Health Effects from Wind Turbines

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has issued a long awaited report on health effects from Wind turbines.  Over the past few years the Commonwealth has been taking a hard look at a range of energy alternatives.  In January of 2011, MassDEP and the Department of Public Health convened an expert scientific panel to look to evaluate the scientific literature and address the concerns expressed by the public. The panel’s finding, as documented in a report, was envisioned to help local officials by providing guidance and clarity on the science.

The panel’s charge was to review the scientific literature to identify and evaluate documented or potential human health impacts or risks that may be associated with exposure to wind turbines, and issue a report that will facilitate discussion of wind turbines and public health based on sound science. The panel was also to identify documented best practices that could reduce the potential for human health impacts.

The panel did not include new research studies, such as epidemiologic studies or investigations of the health status of populations living near wind turbines. The panel’s work was aimed at establishing the current state of science and health impacts associated with wind turbines from studies of the literature.

The agencies sought to create an independent panel by identifying technically qualified individuals and questioning them about their experience with wind turbines.   The questioning was directed at discovering their views and/or positions on wind turbines and health effects. The goal of the selection process was to help ensure that panel members did not come into the process with biases.   No member of the Wind Turbine Science Panel reported being directly or indirectly employed by or receiving funding from the wind turbine industry. In addition, no member of the panel expressed a particular position about wind turbines and health effects.

Among the key findings of the panel were:

  • There is no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”
  • Claims that infrasound from wind turbines directly impacts the vestibular system have not been demonstrated scientifically. Available evidence shows that the infrasound levels near wind turbines cannot impact the vestibular system.
  • The weight of the evidence suggests no association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.
  • None of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggests an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, and headache/migraine.
  • There is limited epidemiologic evidence suggesting an association between exposure to wind turbines and annoyance. There is insufficient epidemiologic evidence to determine whether there is an association between noise from wind turbines and annoyance independent from the effects of seeing a wind turbine and vice versa.
  • There is limited evidence from epidemiologic studies suggesting an association between noise from wind turbines and sleep disruption. In other words, it is possible that noise from some wind turbines can cause sleep disruption. Whether annoyance from wind turbines leads to sleep issues or stress has not been sufficiently quantified. While not based on evidence from wind turbines, there is evidence that sleep disruption can adversely affect mood, cognitive functioning, and overall sense of health and well-being.
  • Scientific evidence suggests that shadow flicker does not pose a risk for eliciting seizures as a result of photic stimulation. There is limited scientific evidence of an association between annoyance from prolonged shadow flicker (exceeding 30 minutes per day) and potential transitory cognitive and physical health effects.

The panel did not investigate reported problems at any particular turbine installation, though they did receive extensive public comment, including from residents who live near wind turbines. Instead, they were tasked with reviewing the extensive existing information within their areas of expertise to determine the potential for health effects. They looked at both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed studies.

A public comment period on the report is now open until Monday, March 19 at 5p.m. Electronic comments can be submitted to: WindTurbineDocket.MassDEP@MassMail.State.MA.US

Written comments can be submitted to:

MassDEP Wind Turbine Docket
One Winter Street
Fourth Floor
Boston, MA 02108

Verbal and written comments may also be submitted at the following three public meetings:

  • Tuesday, February 14, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Gardner Auditorium in the Statehouse, 24 Beacon Street, Boston (Please note the updated location, moved from MA DOT to the Gardner Auditorium).
  • Thursday, February 16, from 5-8 p.m. – Bourne High School, Beth Bourne Auditorium, 75 Waterhouse Road, Bourne.

Tuesday, February 28, from 5-8 p.m. – The Lee Middle and High School Auditorium, 300 Greylock Street, Lee. Snow date: February 29th.