JUN 06, 2018 9:33 AM PDT

Windmills are good for the environment, but not so much for your health

Within Canada, there are 295 utility-scale wind farms currently operating. That is a big number (though not as big as we need it to be in order to continue to curb carbon emissions), which means that from East to West, North to South, a lot of Canadians live relatively close to a windmill. Though turbines are definitely a pro for the side of fighting climate change, a new study published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America suggests that public health of communities nearby wind turbines is negatively impacted by their presence.

The researchers from the University of Toronto and Ramboll collaborated on the study to look at residents living within a range of 600 meters to 10 kilometers far from wind turbines, analyzing data from the "Community Noise and Health Study" from May to September of 2013 by Statistics Canada. They found that people complained of audible and subaudible sound pressures as well as the shadow flicker of turbines.

"The Community Noise and Health Study generated data useful for studying the relationship between wind turbine exposures and human health -- including annoyance and sleep disturbances," said Rebecca Barry, an author on the paper. "Their original results examined modeled wind turbine noise based on a variety of factors -- source sound power, distance, topography and meteorology, among others."

It will not come as a surprise that people who live close to wind turbines report more disturbances compared with those who live farther away. "Respondents who live in areas with higher levels of modeled sound values (40 to 46 decibels) reported more annoyance than respondents in areas with lower levels of modeled sound values (<25 dB)," Barry said.

Residents living near to wind turbines report annoyances for their quality of life related to the presence of turbines. Photo: National Observer

The study was not able to distinguish whether the people who responded to the survey were unsatisfied with their environmental quality of life before the wind turbines were established. One of the researchers, Sandra Sulsky, also pointed out that due to the nature of surveys in general, “the respondents who chose to participate may have viewpoints or experiences that differ from those who chose not to participate. Survey respondents may have participated precisely to express their dissatisfaction, while those who did not participate might not have concerns about the turbines."

The authors of the study urged for the need of better monitoring systems so that the perceived impacts on public health can be more objective in the future. "Measuring the population's perceptions and concerns before and after turbine installation may help to clarify what effects -- if any -- exposure to wind turbines may have on quality of life," Sulsky said.

Sources: Science Daily The Journal of Acoustical Society of America

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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