Opinion: Health effects of wind towers hyped by media

The following article appeared in the Lewiston (Me.) Sun Journal May 12 and is reprinted here with permission of the author, Richard Jennings, M.D.

Slate Magazine is not generally thought of as a medical journal, but in its recent issue it seems to have confronted, and clarified, a massive medical myth about wind power, conceived in northern New York by a pediatrician and nurtured in Maine by a radiologist, with potentially negative worldwide consequences.

In the Slate article, "communication illness" is suggested as a possible title for this disorder, which may be appropriate as, despite claims, it never made it to the medical literature and seems to be transmitted through the media.

Claims of negative health effects from wind turbines may have begun in England, but a New York pediatrician, Nina Pierpont, M.D., seems to have taken them up, full force, but without much thought or evidence. She self-published "Wind Turbine Syndrome," a book now out of print, that was seized upon by the anti-wind factions.

Claimed to have been "peer reviewed," it was, instead, reviewed by selected associates. Pierpont has since spoken extensively to the New York legislature and as far away as the Australian Parliament with various claims of harm related to wind. Strangely, a Maine radiologist from Fort Kent, Michael Nissenbaum M.D., enthusiastically took up the cause.

His "research" consisted of interviews with 15 families in Mars Hill, all anecdotal reports, which he parlayed into what he claimed was possible publication in the New England Journal. (That never happened.)

Nonetheless, Dr. Nissenbaum remains undeterred, and has given legislative testimony in Vermont, and been quoted extensively — notably, not in any medical publications — though in several news media outlets.

To correct the misinformation flooding the media, in December, 2009, "Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects, An Expert Panel Review," was prepared for the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations, refuting the false claims and suggesting the "nocebo effect" (the psychological fear of being harmed) as a likely cause.

Finally, now, Keith Kloor has taken the further step of providing the press with a clear explanation, which is summed up quite succinctly here:

"Several recent studies might explain what's going on here. One of them, published in Health Psychology, found that the power of suggestion can induce symptoms associated with wind turbine syndrome.

"Researchers exposed 60 participants to 10 minutes of infrasound (vibrations too low in frequency to hear) and sham infrasound (silence). Before the listening sessions, half the group was shown television footage of people who lived near wind farms recounting the harmful effects they said were caused by noise from the spinning blades. Within this group, the people who scored high on a test of anxiety became symptomatic whether they were exposed to low-frequency noise, or sham infrasound."

While, in time, we usually can prove that something does happen (i.e. side effects from a treatment or a medication), it is not possible to prove that something will not happen. There is always some degree of risk.

Further study, as demanded by opponents of wind, will appropriately continue, and will take time. Given, however, the well-documented and peer-reviewed evidence thus far, there is no medical contraindication to wind power and, given the crisis of our unstable climate, there is no time for further delay.

Richard Jennings, M.D., is a member of the Maine Medical Association and a past member of the MMA Public Health Committee. A retired psychiatrist, he lives in Brunswick.

Useful articles on the nocebo effect:

New Yorker blog,"The Nocebo Effect: How We Worry Ourselves Sick"
Media Matters for America blog,"NPR Gives Wind Power Hypochondriacs a Platform"
Slate,"Can Wind Turbines Make You Sick?"
The Conversation,"How the power of suggestion generates wind farm symptoms"

Related articles:

Falmouth votes to keep turbines; Australian sound study confirms others, May 24, 2013
Wind farm neighbors stressed, but it's not the turbines, April 21, 2013
New Yorker explains nocebo effect, NPR airs junk science, April 8, 2013
Science: Anti-wind groups appear to spread illnesses they complain of, March 21, 2013
Ontario resident's personal testimony: 'Anti-wind groups make me sick', March 13, 2013
GMP reports on Kingdom Community Wind sound levels, March 5, 2013
South Australia study finds infrasound from wind farms not a concern, February 4, 2013
Science proves that wind energy is safe for Wisconsin, January 9, 2013
Ontario tribunal turns down anti-wind appeal, December 26, 2012
Reason trumps fear in Australian debate on wind energy and sound, December 5, 2012
Nissenbaum paper on turbine sound recycles claims on wind energy and health already found inadequate by courts and expert panel, November 16, 2012
Negative oriented personality traits and wind turbine sound, November 2, 2012
Quality of research on wind farms published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, September 25, 2012
Wind energy associations: Wind 'one of safest forms of electricity', July 30, 2012
'Say No to Wind Turbines'–and Yes to ?, July 25, 2012
Fact check: On turbine sound, it's Bryce vs. science, July 24, 2012
Fourteen wind energy myths debunked, June 20, 2012
Wind turbines not a threat to human health, another study finds, May 31, 2012
Fact check: Lomborg lacking on wind's economics, emissions reductions, March 23, 2012
Public opinion watch: Ontarians: Wind power one of safest forms of electricity generation, March 6, 2012
Opinion: Wind turbines are good for our health, March 2, 2012
Review of wind turbine sound studies gives debate needed balance, February 28, 2012
Anti-wind-farm ‘astroturfers’ in Australia, February 27, 2012
NBC4's 'iReporter' lacks context on wind turbine sound, February 14, 2012
Fact check: Bryce misleads again on land, sound, resource use, January 31, 2012
Despite science, wind turbine sound sparks discussion in Wisconsin, January 30, 2012
Massachusetts clears wind of health effects after independent experts review evidence, January 20, 2012
Opinion: Dr. W. David Colby: Turbines and health, December 2, 2011
Canadian researchers: No direct link between wind turbines and health, November 29, 2011
Wind power: A quiet solution to climate change, June 27, 2011
Sierra Club Canada 1.1: Time to confront anti-wind fear campaign, June 15, 2011
Environmental Defence (Canada): 'No basis' for health impact claims, June 6, 2011
Sierra Club Canada: Time to confront anti-wind disinformation campaign, June 3, 2011
WINDPOWER report: New study finds minimal low-frequency and infrasound impact from wind turbines, May 25, 2011
Does the sound of money soothe Wind Turbine Syndrome?, April 25, 2011
WHO guidelines on sound are … guidelines, March 28, 2011
Scientists, doctor weigh in on wind and health, November 30, 2010
Wind turbine sound: The neighbors speak, March 18, 2010
Expert panel concludes wind turbine sounds not harmful to human health, December 15, 2009




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