Policy Project and The Iowa Environmental Council explored potential causes of these symptoms. Based on an overview of peer-reviewed studies, they found that there is not suffiecient evidence to show sound or sound pressure from turbines is a directly causing adverse health effects.
"There is no authoritative evidence that sound from wind turbines represents a risk to human health among neighboring residents. The only causal link that can be identiﬁed is that wind turbines may pose an annoyance to some who live near them," the report authors wrote. "However, annoyance is likely inﬂuenced by a person’s feelings about the impacts of wind turbines on viewsheds, whether they get an economic beneﬁt from the turbines, whether they have had a say in the siting process, and attitudes about wind power generally."
The researchers point to a phenomenon known as the "nocebo effect." Related to the placebo effect, patients may report symptoms if they are predisposed to think they will experience negative health outcomes.
Co-author David Osterberg of the Iowa Policy Project says reports of symptoms are associated with annoyance and a perceived loss of control, not the actual sound of the turbines.
“If somebody has symptoms you believe them. The question is what is it going to take to relieve those symptoms? And pushing something…pushing those turbines back a thousand feet may not do anything. But there are maybe other non-health policy that could help," Osterberg said.
“Maybe you ought to think about how you treat people so they feel like they have more control over the whole process," he said. "That would probably do more than trying to address the sound because we don’t think it’s the sound.”
Co-author Peter Thorne, a professor at the University of Iowa's Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, points to findings that residents who are paid for living near wind turbines report fewer adverse symptoms than those living nearby but not recieving compensation.
"You want to try and address the root causes of the symptoms," Thorne said. "And if it’s loss of control or feeling that one is not sharing in the economic benefits of the technology that’s quite a different thin."
The Iowa Environmental Council's Kerri Johannsen says she hopes local officials and residents use their findings when making decisions about wind development.
"We hope that this paper will help educate people who have concerns about wind development," Johannsen said. "One of the important findings of this study is that the kind of information people receive really has a major impact on how they perceive the risk of turbines."