Jul 15, 2015

Understanding the Evidence: Wind Turbine Noise

Demand for renewable energy, including wind power, is expected to grow in Canada and around the world. The wind sector has expanded rapidly since the 1990s, and Canada is now the fifth-largest global market for the installation of wind turbines. However, this new source of environmental sound has raised public concerns about potential health effects on nearby residents.

Determining whether wind turbine noise causes adverse health effects is an important issue. In response to public concern, Health Canada asked the Council of Canadian Academies to conduct an in-depth expert panel assessment. The Panel's report presents findings on the acoustic characteristics of wind turbine noise; evidence on causal relationships between exposure to wind turbine noise and adverse health effects; knowledge gaps and further research; and promising practices to reduce adverse community response. The resulting report is evidence-based and does not espouse recommendations. Its purpose, rather, is to assess the scientific evidence on the question of wind turbine noise and human health in order to provide a foundation of knowledge to support governments, policy-makers, communities, and the industry.

The Panel used a comprehensive approach to identify and review relevant research. They identified 32 symptoms and health outcomes that have been attributed to exposure to wind turbine noise by members of the general public (e.g., annoyance, sleep disturbance, stress, irregular heartbeat, muscle pain etc.). The Panel then reviewed the empirical research for those symptoms and selected 38 key papers that constituted the core evidence base for their assessment. After completing their assessment the report was sent out for an anonymous peer review. The final report is reflective of the input that came from the peer-review process.

It should be noted that the Panel's ability to fully assess the prevalence of adverse health effects was limited by a lack of available data.  As a result, the report outlines where more research is required in order to fill knowledge gaps, including for vulnerable populations.

Key Findings

 The Panel has 11 main findings that are outlined in the full report. Some findings include:

  • The evidence is sufficient to establish a causal relationship between exposure to wind turbine noise and annoyance.
  • There is limited evidence to establish a causal relationship between exposure to wind turbine noise and sleep disturbance.
  • The evidence suggests a lack of causality between exposure to wind turbine noise and hearing loss.
  • For all other health effects considered (fatigue, tinnitus, vertigo, nausea, dizziness, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, etc.), the evidence was inadequate to come to any conclusion about the presence or absence of a causal relationship with exposure to wind turbine noise.
  • Technological development is unlikely to resolve, in the short term, the current issues related to perceived adverse health effects of wind turbine noise.
  • Impact assessments and community engagement provide communities with greater knowledge and control over wind energy projects and therefore help limit annoyance.

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