January 7, 2014
by Jean-Pierre Riou
In its report dated March 14th, 2006, the Academy of Medicine stated that the “risks of wind turbines are linked to the possibility of chronic acoustic traumas”. It thus required the implementation of an “epidemiological study on potential health consequences of the noise made by wind turbines on the residents. The data should be correlated with the distance between the houses and the location of the wind turbines...”
Pending the implementation of this study, the Academy of Medicine advocated that “as a precaution, the building of wind turbines with a capacity higher than 2.5 MW should be suspended if they are to be located less than 1,500 meters from houses”. It must be added that in the range of winds which are most detrimental to residents (windspeeds higher than 5m/s), a 2 MW wind turbine is strictly as noisy as a 2.5 MW one (AFFSSET report, p.68).
Unfortunately, these recommendations have not been taken into account.
The government has set a legal distance of 500 m, even though the epidemiological study has not been conducted. Furthermore, this distance has not been validated by any scientific consensus.
The matter has been brought before the AFSSET (saisine n° 2006/005. De mars 2008). Taking into account the proved impact on sleep, and thus on health, according to the residual noise and to topography, at distances up to one kilometer, the AFSSET does not agree that a distance of 500 meters is adequate. On the contrary, the agency clearly states that the current knowledge applied to impact studies is insufficient. Its conclusions on the subject couldn’t be clearer : “The domain of validity of the emergence criteria (in terms of noise levels and dynamics) has not been thoroughly explored, and virtually nothing is known about the existence of threshold effects, of spectral validity, of application to pulsating noise, of validity depending on the length of exposure and of various limitations, in spite of the many recommendations by the Afnor S 30 J commission (environmental noise) or more recently, by the Conseil National du Bruit”.
Even so, this AFSSET report appears to be the main element taken into account by those who wish to dismiss the recommendations of the Academy of Medicine.
Nevertheless, the parliamentary report dated March 31 2010 rapport parlementaire du 31 mars 2010 deplores (p.85) that the AFSSET chose not to declare itself in favour of the aforementionned epidemiological study and that the agency still puts its entire trust in the impact studies made by the professionals of the industry.
This report states that “in these conditions, the despair of the inhabitants can be easily understood”, referring to the “worrying situation of the people who live close to wind farms and are subject to stress, nausea, vertigo, insomnia, testiness and depression”, described in Le Monde Magazine dated November 28, 2009 (p.85 of the AFSSET report).
Scientists such as Nicole Lachat, Mauri Johansson, Sarah Laurie, Mariana Alveis Pereira, Nuno Castelo Branco, Christopher Hanning… have conducted extremely unpublicized studies that describe the medical details of the Vibroacoustic disease (VAD), as well as the responsibility of wind turbines in generating these symptoms (see in particular the contribution of Alveis-Pereira and Castelo Branco at the Inter noise international congress: Inter noise d’Istambul 2007).
Ida Auken, the Danish minister for environment, admitted (Berlingske du 09/10/2012) the health impact had been undervalued and that between 4 and 11 % of the residents are disturbed by the characteristic pulsations of wind turbines. According to professor Henrik Moeller, it is no less than 22 to 42 % of the residents that are disturbed by the noise.
As early as 1985, the US Department of Energy (rapport Neil. D. Kelly Contract No. DE-AC02-83CH-10093) had warned about the potential noxiousness of wind turbine infrasound. Its report indicates (p.225) the values which should not be exceeded by more than 20 % of the time for 8 Hz, 16 Hz, 31,5 Hz and 63 Hz. But these frequency bands are currently being ignored!
Wind turbines do not even comply with the public health code. Indeed, since August 26, 2011, they fall under the ICPE legislation ICPE (art 26) and can thus push night sound levels up to 35 dBA. Under that threshold, no breach of law can be declared (yet the public health code sets the limit at 30 dBA [Article R1334-32]). Infraction dès 30 dBA
Litigations are on the increase, and jurisprudence is moving towards the removal of these machines as “the quite unusual situation, permanent and rapidly unbearable, creates a prejudice that exceeds normal residential inconveniences, and constitutes a breach of property right”, because of the “purring and hissing of wind turbines” and of the “white and red lights flashing every two secondes twenty-four hours a day”, even though the aerogenerators in question were located more than one kilometer away. (TGI Montpellier 17 sept. 2013).
The health of the residents must be taken into account and the epidemiological study recommended by the Academy of Medecine must be implemented.
This study must be correlated to the measure of wind turbines emissions in frequency bands ranging from 0,1 Hz to 20 Hz (infrasound), 20 Hz to 200 Hz (low frequency noise) and 200 to 10,000 Hz (usual noise) inside the habitations of residents living near wind turbines and suffering from chronic sleep disorders since their commissioning.
Pending this study, the recommended distance of 1500 m seems to be a minimum requirement considering the current evolution of wind turbine technology. However, this distance might very well prove too short in view of the results of the campaign for the measurement of infrasound. It should not, therefore, be taken as the gold standard of acceptability of wind turbines in the vicinity of residences.