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Wind turbine sound and health effects

Dr. Robert McCunney is a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Biological Engineering, a staff physician in occupational and environmental health at Massachusetts General, and a clinical faculty member at the Harvard Medical School. He was the lead drafter of Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Panel Review. Here, he talk to PES about the results of this far-reaching study.

PES: What do you see as the most significant conclusions arising from the work the panel conducted on this issue?
Robert McCunney: Before I was invited to participate in this project – and I think I was invited primarily as a result of my experience in occupational noise-induced hearing loss – I really had no fixed idea one way or another about whether there were any health implications. I was willing, like everybody, to take a fresh look at the literature. Usually in occupational or environmental medicine it is important to identify the exposure, what the agent of some concern is.

In this case, it seemed to me that the agent was either sound or vibration or both and my conclusions were very similar to what you see in the white paper. The first fundamental message is that we were unable to demonstrate that there was any evidence in the literature of potential adverse health effects, either directly measured or theoretically of concern.

The second finding is that the sound that may arise from the operation of wind turbines is really no different than the sound that comes from other environmental sources, whether it is construction, transportation, aviation and so forth. The reason I bring that up is that one of the concerns raised by people who feel there may be health effects is that the frequency distribution of sound from wind turbines is different, that there may be more low frequency sound and infra-frequency sound and those frequencies may have an adverse effect on human health as a result of vibration.


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