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People who live near wind turbines report having a lower quality of life

Wind turbines might be a popular source of renewable energy, but they can come at a big cost to those who live near them.

A research team from the University of Toronto explored how residential distance from wind turbines could impact people’s health. They looked at those who lived anywhere from just under 2,000 feet to up to 6.2 miles away from the turbines.

They also re-analyzed data that had been collected in 2013 as part of Statistics Canada’s Community Noise and Health Study. This looked at wind turbine noise based on factors like distance, meteorology, topography, and the sound power of the source.

According to their assessment, those who lived in areas with highest sound values – within the range of 40 to 46 decibels – noted more annoyance than those who lived in areas with modeled sound values of less than 25 decibels. Not surprisingly, those who lived closer to the turbines were more likely to be annoyed than those living further away.

While the original Statistics Canada study failed to directly link a person’s distance from the wind turbines to their levels of stress, blood pressure, and sleep disturbance, this newer study showed that those who lived closer to wind turbines gave their environmental quality of life lower ratings. It’s not clear whether this dissatisfaction already existed prior to the installation of the wind turbines, however.

Health problems linked to wind farms

Researchers have already linked wind turbines to human health problems. A study carried out by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development found that humans can detect sounds at frequencies that are as low as 8 Hz, disproving wind energy advocates’ assertions that the low-frequency sounds they emit are below the range that human ears can detect.

In fact, the researchers said that sounds that are lower than human ears can detect are still picked up by the brain’s primary auditory cortex, which is responsible for turning sounds into meaning. Moreover, the area of the brain associated with emotions also becomes active when people are exposed to sounds within those low frequency ranges that were previously considered to be inaudible.

Residents in the Scottish neighborhood of Fairlie, which is situated near an offshore wind turbine test site, have complained of sleep disturbances, sickness, headaches and dizziness. One woman who lives less than two miles from the site, Rita Holmes, told the local paper The Ferret that the energy company warns residents when the turbines will operate so they can stay away.

She described how she feels when they’re running, saying: “It’s not just a case of feeling slightly dizzy…it’s a case of your coordination goes, you can’t walk properly. If you stay in the house your speech is impaired and you feel as if your head is going to burst.”

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about “wind turbine syndrome” – the group of symptoms that people who live near wind farms often experience – although it appears some people are more susceptible to experiencing it than others. Whatever the case, the noise emitted by these turbines is impacting people’s quality of life, and further studies are urgently needed as the use of this type of green energy continues to expand around the world.

Read for more coverage of emerging energy technologies.

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