Public Safety, Health of Citizens, and Our Way of Life at Risk
A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
The lush rolling hills and fertile farmland in Monroe County make it a wonderful location to raise a family. With a population of just under 34,000, it boasts numerous picturesque communities including the larger towns of Columbia, Waterloo (county seat), Valmeyer, Hecker, as well as other smaller quaint villages such as Maeystown and Fults.
This is how Monroe County is described on monroecountyil.gov. However, these are not the descriptions we will be able to use should the proposed wind turbine factory be placed on 15,000 acres ranging from Valmeyer to Fults, ruining the safe, healthy and beautiful setting that our residents call home. A Michigan township offers this advice: "most people recognize that when a person creates unsightly blight that others have to look at, or use property in ways that create unreasonable noise, odors, lighting or creates a threat to the safety of others, it is reasonable for the local government to step in and stop the nuisance behavior." For Monroe Countians, that time is now. The counties of Boone, DeKalb, and Ford, among many others in Illinois, are making changes to their ordinances to insure their residents’ health, safety and wellbeing are safeguarded as a result of Industrial Wind Turbine Factories. We can learn and avoid the damage and destruction of our way of life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has conducted literature reviews since 1980 stating that excessive nighttime noise could disturb sleep, and that excessive noise can cause a physiological stress effect. In October 2018, WHO published their updated noise guidelines which recommended new limits on the amount of noise wind turbines can emit. Their report states that exposure to wind turbines should not exceed 45 decibels during daytimes and that wind turbine noise above this level is associated with adverse health effects. WHO recommends that policy makers implement suitable measures to reduce noise exposure from wind turbines in the population exposed to levels above the guideline values and that proper public involvement, communications and consultation of affected citizens living in the vicinity of wind turbines during the planning stage and future installations is expected to be beneficial as a part of health and environmental impact assessments. WHO’s recommendations were drawn up for Europe; however, they are relevant for the rest of the world because they are based on data from various continents.
Clinical research conducted by Dr. Nina Pierpont, M.D., Ph.D., shows that infrasonic through ultrasonic sounds (typically inaudible to humans), noise and vibrations emitted by wind turbines cause symptoms resulting in “Wind Turbine Syndrome.” Symptoms include sleep disturbance, headache, tinnitus, ear pressure, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, blurred vision, tachycardia, irritability, concentration and memory problems and panic episodes. Pierpont’s findings through years of research find that people have these symptoms when they are close to turbines and symptoms go away when they are away from them. Children, adults, and specifically older adults are affected. Those with pre-existing migraine disorders, motion sensitivity or inner ear damage are more susceptible. Pierpont’s findings show that humans are effected by low frequency noise and vibrations through their inner ear bones. She recommends safe setbacks of 2km (1.24 miles) and longer for large turbines set within varied topography.
Wind industry proponents have challenged Pierpont’s studies. Ongoing research continues and Pierpont and other supporters of the “Wind Turbine Syndrome” reinforce that more research needs to be conducted. However, more research means that more communities must be subjected to be “guinea pigs” to study the ill effects of wind turbines on human health. An Anderson County, Kansas, blogger recently pointed out that lack of subjects for long range studies may be attributable to the non-disclosure / confidentiality agreements wind developers routinely put in their leases for turbine land rental.
Shadow flicker is another complaint of many living near wind turbines. Research from the Society of Wind Vigilance, an international federation of physicians, engineers and other professionals, shows that shadow flicker occurs with the rotation of wind turbine blades interrupting the sunlight and producing unavoidable flicker bright enough to pass through closed eyelids, and moving shadows cast by the blades on windows can affect illumination inside buildings. The Society states that wind turbine shadow flicker has the potential to induce photosensitive epilepsy seizures; however the risk is low with large modern models and if proper planning is adhered to. Planning should ensure the flash frequency does not exceed three per second, and the shadows cast by one turbine on another should not have a cumulative flash rate exceeding three per second.
The current Monroe County Ordinance states that Noise levels from each wind farm tower or wind farm shall be in compliance with the applicable Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) regulations (35 Illinois Administrative Code, subtitle H: Noise Parts 900, 901, 910 and other applicable provisions to this code as amended from time to time). The current ordinance does not specifically set time-framed sound restrictions that would help safeguard the safety and well being of the county residents.
Residents from Illinois’ DeKalb County have endured severe life disruption from shadow flicker and noise in their homes due to un-properly planned development. As a result, the DeKalb County Planning and Zoning Committee passed several more elements of the ordinance draft at a meeting held on July 12, 2018. These new components require no radio frequency and electromagnetic field interference as a result of wind turbines, a zero-tolerance policy for shadow flicker and flash, and sound level regulations including a maximum allowable level of 30 decibels from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and 35 decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Judicial Recognition of Harm From Industrial-Scale Turbines
Courts in a number of jurisdictions are increasingly acknowledging that the adverse health impacts reported by residents living near wind turbines are “real and not imagined.”
In Ontario in July 2011, the Environment Review Tribunal found that: “This case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents.”
In Victoria, the VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) members stated the following in March 2013: “The Tribunal finds itself in a position where there is some direct evidence and much anecdotal evidence that people living in proximity to wind farms experience deleterious health effects, and those effects are of the same type, being sleep disturbance, increased anxiety, headaches, and pressure at the base of the neck."
In April 2013, the Tribunal members said the following:
“There is evidence before the Tribunal that a number of people living close to wind farms suffer deleterious health effects. The evidence is both direct and anecdotal. There is a uniformity of description of these effects across a number of wind farms, both in southeast Australia and North America. Residents complain of suffering sleep disturbance, feelings of anxiety upon awakening, headaches, and pressure at the base of the neck and in the head and ears, nausea and loss of balance. In some cases the impacts have been of such gravity that residents have been forced to abandon their homes. On the basis of this evidence it is clear that some residents who live in close proximity to a wind farm experience the symptoms described, and that the experience is not simply imagined.”
In November 2013, the VCAT Tribunal members approved the Cherry Tree Wind Energy Conversion project but reiterated their acknowledgement of adverse health effects, including sleep disturbance. At paragraph 46 they stated: “The Tribunal has no doubt that some people who live close to a wind turbine experience adverse health effects, including sleep disturbance.”
In Falmouth, Massachusetts, USA, also in November 2013, a superior court issued an immediate injunction to stop the operation of two wind turbines to prevent “irreparable harm to physical and psychological health.” The turbines were ordered to cease operating between 7pm and 7am, and on Sundays and specified public holidays.
In Portugal, a superior court ordered four turbines to cease operating day and night and that the turbines should be removed because of adverse health effects, which were reported both day and night. Sleep deprivation was explicitly mentioned. The English translation of the relevant section of the original judgment is below:
"The right to rest, tranquility and sleep are aspects of the right to humane treatment (Article 25, para. 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Portugal), which is part of established fundamental rights, the collection of rights, freedoms, and guarantees. These personality rights are well protected against any unlawful interference, not necessarily in blame for an offense in intent to harm the victim, but in the offense itself.”
Most recently in Denmark, the Danish High Court granted compensation to a property owner affected by wind turbine noise after the turbines were constructed.
Turbine Fires, Fall Zones, and Ice Throw
References / Additional Sources
Fire Risk in Wind Turbines. Fire Safety Search
Matilsky, Terry, 2011. Ice Throw and Setback Distances. Wind Action, March 2, 2011.
Pierpont, Nina, Wind Turbine Syndrome, Executive Summary.
Smith, Colin, 2014. Fires are Major Cause of Wind Farm Failure, According to New Research. Imperial College of Science, Technology & Medicine Study, July 17, 2014.
Visual Health Effects and Wind Turbines. Society for Wind Vigilance.
The Australian Waubra Foundation, has extensive archives and ongoing research regarding adverse health effects due to industrial sound and vibration.
Researchers from the Imperial College of Science, Technology & Medicine (London’s equivalent to U.S.’s Massachusetts’ Institute of Technology), conducted a global assessment of the world’s wind energy generation systems, which in total, contain an estimated 200,000 turbines and found that fire is the second leading cause of accidents in wind turbines, after blade failure. The research team estimates that ten times more fires are happening than are being reported.
The study points out that turbines, regardless of their quality, are highly susceptible to fires. The most frequent cause is lightning strikes, but they are also highly susceptible to electrical fires because enormous current flows in close proximity to highly flammable fuel sources such as hydraulic fluids and plastics; and an unlimited supply of oxygen is furnished by the wind. Once ignited, turbine fires can quickly become extremely dangerous and extraordinarily difficult to fight, especially when conventional firefighting equipment and techniques are used. These are industrial-class fires which burn at extreme temperatures, 300 feet in the air, and typically spew huge volumes of toxic black fumes and burning debris for great distances downwind. The proposed turbines in Monroe County are over twice the size of those discussed in the British study.
Wind turbine fires represent a clear and present danger—especially when residents are living so close. The researchers also suggest a number of “active” fire protection measures that can be used to stop a fire before it takes hold or becomes out of control. These include smoke alarm systems inside the turbine, so that fire safety authorities can be alerted rapidly. The team also suggest suppression systems that quickly douse the flames in water or foam.
According to Fire Safety Search, an online website serving the international community of fire safety and fire protection industry professionals, there are over 340,000 wind turbines around the world, yet there are thousands of turbines without any fire system installed. Potential ignition sources are mainly inside the nacelle where there is fast moving machinery (generators, gearboxes etc.) which creates heat and combustible oil and solid material in the. Even with incredible engineering and safety measures in place, a fire can ignite and develop, leading to the possible complete destruction of the turbine.
Fire Safety Search also indicates that the fires in wind turbines not only lead to a loss of business continuity and a negative impact on the company’s reputation but also, most importantly, are a critical safety issue. There is the potential for harmful debris to drift with the wind in the event of a fire with a significant risk to human lives. When turbines are under erection, commissioning maintenance and repair, escape routes for operators are often long and vertical. Three out of six incidents involve a human presence in the nacelle; hence, a fire becomes a safety concern for those working inside as well as those nearby.
The Monroe County Ordinance states a safety plan has to be in place. The fire departments in Monroe County are operated with volunteers. As the majority of the project as presented during the Monroe County Commissioners’-hosted meeting and as discussed in news media reports, is primarily in the Valmeyer and Maeystown fire jurisdictions, this is of a major safety concern as these volunteer departments do not have the necessary equipment, training, or manpower to address such situations.
Ice throws and turbine fall and/or collapse are of equal concern as fire, with instances happening worldwide on an all-to-often basis for various reasons. A professional engineer should specify the "fall zone" for where the turbine could conceivably land if it were to topple. Setback from both property lines and buildings that may lie on the same property should exceed that fall zone. The current Monroe County Ordinance does not have any Fall Zone restrictions or guidelines.
A report by Professor Terry Matilsky, Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rutgers University states that ice, debris or anything breaking off the wind turbine blades (including the blades themselves) can impact a point almost 1700 feet away from the `base of the turbine. Many homeowner insurance policies do not cover damage to homes resulting from damage caused by wind turbines.
As a close-knit community, Monroe County residents are often known to rally together when someone is in need; whether it be an illness, fire, or other tragedy. And now, we together face a potential incoming of fifty entities that may threaten the health and safety of our friends, relatives and neighbors. It is very important that all effects of these Industrial Wind Turbine Factories be taken in to consideration before making a decision that will affect those we care about for a lifetime.
“To the Wind Industry and Wind Developers, rural America is no different than a third world country. They enrich a few landowners, pay for a school or fire truck, persuade some of the locals with their good intentions, pit the rest of the people against each other, then they take what they want.”
Eric Rosenbloom, Vermont writer and science editor.