Noise, Health Impacts and Public Safety
SDLT and our local residents share the grave concerns recorded by many other communities where wind turbines already operate.
There is now irrefutable evidence from across the world that the several forms of noise they emit cause and aggravate a spectrum of very serious health issues. There are also numerous recorded incidents of catastrophic accidents, including fires, fireballs, ice throw, explosions and structural disintegration, threatening any person or building within range. We argue that neither the harm caused to public health, nor the risk to public safety, can be satisfactorily mitigated except by locating turbines far away from where people live and work. These are crucial and material planning considerations which substantially outweigh the minimal benefits claimed for this development.
Turbine noise, what it is, how it is measured, and precisely what it does to people, are highly technical and difficult questions. We review all this at length in our full submission to the AVDC in late February.
SDLT does not argue that there is yet a definitive proven position on these and many related questions, because there is not. However we do argue that, whereas the wind power industry and the current applicant, developer Force 9 Energy (F9E) and its energy company partner Électricité de France (EDF), are determined to deny and dismiss case studies, suppress debate and have failed to provide any credible evidence at all to support the assertion that turbines are harmless, there is actually overwhelming case evidence, clinical and scientific research, and authoritative peer-reviewed studies, that confirm the opposite.
Commenting on extensive international research which he collated in 2009 and calling for more, Dr Keith Stelling MA, MNIMH, Dip Phyt, MCPP concluded: “Like the wind industry today, the tobacco industry denied for many years that there were any adverse health effects from their products. Corporate denial of a health problem is generally a delaying tactic not in the best interest of the public.”
Turbines emit audible sound which most people assume is the problem. While this is certainly aggravating for anyone exposed to it permanently, this is not the main hazard. As the UK Government among many others has now publicly conceded, they also emit low frequency infra-sound, which is not perceived as audible sound. This is variously described as sub-audible sound, aerodynamic modulation or vibration resonance. This phenomenon is the real villain of the piece. It is not yet fully understood scientifically, which is why leading clinicians and scientists internationally are calling for urgent and thorough research.
The harm caused
Its harmful effects on the human body, however, are not in doubt because they are clinically recognised by GPs seeing patients and widely reported, including online. These include sleep disturbance, headache, tinnitus, ear pressure, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, visual blurring, tachycardia, irritability, problems with concentration and memory, panic episodes associated with sensations of internal pulsation or quivering when awake or asleep, mental health symptoms and depression. These consequences are extremely serious for healthy people. They are even more so for people with serious existing medical conditions. We are aware of two such residents living adjacent to the Dorcas Lane site who unfortunately suffer from serious medial conditions. Precedent Planning Appeal decisions have already refused wind farm developments for this specific reason.
Clinical and scientific research
One leading American hearing specialist, Professor Alec Salt, of the Department of Otolaryngology, Washington University School of Medicine, USA explains the phenomenon as follows:
“Wind turbines generate low-frequency sounds that affect the ear… Responses to infrasound reach the brain through pathways that do not involve conscious hearing but instead may produce sensations of fullness, pressure or tinnitus, or have no sensation. Activation of subconscious pathways by infrasound could disturb sleep.”
In his evidence to the Australian Senate Inquiry into this subject, he confirmed:
“We now know that the long-held assumption made by advisers to the wind industry, that low frequency sounds that cannot be heard cannot possibly affect people, is false.”
What is also not in doubt is that such infra-sound has been directly recognised by clinicians in hundreds of documented cases of illness for previously healthy people when forced to live in close proximity to turbines. Many are associated with chronic sleep deprivation and disturbance for which there is irrefutable medical research evidence. The UK’s leading clinical authority on the harmful effects of sleep disturbance, Dr Chris Hanning BSc, MB, BS, MRCS, LRCP, FRCA, MD, in a definitive study (available online) puts it thus:
“In weighing the evidence, I find that, on the one hand, there is a large number of reported cases of sleep disturbance and, in some cases, ill health as a result of exposure to noise from wind turbines, supported by a number of research reports that tend to confirm the validity of the anecdotal reports and provide a reasonable basis for the complaints. On the other, we have badly designed industry and government reports which seek to show that there is no problem. I find the latter unconvincing… In my expert opinion, from my knowledge of sleep physiology and a review of the available research, I have no doubt that wind turbine noise emissions cause sleep disturbance and ill health.”
These conclusions are reinforced in a recently published report by a group of experts, including Dr Hanning, in related fields of medicine and technology. The Telegraph headlined its report:
“Wind farm noise causes “clear and significant” damage to people’s sleep and mental health, according to the first full peer-reviewed scientific study of the problem.”
While comprehensive understanding of the problem must await future research, we are asking AVDC to recognise from the extent of emerging evidence that there is a genuine problem here and to safeguard the health of our residents. The only possible mitigation for such effects is to require effective separation between turbines and people. This is why we have called so strongly for AVDC to follow other local authorities and apply stringent separation constraints on wind farm development.
Turbine noise at Dorcas Lane
We document fully in our submission how our acoustic consultant’s report confirms that both the ambient noise and operational noise data submitted by the applicant are inaccurate and misleading. Turbine noise is assessed by reference to Government criteria set out in ETSU-R-97. These criteria were established in 1997 when turbines were substantially smaller and less noisy than those proposed for Dorcas Lane. More importantly the phenomenon of sub-audible infra-sound was not even known at that time and so the criteria are silent on this subject. We show that two proposed turbines would clearly exceed even the 1997 criteria, let alone any that should be properly applied today. The remaining two are also marginal by 1997 standards. Moreover we identify serious deficiencies in the methodology used by the applicant to measure and predict the noise effects at Dorcas Lane. These are all material planning considerations that cannot be effectively mitigated, and will cause real harm.
Shadow Flicker is the effect caused when the sun rises or sets behind the rotating blades of a wind turbine which cast a shadow. It is similar to someone continuously and rapidly switching the lights of and on in your house. There are no UK guidelines to protect residents from these effects.
According to F9E/EDF’s own assessments, there are 12 properties within 10 rotor diameters of the proposed turbines at Dorcas Lane. All are expected to suffer significant Flicker effects. 2 properties could, in the worst case scenario, be affected for more than 30 minutes per day and for the equivalent of every day for 3 to 4 months of the year.
In our Rebuttal to AVDC we also provide clear evidence that the applicant’s shadow flicker assessment is inadequate and inaccurate and that many properties and residents will in reality be afflicted by this harm on a daily basis.
Every wind farm developer, including F9E, claims that wind turbine construction and operation is regulated by stringent safety standards. Even so, catastrophic failures can and do happen far too frequently for this to be ignored by any Local Planning Authority determining an application. Especially when turbines are proposed in such close proximity to settlements as at Dorcas Lane. SDLT argue that such risk is patently a material planning consideration and one which cannot be mitigated by bland assurances from developers or manufacturers. Safe separation distances are the only means to contain such risks to an acceptable standard.
Were such a catastrophic failure to occur at the Dorcas Lane site, it is self-evident that potential damage and/or injury could be inflicted on the former RAF Stoke Hammond business premises and its 14 occupants, located just 270 metres from the Dorcas Lane site.
Wind turbine technology was devised for erection at sea and in the unpopulated countryside. The attempt to shoehorn such massive rotating structures into confined space between our local villages is clearly inappropriate
The above risks are not sensational or exaggerated. They are real and documented. They have the potential to cause immense harm and are material planning considerations which cannot be safely mitigated without appropriate separation of turbines from people. Further research is needed, but AVDC has a responsibility to apply the precautionary principle and refuse the Dorcas Lane application
We are asking AVDC Councillors to prioritise matters of public health and safety in this case, to identify and avert the real threats to our communities and to reject this application.