I started writing this post last year but didn’t get around to finishing it. Then last week the topic popped up in the news again with the release of a study Spatio-temporal differences in the history of health and noise complaints about Australian wind farms: evidence for the psychogenic , “communicated disease” hypothesis. The original report that got me interested was this one by the lead author of the study (now with a follow up). The key take home being that the nocebo effect is likely to play an important role in the cause of health complaints such as the so called wind turbine syndrome.
Wind turbine syndrome as a term has been popularised by Dr Nina Pierpont. It is a loose grouping of symptoms that are claimed to be caused by infrasound and low frequency noise produced by wind turbines. Wind Turbine Syndrome however hasn’t really made any traction in peer reviewed literature to date. A 2011 review of health effects and wind turbines suggested that health effects reported were due to annoyance related to a change in the environment and not turbine specific variables such as noise or infrasound.
Last weeks study, uses statistical analysis of data from Australian wind farms to investigate the extent of health issues associated with wind turbines, spatially and temporally. They find that only 1 in 272 of people living within 5 km of wind turbines report symptoms. They also found that the bulk of complaints have occurred since 2009 when anti-wind farm groups started to add concerns about the health effects of wind farms to their other issues. Additionally, the majority of those complaints came from 5 wind farms that hat been targeted by anti-wind farm groups. Some wind farms have never been the subject of complaints of noise despite having been operating longer and being of comparable size to those where complaints have occurred.
Another new study reports an experiment to determine whether the publicisation of symptoms associated with wind turbines could create symptom expectations in people. In their experiment they subjected participants to real and faked infrasound to see if they developed symptoms. In order to test the “communicable disease” hypothesis, they primed some of the participants with online information about the health problems caused by wind turbines. Those participants who were primed with the information reported symptoms consistent with their priming, for both the real infrasound and faked infrasound. This suggests that psychological expectations could explain the link between health complaints related to wind turbines and exposure to those wind turbines.
The prognosis doesn’t look good for wind turbine syndrome.