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Wind farm may be damaging neighbors' health, according to Nina Pierpont's boook coming out this fall.

Wind turbines may be unhealthy, new book warns

by Jessi Prois
Oct 14, 2008

Headaches, disrupted equilibrium and inner-ear ringing are typical symptoms of a night on the town. But they may be the result of a night spent at home—if you live near high-powered wind turbines, according to a study by Dr. Nina Pierpont, a New York pediatrician.

Pierpont’s book “Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment”—due out this fall—details the adverse health effects of wind turbines.  Her report is based on a study of 10 families living near turbines in Canada, England, Ireland, Italy and the United States.

Pierpont, who holds a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University, said wind turbines create audible and low-frequency noise, adversely affecting the inner ear. Some of the study subjects complained of sleep and concentration problems, dizziness and nausea while living near wind turbines, she said.

Chicago is an unlikely site for large-scale wind farms and smaller, rooftop wind turbines aren't linked to the problems found in Pierpont's study. 

Local experts expressed skepticism about Pierpont's findings, in any case.

Thomas Wardzala, an audiologist with the Chicago Hearing Health Center, said he is skeptical of wind turbine syndrome but doesn’t deny the possibility of the effect.

“Calling some of this [low-frequency] noise is a stretch. We’re not going to hear it; it’s going to be more felt,” he said. He compared wind turbine noise to ultrasound. "It can generate echoes. Obviously ultrasound is just a pressure wave. And the question is if those pressure waves are starting to hurt people.”

Pierpont’s book is based on a “case series,” which she describes in the book preface as a “descriptive account of a series of individuals with the same medical problem.”

Of the 10 families she studied, eight left their homes because of the health effects from the turbines and had less severe symptoms at that point, she reports in the book.

Pierpont carried out her study from 2004 until 2008 and used the study subjects themselves as the control group.

“The most similar unexposed people, of course, were my study subjects themselves prior to turbine exposure and after the end of exposure,” she explained in the preface.

Mariana Alves-Pereira of the Lusofona University Department of Environmental Sciences & Engineering in Portugal said wind turbines may also cause Vibroacoustic Disease, a result of tissue damage to organs caused by high intensity, low-frequency noise, according to Pierpont’s Web site. 

John Rowe, CEO of Chicago-based Exelon Corp.—which buys wind and renewable energy credits from several wind farms—also expressed skepticism.

“The trouble is, you can’t find any technology that doesn’t raise some questions,” he said. “I think it’d be kind of unfair to pick on wind for that.”

Jonathan Siegel, associate professor with Northwestern University's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, said he is also unconvinced that there are health risks related to wind turbines.

“My background in physics and acoustics and the physiology of the inner ear leads me to doubt that there is a physical basis to these claims,” he said. “Wind turbines may be annoying, but it is frankly absurd to propose that ultra-low frequency sounds that aren't perceived directly could be harmful.”

Lisa Linowes, executive director of Industrial Wind Action Group in New Hampshire, said she believes the health threat studied by Pierpont is serious and worries about rural communities if wind farms continue.

She’s not in favor of building wind farms either onshore or offshore.

“An alternative to wind energy is biomass facilities, which offer more control--contrasted with intermittent wind energy,” Linowes said.