Living close to wind farms may lead to severe hearing damage or even deafness, according to new research which warns of the possible danger posed by low frequency noise.
The physical composition of inner ear was “drastically” altered following exposure to low frequency noise, like that emitted by wind turbines, a study has found.
The research will delight critics of wind farms, who have long complained of their detrimental effects on the health of those who live nearby.
Published today by the Royal Society in their new journal Open Science, the research was carried out by a team of scientists from the University of Munich.
It relies on a study of 21 healthy men and women aged between 18 and 28 years. After being exposed to low frequency sound, scientists detected changes in the type of sound being emitted from the inner ear of 17 out of the 21 participants.
The changes were detected in a part of the ear called the cochlear, a spiral shaped cavity which essential for hearing and balance.
“We explored a very curious phenomenon of the human ear: the faint sounds which a healthy human ear constantly emits,” said Dr Marcus Drexl, one of the authors of the report.
“These are like a very faint constant whistling that comes out of your ear as a by-product of the hearing process. We used these as an indication of how processes in the inner ear change.”
Dr Drexl and his team measured these naturally emitted sounds before and after exposure to 90 seconds of low frequency sound.
“Usually the sound emitted from the ear stays at the same frequency,” he said. “But the interesting thing was that after exposure, these sounds changed very drastically.
“They started to oscillate slowly over a couple of minutes. This can be interpreted as a change of the mechanisms in the inner ear, produced by the low frequency sounds.
"This could be a first indication that damage might be done to the inner ear.
“We don’t know what happens if you are exposed for longer periods of time, [for example] if you live next to a wind turbine and listen to these sounds for months of years.”
Wind turbines emit a spectrum of frequencies of noise, which include the low frequency that was used in the research, Dr Drexl explained.
He said the study "might help to explain some of the symptoms that people who live near wind turbines report, such as sleep disturbance, hearing problems and high blood pressure".
Dr Drexl explained how the low frequency noise is not perceived as being “intense or disturbing” simply because most of the time humans cannot hear it.
“The lower the frequency the you less you can hear it, and if it is very low you can’t hear it at all.
“People think if you can’t hear it then it is not a problem. But it is entering your inner ear even though it is not entering your consciousness.”
Earlier this week it was reported that bats were being lured to their deaths at wind farmsbecause they think turbines are trees in which they can find shelter, food and sex.