Many view wind turbines as a great way to produce clean energy. However, some think that wind farms adversely affect the health of those living nearby them. These concerns include effects of infrasound, electromagnetic radiation, shadow flicker, and blade glint. But are they relevant? The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council published a report of studies that have found no substantial evidence that turbines pose any health risk. Here’s what the report says regarding those health allegations.
Infrasound is sound generally inaudible to the human ear. The World Health Organization states there is no reliable evidence that sounds below the hearing threshold produce physiological or psychological effects. Based on information in the accompanying table, noise levels from wind turbines have been assessed as negligible. That is, they appear to be no different from the noise found in other everyday situations.
Electromagnetic radiation is also a concern, but the Australian Wind Energy Association says the closeness of the electrical cables counters the electromagnetic field, as shielding does with metal armor.
Shadow flicker is the flicking on and off of the turbine’s shadow as the blades rotate. The primary concern here is that the flickering will cause epileptic seizures, though the report says the risk is very low.
Blade glint happens when sunlight reflects off turbine blades and into a person’s eye. However, all major wind turbine blade manufacturers coat their blades with a low reflectivity treatment that prevents reflective glint from the surface of the blade. Therefore, the NHMRC considers the risk of blade glint low as well.
Others complain of annoyance, anxiety, hearing loss, and interference with sleep, speech and learning. However there is no published scientific evidence to support such adverse effects of turbines on health. Some argue symptoms come from stress, which can result when people worry about their health. Another study shows people who benefit economically from wind turbines are less likely to report annoyance, despite exposure to similar sound levels.
Still, because evidence to health risk is limited, the report recommends authorities take a precautionary approach and continue to monitor research outcomes.
Australian National Health and Medical Research Council www.nhmrc.gov.au
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