Health impacts of wind turbines

von Hünerbein, S ORCID:, Moorhouse, AT ORCID:, Fiumicelli, D and Baguley, D 2013, Health impacts of wind turbines , Project Report, ClimateXChange, Edinburgh.

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This report presents the results of a rapid, desk based analysis of peer reviewed UK and international literature from the last four years on the effects of wind turbines on human health. The review covers literature specified by the Scottish government, peer-reviewed original studies and recent peer-reviewed literature reviews. Recent original studies consist mostly of cross-sectional studies and case studies on the effects of wind turbines on local residents. All studies present evidence for annoyance due to wind turbine noise and most concur that there is evidence for sleep disturbance in the presence of wind farms but not necessarily from noise. Both results are in agreement with the effects of noise from other environmental sources. Other health effects are increasingly reported in the presence of wind turbines but the reviewed literature does not provide firm scientific evidence of a causal relationship with wind turbines or even more specifically wind turbine noise. The most widely quoted cross-sectional studies show correlations between annoyance and visual impact, economic benefit and attitude related to wind turbines. Wind turbine sound is reported to be comparatively weakly related to annoyance and inseparable from the other contributing factors. Literature on low frequency noise and infrasound (LFIS) can be categorised as reviews, sound level measurements around windfarms and discussion of mechanisms of perception and response. A Swedish review finds no evidence to support ‘wind turbine syndrome’ while another concludes that further research is required. Regarding noise measurements, there are concerns that a new generation of wind turbines will produce a sound with a spectrum shifted down in frequency. However, a study in Australia concluded that infrasound levels near windfarms were no higher than elsewhere and that higher levels in urban areas were probably due to traffic and other human activity rather than wind turbines. Some other studies found measured sound levels near wind farms to conform with a range of criteria for LFIS. Papers by Salt et al. propose that LFIS may differentially stimulate structures in the human inner ear, and may instigate health effects even when inaudible. The authors seek to build a speculative case utilising experimental data gleaned from guinea pigs and some observations on human experiences with specific pathological conditions. Based upon the documents submitted, the proposal is unproven, and would need clear data from hypothesis driven independent research in humans in order to be credible. A proposal by US consultants that motion sickness-like symptoms reported at one wind farm might be caused by acoustic excitation of the balance organs is not new and has previously been discounted as an explanation for similar reported effects not involving wind turbines. Other evidence on acoustic stimulation of the balance organs has been noted but not reviewed. Health effects from other wind turbine related sources such as shadow flicker have been reported in several studies and guidelines to be less of a problem. Careful wind farm design and operational restrictions are suggested to be sufficient to minimise the impact. The mitigation strategies have been found to vary widely internationally with some countries and federal states using fixed noise limits, others using noise limits relative to existing background levels and many like the UK using a combination of both. Set-back distances are also used internationally but have a number of disadvantages. The relevant UK guideline document ETSU-R-97 aims to provide a reasonable degree of protection to noise sensitive listeners; without unduly restricting the development of wind turbine renewable energy resources. In the international comparison the ETSU-R-97 guidelines tends to result in comparatively low noise limits although direct comparisons between fixed and relative noise limits are difficult. ETSU-R-97 has been criticised for its inconsistent implementation and relative complexity. Good practice guidelines by the Institute of Acoustics which aim to address the implementation issues are due to be published in May.

Item Type: Monograph (Project Report)
Themes: Energy
Health and Wellbeing
Schools: Schools > School of Computing, Science and Engineering > Salford Innovation Research Centre
Publisher: ClimateXChange
Funders: Scottish Government
Depositing User: Dr Sabine von Hünerbein
Date Deposited: 10 May 2013 11:38
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2022 14:51

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