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Green Building News

Wind Farm Sued Over Noise

An Oregon homeowner claims that he moved from his home to escape turbine ‘infrasound’ that caused health problems

Do wind turbines make people sick? That's the assertion of an Oregon man who has sued the operator of a 50-turbine wind farm. What's now called "wind turbine syndrome" is not recognized by medical authorities.
Image Credit: NREL

An Oregon man has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the operator of a 50-turbine wind farm, claiming that low frequency noise from spinning turbine blades has caused a variety of health problems.

The Associated Press reported that Dan Williams filed his complaint on Aug. 9, about a year after he left his home near Ione, Oregon, where Invenergy had built its Willow Creek wind farm, and moved to Walterville, Oregon.

“It’s hard to explain it to people unless you experience it,” Williams told the AP. “There’s the actual noise that wakes you, but there’s also the infrasound you can’t hear but your body feels. The best I can describe it is like a train or an airplane coming and going.”

Invenergy began work on the project five years ago and has been fighting noise complaints ever since. The company took steps to reduce noise levels at Williams’ property, but Williams says he has suffered from a long list of health woes, including “emotional distress, deteriorating physical and emotional health, dizziness, inability to sleep, drowsiness, fatigue, headaches, difficulty thinking, irritation and lethargy.”

Science community has been skeptical

Complaints that wind turbines can cause a variety of health problems are by no means new, but mostly unrecognized by medical and health authorities.

As reported by National Public Radio, a pediatrician and biologist in upstate New York who has collected anecdotal evidence about the problem believes that low frequency noise is the culprit. Dr. Nina Pierpont says “wind turbine syndrome” can produce a variety of problems.

The World Health Organization doesn’t recognize wind turbine syndrome, NPR reported, “nor does any other medical institution.”

Yet a recent study in the United Kingdom, published in the Journal of Laryngology & Otology showed that infrasound could affect the human ear. One of the authors of the review article said his views had changed. “The more you look into it the more you realize there’s some science behind this,” Dr. Amir Farboud told NPR.

Farboud, however, adds that there’s no conclusive evidence that infrasound causes any specific health problems.

The power of suggestion

Yet another theory emerged in a Slate report on the topic, which was published in March.

In it, writer Keith Kloor cites a study in which researchers show the power of suggestion can trigger symptoms attributed to wind turbine syndrome. In a test, researchers found that people who were shown television footage discussing the ill effects of wind turbines were more anxious when exposed to either real infrasound or sham infrasound (silence).

In other words, once the idea that turbines did cause health problems had been planted, the test subjects were primed to experience them. Researchers call this the “nocebo effect.”


  1. stuccofirst | | #1

    he probably suffers from
    he probably suffers from "irritation", not "irrigation". only farmers suffer from irrigation.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Repsone to Shane Claflin
    We've fixed the typo. Thanks.

  3. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #3

    Like powerline magnetic fields issues...
    ... the number of people who believe there experiencing symptoms to the perceived cause are likely to be orders of magnitude higher than those who are receiving sufficient exposure/intensity to have a real effect. "Infra-sound" seems ominous because it is hard to sense directly, but this stuff is measurable. Whether and how it may cause human health issue and at what intensity are still not well studied, but like E & H fields from power distribution systems, the intensity will almost certainly matter. Megawatt turbines have a history now, and this should be better understood in a decade than it is to day, but don't expect to glean a scientific conclusion from legal-findings on the subject. (Legal facts live in their own universe, often immune from the reality of the physical cosmos.)

  4. bill02888 | | #4

    Noise annoys me
    I don't know about inaudible sound, but I can tell you that my local library had one section with a high pitched whine (not unlike the whistle you'd hear from a tube-based TV set, but louder), and another section with a loud but low frequency rumble. After a few visits I couldn't take the sounds any more; I never visited the library again. I experienced a similar low frequency rumble in a large local furniture store last week. I had to leave after a few minutes. If felt so good to get out! It didn't seem to bother my wife, however.

    Some people are definitely more sensitive to sound than others. Years ago I was reading and heard a slight hissing sound. I walked around the house. Two rooms away, in a drawer, was an aerosol can that was slowly leaking.

    While I still have doubts about inaudible sound and its possible health effects, part of me sympathizes with the plight of people who claim it has a bad effect on them, based on my strong reactions to audible sound.

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