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Wind Turbines and Health

Wind Turbines and Health
The American Lung Association’s agenda, Protect the Air We Breathe: An Agenda for Clean Air, states:
 
“Climate, energy and clean air are inexorably linked. Solutions that lead to cleaner air must be included in any approach to cleaner, more efficient energy use and reductions in global warming.” 1

20% Wind Energy and Climate Change

As America and the world grapple with the immense problem of climate change, one energy source stands out as an abundant, affordable and readily available supply option: wind power. The U.S. Department of Energy’s 20% Wind Energy by 2030 Technical Report (www.20percentwind.org) finds that wind power can supply 20 percent of America’s electricity by 2030 and reduce projected emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the leading greenhouse gas, by 25 percent.  Additionally, each megawatt-hour of wind generation can prevent the loss of up to 600 gallons of water from fossil fuel power plant cooling.2 This equals over 25 billion gallons of water conserved by the over 46,000 Megawatts of wind energy installed and operating at the end of 2011.3

Wind energy can help improve air quality

Air quality has a direct impact on human health. Particulate matter in the air, often as a result of power plant emissions, has been shown to affect cardiovascular and respiratory health. Unhealthy levels of particle pollution can even cause otherwise healthy people to get sick. The generation of electricity from the wind does not result in any air emissions. By offsetting more polluting forms of energy generation, wind energy can actually improve air quality and our health. The U.S.’s total 2011 wind turbine fleet prevents the emission of:
  • 87,000 metric tons of sulfur dioxide annually
  • 61,000 metric tons of nitrogen oxides annually5

Wind energy can help reduce global warming pollutants

The entire fleet of wind turbines operating in the United States as of the end of 2011 will prevent the emission of over 68 million tons of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change – each year.6 Human health can be adversely affected by rising global temperatures. Fewer frost events and longer warm seasons could result in stronger and more widespread allergens and fungal spores, as well as an increase in the spread of exotic diseases.
 
Health experts also raise concerns of an increased incidence of heat waves and resulting deaths.7 Wind energy produces less than two percent of the emissions from coal combustion per megawatt-hour, even when the manufacturing process of wind turbines is accounted for,8 giving it one of the lowest greenhouse gas lifecycle emissions levels of any power technology.

The credible peer-reviewed scientific data and government reports refute the claim that wind farms cause negative health impacts

The Massachusetts Departments of Environmental Protection and Public Health commissioned a panel of experts with backgrounds in public health, epidemiology, toxicology, neurology, sleep medicine, neuroscience, and mechanical engineering to analyze “the biological plausibility or basis for health effects of turbines (noise, vibration, and flicker).” The review of existing studies included both peer-reviewed and non- peer reviewed literature.
 
Among the key findings of the panel were:
 

  • There is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that can be characterized as “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 strongest epidemiological study suggests that there is not an association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health.
  • 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.9

Shadow flicker occurrence is easily calculated and is not harmful to persons with epilepsy

Shadow flicker occurs when the blades of a turbine pass in front of the sun to create a recurring shadow on an object. Computer models in wind development software can determine the days and times during the year that specific buildings in close proximity to turbines may experience shadow flicker. Mitigation measures can be taken based on this knowledge and may include setbacks or vegetative buffers. Issues with shadow flicker are less common in the United States than in Europe due to the lower latitudes and the higher sun angles in the U.S.
 
The allegation is sometimes made that shadow flicker from wind turbines can cause epileptic seizures. This is not true—shadow flicker from wind turbines occurs much more slowly than the light “strobing” associated with seizures. The strobe rates generally necessary to cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy are 5 to 30 flashes per second10 and large wind turbine blades cannot rotate this quickly.

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Last Update March 2009

Sources:

  1. An Agenda for Clean Air: Protect the Air We Breathe. (2009).  http://www.npca.org/cleanair/agenda/Protect_the_Air_We_Breathe.pdf
  2. Department of Energy. (2008). 20% Wind Energy by 2030  www.20percentwind.org
  3. American Wind Energy Association. AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report Year Ending 2011.
  4. American Lung Association. (2010). State of the Air: 2010. http://www.stateoftheair.org/2010/health-risks/health-risks-particle.html
  5. AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report Year Ending 2011
  6. AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report Year Ending 2011
  7. U.S. News and World Report. (2008). 10 Ways Global Warming Could Hurt Your Health.  http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/2008/09/15/10- ways-global-warming-could-hurt-your-health.html
  8. Kempton, W. & Levy, J. (2007). Harvard School of Public Health. http://www.ocean.udel.edu/windpower/DE-Qs/IRP-KempLevy-Health.pdf
  9. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health (2012). Wind Turbine Health Impact Study: Report of
  10. Independent Expert Panel  http://www.mass.gov/dep/energy/wind/turbine_impact_study.pdf
  11. Epilepsy Foundation. (n.d.). Photosensitivity and Epilepsy.  http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/about/photosensitivity/

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