Wind turbine sickness may be all in your head: study
They emit no pollution and require no fuel.
As gas prices and pollution levels spiral upwards, it’s understandable why supporters of wind power are trying to persuade lawmakers to invest in wind turbines.
Last fall, two studies by U.S. research groups suggested wind power has the potential to power the world's energy demands. The studies, led by professors from the Carnegie Institution for Science and Stanford University, suggest existing wind turbine technology could produce hundreds of trillions of watts of power. That's more than 10 times what the world now consumes.
Yet even as some lawmakers champion the renewable energy source — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has talked of putting wind turbines atop office towers and bridges — people who live near the turbines offer cautionary tales.
Besides changing local sceneries, some local residents complain that wind turbine farms actually have given them rapid heartbeats, nausea and blurred vision. They say the side effects have been caused by the ultra-low-frequency sound and vibrations from the turbines.
A new study out of Australia suggests that sickness and side effects may be all in the mind.
Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at Sydney University, reports 63 per cent of Australia's 49 wind farms have not been the subject of any health complaints by local residents. Some 68 per cent of 120 complaints came from those living near wind farms in an area where the anti-wind farm lobby is most vocal.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, which reported on Chapman’s study, ''wind turbine sickness'' is a ''communicated disease',” spread by the claim that something is likely to make a person sick.
Closer to home, Star columnist Tyler Hamilton reported in January that Health Canada is studying the relationship between wind turbine noise and health effects.
The investigation comes after Ontario's Ministry of the Environment is logging hundreds of health complaints over the province's 900 wind turbines. In 2011, the CBC reported the ministry had has downplayed the problem.
Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead