Schomer, Dr Paul, Submission Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines
Requested Comments to: The Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines
Paul Schomer, PhD, 26 Feb. 2015
Thank you for the opportunity to make this presentation.
We, the entire world, desperately need proper, valid research to determine what effects wind turbine emissions have on people. Up until very recently I would have said what effects if any but a recent study by Cooper at Cape Bridgewater in Australia shows that wind turbine emissions affect some people independently of them seeing turbines, hearing turbines, or feeling vibrations from turbines. Appendix A to this paper describes three papers that provide clear support to Cooper’s finding. Taken together, these 4 papers tip the “preponderance of the evidence” to the position where it must be acknowledged that wind turbine emissions will affect some people at some wind turbine installations.
Industry is planning for an “expert” review and based on previous experience, the bar for “valid” will be placed impossibly high. But so far industry seems to have no appetite for the obvious which is: if you do not think that Cooper’s results are correct, see if they can be replicated. The clearest, simplest course of action is to replicate the Cooper study at more locations around the world using clearly independent contractors to perform the studies. Such studies are the first step in a much larger research program. This first step merely answers the question: Do one or more pathways exist by which some people sense the operation of a wind turbine, and does their level of sensation change in sync with the level of the power being generated. This is not a medical study; it focuses solely on the question stated. No judgments are being made as to the nature of the sensing, no judgment is being made that each person senses via the same pathway or different pathways. In theory, the sensation could be a feeling of ecstasy, or it could be a feeling of pain, or countless other things. All of these questions remain to be studied in subsequent steps. This first step only establishes if sensing wind turbines is possible or not. Based on the quality of the Cooper study and the three documents discussed in Appendix A, I believe the Cooper study will replicate. That will be the time to bring in medical professionals and other disciplines in order to begin answering such questions as: Who will be affected? How are they affected? When will they be affected? Why are they affected? What specifically causes these effects? How can we ameliorate these effects? Etc.
Up until now research has been done by industry, by industry and government, by government, by government and representatives of affected communities, and by the affected communities. But there is virtually no research done by the 3 working together: industry, government, and affected communities. The recent policy statement (please see below) on wind turbine noise by the Acoustical Society of America calls for just this, a research agenda developed and executed by all parties with a material interest and including all the necessary disciplines. As you can see, the Acoustical Society of America is trying to move this research agenda development forward, but government has a big role to play in this process, and this role must be balanced and evenhanded; it cannot be just the Department of Energy, and it cannot be just the National Institutes of Health. Organizations like the Acoustical Society of America can bring in the necessary disciplines and develop the research plan, but government must set the framework in which the research is accomplished, including funding, and it is government that must ensure that all parties with a material interest are at the table, participating, and cooperating. The Australian government can execute this research program on its own, or can bring in like departments and agencies from the United States, Canada, and other countries.
This day, today, now, I call upon all parties to start working together to build up our knowledge so that we can learn what really is and is not happening, and most importantly, what we can do to solve any problems. That is my hope, that is my recommendation, and that is my plea.
The following public policy was adopted by the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) Panel on Public Policy and endorsed by the ASA Executive Council:
Acoustical Society of America
Acoustic emissions of wind turbines include airborne, underwater, infrasonic, and structure borne sounds, and have been reported by individuals living near these facilities. Wind turbine acoustic emissions and their potential effects should be investigated and fully addressed in an interdisciplinary manner. The Acoustical Society of America urges that guidelines for relating wind turbine sound descriptors to probabilities of adverse effects be developed, to aid in wise wind energy planning. Methods for measuring and quantifying wind turbine acoustic emissions, particularly at very low frequencies, should be developed that support the interdisciplinary findings.
Annex A. Reasons I think the Cooper study will replicate in addition to the fact that the study was well done
I believe the Cooper study will replicate in part because of two studies and material in the current International Organization for Standardization (ISO) environmental noise standard.1 This standard contains an Annex C that deals with “sound with strong low-frequency content.”
This annex lists “complaints about feelings of ear pressure” as one of several main reasons “that the perception and the effects of sounds differ considerably at low frequencies as compared to mid or high frequencies.” Complaints about feelings of ear pressure are among the most frequently cited complaints related to wind turbine emissions, and they are known to occur when the turbines cannot be seen or heard.
A 1985 study from the University of Toronto2 shows that 8 Hz is perceived by a minority of the test subjects, the majority perceives nothing. If the 8 Hz signal was rich in harmonics, then the effect in sensitive individuals was headache and fatigue, but if the 8 Hz had few harmonics, the effects in sensitive individuals was dizziness and nausea. Also, sensitive individuals were readily distinguishable from non-sensitive individuals on the basis of their objectively detected characteristics of physiological and psychological responses to infrasound. The authors suggest that the vestibular system is a likely pathway for the low-frequency acoustic waves to be sensed and result in the effects described above.
I have recently had a paper accepted by the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America that offers a detailed theory as to how the otoliths, which are integral parts of the vestibular system, can be a pathway for low-frequency acoustic emissions to enter the body and signal the brain.(3)
1 International Organization for Standardization, ISO 1996-1 (2003), Acoustics-Description, measurement and assessment of environmental noise—Part 1: Basic quantities and assessment procedures, Annex C: Sounds with strong low-frequency content, Geneva, 2003.
2 D.S. Nussbaum and S. Reinis, Some Individual Differences in Human Response to Infrasound. Institute for Aerospace Studies, University of Toronto, ITIAS Report No. 282, CN ISSN 0082- 5255, January 1985.
3 P. Schomer, J. Erdreich, P. Parmidighantam, and J.Boyle, “A theory to explain some physiological effects of the infrasonic emissions at some wind farm sites,” J. Acoust. Soc. Amer., accepted and scheduled to be published in the March, 2015 edition, 137(3).