People who can see wind turbines from their homes may be more annoyed by these machines and more likely to report quality of life issues than individuals who live further away from wind turbines, an industry-supported study suggests.
Wind turbines have become more common in recent years as a source of clean renewable energy that doesn’t cause air pollution or contribute to global warming. But as more wind farms dot the landscape, some residents in surrounding communities have complained that noise from the turbines negatively impacts their quality of life, researchers note in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
Yet while respondents who live closer to wind turbines did report lower ratings for environmental quality of life, researchers couldn’t tell whether these individuals were dissatisfied before the wind turbines were installed, study co-author Sandra Sulsky told Reuters Health by email.
“The wind turbines might have been placed in locations where residents were already concerned about their environmental quality of life,” said Sulsky, who works for Ramboll Environ US Corporation, an engineering company that helps plan and construct wind farms. “This study provides no evidence that exposure to wind turbines impacts human health.”
For the current study, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto and Ramboll, which funded the work, set out to investigate how residential distance from the wind turbines impacts quality of life by reanalyzing data collected by the Canadian government in 2012 and 2013.
The government sent surveys to all homes within 600 meters (1,969 feet) of wind turbines in Ontario or Prince Edward Island and also surveyed randomly selected homes up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away from wind turbines.
An earlier study based on these surveys didn’t find a direct link between residents’ proximity to wind turbines and sleep problems, high blood pressure, or stress.
In the current study, researchers took a closer look at data from this survey that touched on several indicators of so-called environmental quality of life, including financial resources, pain, daily activities, social support, sexual health, self-esteem, memory, and the ability to fall and remain asleep.
In the new analysis, researchers found that people living closer to wind turbines did report lower ratings for a variety of physical health factors that can influence quality of life.
The further from the turbines they lived, the higher their scores on the environmental health quality of life scale.
But the researchers didn’t find a connection between wind turbine noise and physical health.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how living closer to wind turbines might impact human health. Another limitation is that researchers lacked raw noise data and relied instead on simulated models of wind turbine sound.
People who agreed to participate in the original survey might also have had stronger feelings about wind turbines than individuals who declined the invitation, researchers also note.
“It is possible that the annoyance can affect your general health,” said Dr. Jesper Hvass Schmidt, a researcher at the University of Southern Denmark who wasn’t involved in the study.
“It is well known that poor general health in itself also leads to lower quality of life scores,” Schmidt said by email. “If you are annoyed, you will most likely also score lower on the quality of life scores.”
The negative health impacts of fossil fuels are well documented, though, and make it important to consider wind turbines and other clean renewable energy resources, said Dr. Robert Younghusband McMurtry, a researcher at the University of Western Ontario who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Climate change is real and there is sufficient evidence to implicate fossil fuels as part of the problem,” McMurtry said by email. “
“Clean energy is a worthy goal,” McMurtry added. “It can provide cleaner air which would reduce risk factors adversely affecting health that exist with the use of coal and other fossil fuels.”