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Why you should not believe that wind turbines cause sickness

There are a number of reasons why no thinking person should believe that wind turbines cause illness. Turbines do cause some annoyance, noise problems and some loss of sleep in a few cases.

Written 2012/06/09, modified 2016/09/04
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
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Humans are very poor at deciding what is causing them to be ill

History shows us that before science discovered the true causes of illnesses our ancestors came up with all sorts of explanations which were almost always quite wrong.

At one time witchcraft was blamed for many illnesses; malaria (as the name implies) was blamed on 'bad air'; mental illnesses were blamed on possession by demons; for centuries many illnesses were blamed on an imbalance of the four 'humours', blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm – blood-letting was an attempt to rebalance the humours.

The belief that wind turbines cause illness is just another of these; it is entirely unsupported by science.

Why it is foolish to believe that wind turbines can make people ill.
  1. Science: There is nothing in respectable peer-reviewed scientific journals indicating a direct link between wind turbines and ill-health. If wind turbines really were making people ill it would not be difficult to do research to provide convincing evidence of this. No one has reported on research demonstrating such a link. In addition to the peer-reviewed literature science depends on rational argument – the points below show that it is irrational to claim that turbines cause health problems;
  2. Cause: There is no known mechanism by which turbines could make people ill. There are very few things known to science that are undetectable to our senses yet can cause us harm from a distance – wind turbines produce none of these. (Levels of audible sound and infrasound from wind turbines are much too low to be harmful);
  3. Dose: There is little, if any, correspondence between a person's exposure to wind turbines and their likelihood of reporting symptoms. The intensity of anything radiating from a wind turbine must decrease with distance according to the inverse square law of physics. The claimed illnesses are just as likely to occur at larger distances rather than smaller: they show no dose-response correlation, which is quite counter to the science of epidemiology. Wind farm workers, who are often very close to wind turbines, very rarely complain of symptoms.
  4. Selectivity: The great majority of people are unaffected by nearby turbines and the alleged cases of illness are almost all in people who get no financial benefit from the wind turbines and in those who started with negative opinions about turbines. Farmers who are receiving lease payments and wind farm workers hardly ever claim a health problem from turbines. The 'problems' are almost entirely confined to English-speaking countries (because that's where they have had the publicity).
  5. Legal cases: From 1998 to 2014 there were 49 legal cases against wind farms on health grounds; 48 were decided in favour of the wind farms. (See Energy Policy Institute; written by Mike Barnard.)
  6. Symptoms: The symptoms associated with wind turbines are those of anxiety-related disorders (see Opinion from a clinical psychologist). People who are under the impression that they will become ill if exposed to infrasound, and are then told that they are being exposed to infrasound, are likely to experience adverse symptoms. (See Research into infrasound perception: Fiona Crichton et. al.). So the evidence is that the symptoms ascribed to wind turbines are much more likely to be psychosomatic and due to the nocebo effect;
  7. Car analogy: Wind turbines have three main parts: a fan, a gearbox and a generator. Our cars have the same parts. Sound levels at all frequencies are much higher in cars than near wind turbines. How many of us think that our cars are making us sick?;
  8. My own experience: I have visited many wind farms on many occasions, have even slept beneath operating wind turbines a number of times, in a cabin 850m from an operating turbine twice, and in a vacant house 500m from a wind turbine on another occasion. I have never heard sounds from the turbines loud enough to be unpleasant. I have never felt any ill-effects that might be ascribed to infrasound or any other emanations from the turbines.
  9. Crystal Brook has the closest medical practice to the Clements Gap Wind Farm. (It is my home town and the medical practice is where Sarah Laurie practiced as a GP for a short while.) Over the last few years I have asked about six doctors in the practice whether they have had anyone come to them with problems that they attributed to the wind turbines. Not one!
  10. Common sense: Wind turbines are machines. Unless you get caught up in the mechanism, run over, electrocuted, or deafened by loud noises etc., machines don't harm people. In particular, machines do not harm people from a distance. (Guns, if you want to call them machines, are a notable exception; even then it is the projectile that does the harm when it penetrates your body, rather than the gun itself harming you from a distance.)
The fear and anxiety toward wind turbines that is instilled in some people by irresponsible rumour mongers and unethical or ill-informed journalists may lead on to psychosomatic disorders. These people are largely to blame for the epidemic hysteria around wind farms that we are seeing in some English speaking countries.


North Brown Hill Wind Farm
 
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Two competing theories

Some people who live or work near wind turbines complain of unpleasant symptoms and believe that the turbines are the cause. There are also many people living and working near wind turbines who have no problems from the turbines. I think these two statements would be accepted by almost everyone. The argument is about what it is that is causing the symptoms in the first group.

We can chose one of two theories that seek to explain this:

Theory 1

The symptoms are caused by the nocebo effect, often combined with fear and anxiety (as discussed in the opinion of a clinical psychologist);

OR

Theory 2

The symptoms are caused by something coming from the wind turbines; in which case we must also accept that:
  • Something unknown to science is coming from the wind turbines – or there is some quality in the sound of wind turbines unexplained by science – to cause the symptoms, because we know that the sound (including infrasound) is not loud enough to be harming anyone;
  • There is a huge range in people's susceptability to whatever it is that is coming from the turbines; for example wind farm workers who have thousands of times the exposure of 'affected people' are almost always unaffected.
  • We must suspend the inverse square law of physics as it would normally apply to anything coming from wind turbines;
  • The dose-response relationship, that applies to all other environmental diseases, does not apply to 'wind turbine syndrome', or is even reversed;
  • There is something different happening around wind turbines in the English speaking world, because very few people in non-English-speaking countries develop these symptoms.

Which theory sounds the more plausible?

The principal of Ockham's Razor tells us that if more than one hypothesis fits the available evidence then the simplest one is to be preferred. One is also reminded of the Sagan Standard in which exceptional claims call for exceptional evidence to support them. There is no scientifically acceptable evidence supporting the 'Wind Turbine Syndrome' claim.

 
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What external agencies cause illness?

There are very few things outside of the human body that cause illnesses or harm. They include:
  • Ionising radiation such as alpha particles, beta particles, ultra-violet, X-rays and gamma rays;
  • Non-ionising radiation, such as microwaves and radio waves when at very high intensities (due to their heating effect);
  • Extremes of temperature;
  • Violent physical impacts such as in vehicle accidents and sporting injuries;
  • Toxins such as heavy metals (when injested), asbestos (when inhaled), toxic gasses and chemicals; silicate dust, hay dust or smoke when inhaled in large quantities or over a long period (smoke and dust from coal burning kills millions of people each year);
  • Micro-organisms: some bacteria, protozoans, fungi, etc. if they somehow invade the body;
  • Very loud noise can cause harm and lower levels of noise can cause annoyance and difficulty in sleeping. Wind turbines do cause some noise, but at lower levels than many other common sources such as road traffic, speech and music.
Wind turbines produce none of these.

To believe that wind turbines can cause illness, when they do not produce any of these things, requires a great leap of faith; or should that be enormous gullibility?

 
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Index

Car analogy
Cause
Crystal Brook medical practice
Dose
My own experience
Science
Selectivity
Symptoms
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Two competing theories
What external agencies cause illness?
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