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Wind turbines can be annoying — but not a health risk

A federal study found no evidence to support claims they are a hazard

A two-year study by the federal government has found no detrimental impact on human health from wind turbines, although the giant towers and their rotating arms can be annoying to nearby residents.

“No evidence was found to support a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and any of the self-reported or measured health end points examined,” says Health Canada.

However, there is “a relationship between increasing levels of wind turbine noise and annoyance towards several features such as noise, vibration, shadow flicker, and the aircraft warning lights on top of the turbines,” the department said.

The study was conducted in southwestern Ontario and Prince Edward Island, where local opposition to the turbines has been the loudest, and included 1,238 households living near 399 wind turbines, either as stand-alone installations or in large groups.

In Ontario, much of the opposition has been driven by inadequate rules to keep the towers away from populated areas. Public annoyance with turbines was three times higher in Ontario than P.E.I.

Health Canada said it will release additional findings later from the Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study done in collaboration with Statistics Canada.

“The balance of scientific evidence to date continues to show that properly sited wind turbines are not harmful to human health and that wind energy remains one of the safest and environmentally friendly forms of electricity generation,” says Canadian Wind Energy Association president Robert Hornung. The study found “no association between wind turbine noise and any significant changes in reported quality of life, or with overall quality of life, and satisfaction with health.”

Wind energy generation in Canada has grown from approximately 137 megawatts in 2000 to just over 8.5 gigawatts in 2014, the association said. The government proceeded with the study because “the scientific evidence base in relation to WTN exposure and health is limited, which includes uncertainty as to whether or not low-frequency noise and infrasound from wind turbines contribute to the observed community response and potential health impacts.”

The federal study used both self-reported and observed data collected at homes, most of which were located within 600 metres of a turbine.

It found no links between the presence of turbines and either sleep disruption or illnesses. “The findings suggest that health and well-being effects may be partially related to activities that influence community annoyance, over and above exposure to wind turbines.”

The department said it “undertook this study because we were hearing the concerns from individual Canadians.” While another study done differently might discover problems, this one “didn’t find the direct health measures that some people are concerned about.”

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