Wellington Scoop

Wind turbines: will Makara and Ohariu provide evidence of risks to human health?

by Nick Jennings
Photo (10 April) by Jim Mikoz

There is evidence that wind turbines can damage human health, though this is denied by the wind turbine industry which pushes the message that wind farms are not only environmentally friendly but also safe. Everyone however wants more research, which raises the possibility that Wellington residents living near the new Makara and Ohariu wind farms could unwillingly become an experimental population.

Relevant and documented research about the health risks has been carried out in Portugal. I have been unable to discover any papers that dispute any of this evidence. But there is agreement that more research is required to determine the parameters of the relationships between the size of the wind turbines, their numbers, their distance from residences, and the speed of development of medical symptoms in people living nearby.

Because this research has not yet been carried out, Wellington residents living near the new wind farms – the West Wind project at Makara will be completed this year, and the Mill Creek project in the nearby Ohariu Valley has been given resource consent – could find themselves providing the data.

Makara residents are already concerned about issues relating to noise emissions from the wind turbines and monitoring of the noise – as was reported, in surprising detail, to the Wellington City Council in March by the West Wind Community Liaison Group. (Report 2 and appendix.)

There’s no doubt that using the wind is an environmentally sensible way to generate electricity. But the evidence of health risks is now specific, beginning with identification of what has become known as Vibroacoustic Disease.

In September 1987 an unusual autopsy was carried out in Portugal. The autopsy was unusual for three reasons.

Firstly, it was undertaken at the wish of the dead man, Filipe Pedro. He had been an aircraft technician at OGMA, an aircraft manufacturing, repair and rework facility owned and operated by the Portuguese Air Force, and had been diagnosed In 1981 with late-onset epilepsy. His will specified that an autopsy should occur.

Secondly, the autopsy was undertaken by a qualified person. Dr. Nuno A. A. Castelo Branco, who, in addition to his Medical Degree was qualified as a Medical Specialist in Surgical Pathology (1978) by the Civilian Hospitals of Lisbon. He also held a Degree of Aerospace Pathology Specialist from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.and a Degree in Aerospace Medicine from Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. At the time of the autopsy, he was Medical Director of OGMA and served on the Scientific Board of the Center for Human Performance, Alverca, Portugal. He had retired from the Portuguese Air Force with the rank of Colonel.

Thirdly, the autopsy produced unexpected results. The cause of death (at age 58) was found to be cardiac tamponade caused by a small infarct. The heart disclosed 11 small scars of previous silent ischemic events. Cardiac valves seemed swollen and the pericardium surrounding the heart was greatly thickened. Coronary arteries were thickened, but not by the usual, and expected, atherosclerotic plaques. Instead, a continuous thickening of the intima lined all vessel walls. Microscopic studies later revealed that much of the thickening was due to abnormal proliferation of collagen fibers. Two tumors were found, a Grawitz in the kidney, and a grade 1 microcystic astrocytoma in the right parietal region of the brain. (Ref: Noise and Health 2004, 6;23, 3-20.)

Following the unexpected autopsy findings, there’s been further research. Some of the milestones:

1. In 1999 the name “Vibroacoustic Disease” (VAD) was adopted for the disease which the autopsy discovered. The journal Aviation, Space & Environmental Medicine dedicated a supplemental issue to this new pathological entity.

2. The researchers working on VAD became known as the VAD Team.

3. Much research focused on the aircraft technicians at OGMA and it was determined that the fundamental agent of disease to which they were exposed was infra-sound and low-frequency noise (ILFN).

4. The VAD Team found that the ILFN frequencies (from below the threshold of human hearing to around 500 Hz) were generated by many sources. The most suitable measurement involves determining the distribution of acoustic energy throughout the 1/3rd octave bands (paper presented at the Twelfth International Congress on Sound and Vibration, Lisbon, July 2005, authored by Mariana Alves-Pereira and others).

5. The VAD Team found that individuals responded differently to the same levels of acoustic energy, and also postulated that within individuals, different body organs will respond differently.

6. The VAD Team found three clinical stages of VAD for 140 OGMA aircraft technicians working the standard eight hours a day, five days a week, with symptoms categorised as:

Stage I – Mild slight mood swings, indigestion & heartburn,
(1-4 years), mouth/throat infections, bronchitis.
Stage II – Moderate chest pain, definite mood swings, back pain, fatigue (4 – 10 years), fungal, viral and parasitic skin infections, inflammation of stomach lining, pain and blood in urine, conjunctivitis, allergies.
Stage III – Severe psychiatric disturbances, haemorrhages of nasal, digestive and conjunctival mucosa, varicose veins and haemorrhoids, duodenal ulcers, spastic colitis, decrease in visual acuity, headaches, severe joint pain, intense muscular pain, neurological disturbances.

The above table was published in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, 93 (1), p. 256 – 279, January 2007 under the title “Biological effects of infra sound and low-frequency noise explained by mechanotransduction,” Alves-Pereira M. / Castelo Branco, N. A. A.

7. In August 2004 at the 33rd International Congress and Exposition on Noise Control Engineering in Prague, a case was reported as follows: “Although VAD was initially diagnosed in LFN-exposed workers, a growing number of individuals are being diagnosed with VAD due to environmental LFN exposure. The issue of LFN-induced pathology can no longer remain restricted to the domain of Occupational Health, but must be included in Public Health concerns.

“VAD has been diagnosed in a family whose home is exposed to environmental LFN. These are not the first documented cases of environmentally-induced VAD. The results presented herein bring the issue of LFN-induced pathology into the realm of Public Health concerns.” – ref: “Vibroacoustic Disease in a Ten Year Old Male”, authored by N. A. A. Castelo Branco and others.

8. At OGMA from 1980 to 1989, 21 aircraft technicians received “compulsory early disability retirement”. In 1989, based on the 1987 autopsy, OGMA instituted a screening and monitoring protocol for all LFN-exposed personnel. “If and when LFN-exposed workers developed very thickened cardiac structures, and/or shifts in the P3 endogenous component to frontal positions, and/or difficult to control and unstable (labile) blood pressure, then they were removed from the LFN-rich work environment and placed at another, non-LFN-rich workstation. From 1989-1996 there were zero compulsory early disability retirements among LFN-exposed personnel.” (Castelo Branco et al., 1996).

9. In September 2007, at the Second International Meeting on Wind Turbine Noise at Lyon in France, a paper was presented titled “In-Home Wind Turbine Noise is Conducive to Wind Turbine Syndrome”, authored by Mariana Alves-Pereira, of ERISA-Lusofona University, Lisbon, Portugal, and Nuno A. A. Castelo Branco of the Center for Human Performance, Alverca, Portugal. This paper compared the development of VAD in a home affected by industrial environmental LFN with another home affected by LFN from wind turbines which had been erected in the vicinity. The Abstract to the paper states:

“ILFN levels contaminating the home of Case 2 (the wind turbine case) are sufficient to cause VAD. The family (occupying the house) has already received standard diagnostic tests to monitor clinical evolution of VAD. Safe distances between wind turbines and residences have not yet been scientifically established despite statements by other authors claiming to possess this knowledge. Acceptance, as fact, of statements or assertions not supported by valid scientific data, defeats all principles on which true scientific endeavour is founded. Widespread statements claiming no harm is caused by in-home ILFN produced by wind turbine rotating blades are fallacies that cannot, in good conscience, continue to be perpetuated. In-home ILFN generated by wind turbine blades can lead to severe health problems, specifically, VAD.

“Real and efficient zoning for wind turbines must be scientifically determined, and quickly adopted, in order to completely and responsibly protect Public Health.”

10. The August 2008 document “Response of the VAD Team to reports submitted regarding possible health effects of a wind farm in Wellington New Zealand (Project Mill Creek)” at paragraph 13 states: “None of the environmental cases studied by the VAD Team (all pro bono) have been procured by members of this team, nor are they part of any environmental study. Instead, individual citizens have gathered evidence regarding ILFN on their own and, subsequently, end up contacting members of the VAD Team. With the family who lives near four wind turbines in Portugal, medical follow-up is ongoing, though a court injunction has terminated the operation of one of the four wind turbines since June 2008.”

To summarise:
o VAD is a cumulative disease – the greater the exposure to ILFN, in terms of both acoustic energy and time, or both, the faster the development of VAD;
o In a residential environment, the exposure can be larger than in a working environment of eight hours a day, five days a week;
o Provided the onset of VAD is identified early at Stage I, (see paragraph 6 above) the separation of the individual from the ILFN environment will avoid further progress of VAD and probably result in a return to health;
o The absence of trained medical staff in using echocardiograms to identify thickening of the pericardium, and associated tissue may be a difficulty with diagnoses in New Zealand;
o The message for those living at Makara, the Ohariu Valley and anywhere near Long Gully (west of Brooklyn, where a third wind farm is proposed) is very clear. Anyone living within 3 kilometers of one or more wind turbines should monitor themselves and anyone else in the same residence. If any early signs of VAD occur, immediate medical advice should be sought. Don’t forget to check pets and household animals.

Dr. Nina Pierpont, M.D., Ph.D., ” a country doctor who enjoys medicine immensely,” has been studying the effects of US wind turbines on people living close to them. She has published a book on “Wind turbine syndrome”, which is available from her website, where you can also read peer reviews of her research.

In 2006 Dr Pierpont gave evidence to the New York State Legislature on wind turbine syndrome.

Nick Jennings is a past president of the Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand and of the Newtown Residents Association. He gave evidence on these research findings at the resource consent hearing for the Mill Creek wind farm.

Read also: wind farms cause health concerns in Oregon

And also on Wellington.Scoop:
the gigantic wind turbines which are changing the face of Makara


  1. Stephen Benner, 14. April 2009, 15:35

    A very interesting article, sound is a most potent medium. I take it that the ideal situation would be to build wind farms at least 3 kilometres away from residential communities. It would be good to get medical check-ups those living close the NZ wind farms a.s.a.p.

  2. Greg Bodnar, 15. April 2009, 15:35

    I wonder if there is any relevant connection to houses along busy roads with a lot of freight being handled by truck. They generate a lot of low frequency energy, and if VAD is cumulative, I would expect the total amount of low frequency energy to be absorbed by the body to be comparable. The same question could be asked of railways, airports and many other pieces of infrastructure.

  3. John Third, 15. April 2009, 16:25

    There is substantial evidence of the disruption of live biologial material especially circadium rhythms at the cellular level of specific frequencies many in the inaudible range.
    For instance Leaf cutter ants do not have sufficient strength in their jaws to cut much of the vegetation they demolish Leaf cutter ants utilise in audible sound frequency to turn live material to mush and cut it with ease. These same inaudible frequencies are generated from the multiple interaction of wind turbines . This is a dangerous experiment displaying behaviors of denial that is analogous to the the Tobacco industry of the past.

  4. Mark2c, 25. April 2009, 12:03

    Easy to see how vibration damage could be accumulated in the human body for military aircraft personnel. Extending this to wind turbines located 2km away from people is daft. Are the proponents of this connection now no longer using lawn mowers and stopping using their cars? Looks vexatious to me…

  5. Barry Bridgeford, 26. April 2009, 6:55

    These gigantic wind turbines have such long blades that their passage at right-angles through the wind curving around the towers’ support columns produces very low (long) frequency pressure waves which are below the audible range. These low frequency pressure waves travel for great distances and impact biological and neurological systems, producing a wide range of health problems.

    Unfortunately, the wind industry has benefited from governments’ past practice of only addressing those pressure waves that are audible. This has resulted in the incorrect belief that “what you can’t hear can’t hurt you”. It is only in the past few years that the phenomenon and the health impacts have come to light. The resistance by governments to recognize these negative aspects of giant wind turbines has resulted from them having already committed themselves to “wind power” policy without having conducted any in-depth impartial testing of either the turbines’ health impacts or the practicality of maintaining power grid levels.

    The low frequency pressure waves produced by the giant wind turbines can apparently travel much further than audible frequency pressure waves. Some experts are recommending minimum setbacks for giant wind turbines of two kilometers (or more) from residential properties. There are accounts of dogs barking hour after hour for no “audible” reason and of horses becoming disturbed for hours on end. Numerous wind farms are on record as having killed great numbers of bats, not by impact, but rather by rupture of their tiny lungs due to the extreme air pressure variants caused by the low frequency pressure waves. There have also been accounts of wildlife vacating the vicinities of wind turbines. In addition, an increasing number of families living close to giant wind turbines have also opted to vacate their homes in order to regain their health.

    If you wish to do more reading to get up to speed on the situation, I refer you to the following websites …

  6. Nick Jennings, 26. April 2009, 15:46

    Mark2c has every right to think, feel, see and otherwise experience as s/he responds to various stimuli, however he/she reports, as can anyone else – and no one can dispute those responses.
    However, progress is accepted as being based on evidence, not feelings or intuition (although those can be the trigger which initiates research). Mark2c could perhaps use her/his energy more productively in encouraging appropriate research by those with the resources and skills to carry it out so that his/her opinions can be based on facts.
    And I agree that using a domestic lawn mower is unlikely to be a problem – however, driving a diesel engined tractor towing a collection of mowers, day after day , on a golf course for instance, would be another matter. And for the record, there is a case of Stage I vibroacoustic disease in an individual who drove a diesel engined car large distances on a regular basis.
    Nick J

  7. Tinakori, 26. April 2009, 19:32

    Gosh if the pressure waves produced by the giant wind turbines can apparently travel and are injurious to health then I shudder to think of the damage being done to our health by the constant Wellington wind.

  8. Nick Jennings, 27. April 2009, 17:15

    Tinakori is quite correct that natural phenomena such as hurricanes, lightning, earthquakes and volcanos can produce air (and ground) pressure waves. Krakatoa, for example, was heard up to 5,000 kilometres away in the Philippines. However, damage from other events associated with those occurrences tend to overshadow the pressure wave effects, and none of them go on and on 24/7 as industrial turbines are designed to do.
    And, for the record, I’m informed that the tips of the blades on the larger turbines are traveling at about 350 kilometres per hour and a wallop on the head, or even on a shoulder, from one of those, would certainly be a “golly gosh” incident.
    Nick J

  9. AitchJay, 28. April 2009, 11:10

    I am a resident of Ashhurst and have been directly affected since 2005 by the Meridian Te Apiti turbines on the Ruahine Ranges rising above us. Although 2.8 kms away from the nearest turbine, the sound from the turbines is often heard above wind noise, which is supposed to mask the wind farm’s negative effects. Those who are affected suffer sleep disturbance and various stress related symptoms.

    The types and intensity of noise is variable and dependent on wind direction, speed and other factors related to geological structures such as valleys and terraces which affect the wind speed at different heights. Surprise, surprise, it is windy on the ridges and calm in the valleys.

    The noise can appear as a continuous rumble ‘like a train which never arrives” or sometimes a roar like a jet flying overhead. A combination of high wind conditions and stall control of turbines occasionally adds an additional loud thumping sound which would seem to correlate to the blades passing the towers at about 45 beats per minute (just below heart beat). The people and homes affected by these noises do not bear a direct relationship to the distance from the turbines. House construction, alignment to the noise source, room/window size etc seem to alter and enhance noise pick up and is probably related to resonant cavity relationships. Humans have similar resonant cavities at different locations and frequencies (eyes, chest, stomach etc) which pick up the noise. Some Ashhurst residents report feeling the sound thumping in their spine or chest.

    The leading researchers of health related problems are Nina Pierpont (US), Amanda Harry (UK) and Alves-Pereira (Portugal). There are various reports, and survey data now available and easily found at the WindAction.org site for Impact on People (http://www.windaction.org/documents/c45/).

    There is no surprise that the companies involved with wind farm development merely state that there are “no proven health affects”. They don’t appear to be fronting up with any funds to assist research in this area to support this claim either. Cigarette companies followed an identical line of actions with regard to lung cancer claims, which were also not proven for many years. They also follow the carefully worded responses about the sound being within official noise standards. Not mentioned, is the fact that the sound levels are measured in dBA, which is weighted to remove the low frequency aspects to better replicate the ear as a pickup device. Humans use other senses to feel the sound at lower frequencies as anyone can tell when beside a car with boom box or a party with a bass beat.

    The Medical Staff, Northern Maine Medical Center laid their reputation on the line only last month with a unanimously agreed statement, which included,
    “In light of these growing, serious medical concerns, we propose a moratorium on the building of any such “wind farms” until more research is done on the health impact that such facilities will have on the communities surrounding such technology.”

    Take care, in any consideration of health effects, that the carefully crafted PR releases and notions of “green” energy from energy companies don’t detract from proper impartial consideration of all the facts available and not just those released for public consumption.

  10. Wendy Brock, 28. April 2009, 21:27

    I am also a resident from Ashhurst who has the unfortunate experience of experiencing the low-frequency sound fibration from the Te Apiti windfarm. We are approximately 2.5 km in a direct line, with a valley and river between us. The noise of the windfarm can be irritating but especially if we have an event for 2 or more days. By this I mean a constant easterly or southwesterly wind. They can be heard in a westerly also because Ashhurst is situated where two rivers and mountain ranges meet (Tararua and Ruahine ranges). This creates an amphitheatre effect. Our house behaves similar to a tuning fork, allowing the low-frequency beat to resonate within. Sometimes we can’t really hear the turbines but can feel the beat coming up our spine. It is difficult to sleep and more recently we have noticed that our hearts naturally try to beat in time with the turbines. We have become much more sensitive to any bass beats from parties or stereos in our neighbourhood and have far less tolerance as the beat makes you feel strange and agitated. I thought time would enable us to get used to the turbines as they have been installed since 2005 but in fact we are far more sensitive and in tune with the noise and beat and have other issues with ongoing backache. Token efforts have been made by Meridian to measure the noise at our property but the equipment they use and provide cannot measure low-frequency sound.

  11. Colin Grimwood, 2. May 2009, 6:31

    While those who are unaffected can only hypothesise and speculate, I have a house at Makara Beach and have been awake since 4 am with the constant drone from 10? wind turbines. I despair to think what it will be like when all 62 are going, then the 30 odd to the north, then the 600 that are rumoured to be in the pipeline up the coast as far as Titahi Bay. Our little piece of paradise is being decimated for the sake of a few latte machines and x-boxes.

  12. Tom Wasilewski, 16. October 2016, 2:47

    There is certainty that Industrial wind turbines cause major environmental damage. That is, damage to the land itself from the monstrous turbines that have to anchored into the ground with millions of pounds of concrete and reinforced steel.

    The rare earth minerals used in the turbines are approximately 1 ton per MW of a turbine–the mining process is toxic and effecting the miners and families living near the mining sites in China. IWTs contain significant quantities of lubricating oils–turbines catch on fire and leak oil-one in Oregon, USA spilled 800 gallons. Oil must be changed regularly as is done in your car–some manufacturers recommend three changes a year. And then there is what they do to people and animals living near the projects.

    The Spanish Ornithological Society in 2012 estimated thst Spain’s then 18,000 IWTs were annually killing from 6-18 million birds and bats. [Abridged}