Do windmills cause illness?

Here in the US, a lot of the complaints about wind farms that make news focus on aesthetics: wealthy shorefront property owners don’t want the huge turbines interrupting their view, as in the Cape Wind controversy.  Even the 2012 documentary Windfall (trailer here and available on Netflix), about turbine installations in the rural New York town of Meredith, focused mainly on the issues of neighbor vs. neighbor fighting, corporate interests, and home values.  Though issues of environmental impact get casual mention, US coverage is usually about the money.

In other parts of the English-speaking world, the main controversy seems to be about illness.  This article from the UK’s MailOnline cites US researchers when establishing a scientific grounds for the the illnesses which, the author admits, “you might be tempted to dismiss it as a hypochondriac’s charter or an urban myth.”  To our east, Health Canada is responding to increased pressure by conducting a $1.8 million dollar study of wind farm noise in Ontario, where this news report was filmed:

There’s also this longer news piece about claims of wind farm illness in an Australian town called Waubra:

On the other hand, there are plenty of voices saying that wind farms are not correlated with illness: governments, energy companies, and this public health professor from Sydney, Australia who has made a list of seventeen studies of wind turbines that point to little or no impact on health. In a second article, he equates the phenomenon to mass hysteria, mentioning that no complaints of illness were made until after hundreds of turbines were already deployed.

There are examples in the urban myths recorded by Dr. Jan Brunvand that might resonate with this situation: the teenager who fried herself in a (newly popular) tanning bed, the old lady who didn’t understand how her (brand new) microwave worked when she popped in her wet poodle to dry it off, etc.  Television will hurt your eyes and cell phones will give you brain cancer.  New technology — and I think the gigantic turbines are different enough from previous generations of windmill to qualify — can confuse and frighten us.   Perhaps there are other factors that are leading to the discovery or exacerbation of the illnesses people near wind farms are mentioning.

Personally, I find the turbines lovely to watch at a distance, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live in the throbbing shadow of one, with that low pulse of sound all day and all night.  Is this a case where we’ve rushed ahead too quickly because of financial and social (environmental) pressures, without considering human factors, or is it a case of “modern technology illness”?

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