Noise, real and perceived

The most frequently read article in the February 5 issue of Seven Days was a story of a long-simmering neighborhood battle. On one side is instrument maker Adam Buchwald, who crafts mandolins and guitars in his Burlington home studio. On the other is one of his neighbors, Barbara Headrick, who claims the noise from his workshop is affecting her quality of life and property value. Three points argue against her:

— No other neighbors are bothered.

— One neighbor admits she sometimes plays really loud rock music with the windows open, and Headrick has never complained.

— The neighborhood is near the UVM campus, and a lot of noise and litter is generated by “drunk and screaming college kids” who are “a regular feature of life there.”

But still, Headrick believes the noise of Buchwald’s power tools is uniquely impactful. And who are we to doubt her?

Well, in this case she seems a far less sympathetic figure than her woodgrained neighbor. But how is her case any different than those of, say, the Therriens or the Nelsons, the two most renowned victims of “Wind Turbine Syndrome”?

I put it in quotes because there is no scientific evidence for such a syndrome.

The Nelsons and the Therriens appear frequently as spokespeople for the anti-wind movement, telling their harrowing tales of turbine noise inside their homes. Somehow, though, the noise is never apparent whenever a reporter visits either home. And the wind farm near the Nelsons’ home passed its most recent noise tests with room to spare.

And, like Barbara Headrick not minding a blast of Led Zeppelin or a puking frat boy, the Therriens live near Interstate 91 but the freeway noise doesn’t bother them. Not even the notorious Jake brakes on big semis. That’s no problem, but the turbines threaten to drive them from their home.

I can’t explain the targeted sensitivities of the Nelsons or Therriens. But, as on Prospect Street, they seem to be uniquely afflicted; we haven’t heard similar stories from any of their neighbors.

What I do know is that whenever scientists look for evidence of an actual Syndrome caused by the somehow singular noise from wind turbines, they find no evidence.  

Wind Turbine Syndrome has been identified by a single doctor, Nina Pierpont. She happens to be a pediatrician who claims to have discovered an adult illness. She happens to be married to a prominent anti-wind activist. And the study “proving” Wind Turbine Syndrome, according to Popular Science Magazine, “had a small sample size of phone interviews with no control group or proper peer review.” The sample size: 38 people from a whopping ten families.


Pierpont’s selection process was flawed; she included only families that had at least one member with symptoms who lived near a recently built turbine. This, as any scientist would tell you, guarantees an association between turbines and illness. An association created by the study’s inherent bias, not by actual evidence.

Okay, I can hear the Windies saying “Hardy har har, why should we believe a popular magazine, even if it has the word ‘science’ in its title?”

Well, there have been at least ten independent scientific reviews of the available evidence on the subject. Each of the ten has concluded that noise complaints have “far more to do with social and psychological factors in those complaining than any direct effect from sound or inaudible infrasound emanating from wind turbines.”

Some passages from the tenth review, conducted by the British Acoustics Bulletin:  “the degree of annoyance is only slightly related to noise level”; “the fact that someone was complaining was mainly determined by the personality of the individual”; “fear of the noise source can increase annoyance”; and “adverse feelings . . . were influenced by feelings of lacking control, being subjected to injustice, lacking influence, and not being believed”.

The review found two factors that tended to enhance the likelihood of a person claiming to be a sufferer: Being able to see turbines and not liking them; and whether the person derives any financial benefit from the turbines.

And then there’s a 2013 study by Simon Chapman, a public health professor from Sydney University. He found a curious geographical quirk about claims of Wind Turbine Syndrome:

The report… found that 63% [of Australian windfarms] had never been subject to noise or health complaints. In the state of Western Australia, where there are 13 windfarms, there have been no complaints.

The study shows that the majority of complaints (68%) have come from residents near five windfarms that have been heavily targeted by opponent groups.

In other words, when anti-wind activists start spreading tales of Wind Turbine Syndrome, people start feeling its effects. Without the tales, the Syndrome is amazingly absent or ineffectual.

Many of the wind-noise studies, having been written by notoriously cautious scientists, conclude that “there is insufficient evidence” that turbine noise causes health problems. Wind opponents seize on this wording — just as creationists bray about the “theory” of evolution — and say that more research will find new evidence. However:  

Chapman said that if wind farms did genuinely make people ill there would by now be a large body of medical evidence that would preclude putting them near inhabited areas. Eighteen reviews of the research literature on wind turbines and health published since 2003 had all reached the broad conclusion that there was very little evidence they were directly harmful to health.

A panel of independent experts, assembled by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health, conducted a study of the scientific literature on the health impacts of wind turbines. Its report was released in January 2012. One of its conclusions:

There is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”

No evidence. That’s the conclusion reached over and over again, whenever experts examine the issue. It’s just like the “debate” over climate change: a huge quantity of evidence and the vast majority of experts all on one side, and a tiny minority of both on the other.

I don’t doubt that Don Nelson is truly bothered by the nearby wind turbines, just as Barbara Headrick is bothered by her neighbor’s woodshop. But all the evidence suggests that the culprit isn’t the turbines or the power tools; it’s the immense power of the human mind. And just as I believe Adam Buchwald should go on making guitars, I believe Vermont should continue to approve and construct wind farms.  

31 thoughts on “Noise, real and perceived

  1. Your comparison of an instrument maker to an industrial turbine installation seems ludicrous.  I offer the following:

    Introduced to the Therriens via videopost on Vt.Digger, struck by the vulnerable ages of their children, one and three, I went to visit them in their home. I had never involved myself in the “wind issue” prior to that time.  My sensibility had always been “pro-wind.”

    First of all, I have become convinced that “undeveloped” children are absolutely in harm’s way for lifetime neurological impairment when situated too close to industrial turbine operations.  The Therriens, unfortunately, live within three quarters of a mile of the closest turbine, a siting which, in my opinion should never have been allowed.

    The Therrien property, more than fifty acres, is perfectly situated to conduct whatever tests are necessary to determine “the truth”.  This article, in my opinion, ignores the most important fact of all;  the science has not caught up with the reality.  Our children are precious, the risk is great.

    Possible lifetime neurological impairment?.  Should we not know for sure?

    I have never met the Nelsons.  Your characterization of the Therriens, however, I believe to be misguided and unkind.

    I am a political Independent and have always been so.  The Therriens need and deserve help. More and more anecdotal evidence is being accumulated around the world about not just the noise, but the accompanying drone that causes so much difficulty. Their property has been for sale for more than a year.  No one has expressed interest.

    The town of Sheffield will receive more than a million dollars in compensation from First Wind over twenty years.  First Wind continues to profit and gain advantage from its installation.  The Public Service Board approved and allowed this siting in such close proximity to a residence, especially a residence of young children.

    The Therriens are VICTIMS – though no fault of their own.

    It may be that no one is at fault – not the Town of Sheffield, not First Wind and not the State of Vermont.

    When citizens are clearly injured for “the better good” of all, those injured parties must be cared for.

    Buy the property First Wind and establish a state of the art research facility so that we will know for sure.

    First Wind did “nothing wrong” apparently.  They now have an opportunity to do something “quite right”.

    By the way, the Therriens did not oppose the installation prior to construction.  They thought it to be a good thing for the community at large – until they all began to manifest symptoms of related illness.

    All they want is to sell their property for the going rate so they can move.  If they were wealthy people it would not be an issue.  

  2. ▶ Therriens and First Wind’s Sheffield Wind Turbines, Feb. 4, 2014

    Both Luann and Steve have letters from their doctors saying their illness is because of the wind turbines.  They have been put on Prozac, sleeping pills, and motion sickness pills.  

    Here’s a recent paper that discusses the issue

    It concludes, “The issue is physiological responses that result from the very low-frequency infrasound and which appears to be triggering motion sickness in those who are susceptible to it.”

    The Mass panel did not talk to anyone living near wind turbines, did not visit any wind turbine neighborhoods or speak with doctors of people who are sick.  Two of those panelists recently gave a presentation in Mass. and updated their information.  Among other things they said, “If you have turbines on a mountain top it can be annoying and affect sleep.”

    The so-called study about the nocebo effect had shortcomings which were evaluated by Jim Cummings of Acoustic Ecology

    Near the end of his review, he writes:  “It’s disappointing that public dialogue over wind farm siting has devolved to the point that both sides are trapped in a sorry game of scientific tetherball: each tiny team slapping interesting but limited studies around the pole, touting them as definitive proof that wind farms do or don’t “make people sick” while the vast majority  of citizens and decision-makers wonder what their fascination is with that ball on a rope.”

    On that point, if you want to find out what’s real, I am sure the Therriens would be glad to trade homes with people who do not believe them.  They need sleep, and you can experience why they are not getting it.


  3. That’s all I can think of.  What is covered in the other three comments is what I would write. This is the only thing I can add.

  4. The writer of this nonsense seems so enamored with big wind that they probably don’t believe industrial wind turbines kill birds and bat either, lower property values or have any negative impacts at all. The studies cited to negate noise impacts are all done by or financed by wind developers. With similar complaints about turbine noise coming from around the world it’s hard to believe someone could have their head up so far up their ass as to write crap like this.

    Oh by the way. Your beloved industrial wind turbines don’t live up to any of proponents claims. Especially saving the world from climate change.


    “This is a story about the wind industry and turbine manufacturer, Vestas and the global campaign to counter dissent about the adverse impacts caused by their product to an often ignored minority of people living in rural communities worldwide.

    It is also about the useful idiots co-opted to help sell its message.  A term used for those who are seen to unwittingly support an objectionable cause which they naïvely believe to be a force for good.”

  6. As a neighbor 1 mile from industrial wind turbines I can say from experience, numerous times we are woken from noise from the project. Don’t need a study to understand if people don’t get enough of rest, it will have health consequences and noise can cause sleep deprivation.  No evidence, I’d say that depends on which “experts” you are listening to. I see lots of supposedly “scientific” evidence that is paid for by the wind industry where the outcome is predetermined. The recent study that determined no appreciable loss in property values, but the survey included many more homes that weren’t impacted by the turbines and diluted the percentages of homes that were affected. So much for evidence. Meanwhile people have homes that are worthless because are too close to turbines. So here is the offer jvwalt, you and any other people who thinks the neighbors of IWT’s are imagining this stuff, come and stay at one of the abandoned homes and find out for yourself what is going on. I bet you have some lame excuse as why you won’t accept the offer. I’m offended by you laughing at us. People are suffering and it’s no joke. So let see if you are a heartless person or coward, or accept my challenge, or are you all talk?

  7. /noun

    1. a person who cultivates an area of itnerest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge.

    “a dilettanate approach to science”

  8. If I were Adam Buchwald instrument maker, and had the creation of my craft compared to an industrial power plant I would be extremely offended. I am certain there is a noise ordinance in his area unlike on any mountain top.

    Clearly John Walters has no idea that the two projects do not compare in any form, apples to oranges.

    John also apparently has no idea exactly where we live along Interstate 91 or he would know Jake brakes are very rarely use on this particular stretch of interstate. Also unlike the power plant, traffic is not 24 /7.

    We are apparently wrong to assume any supposed journalist with integrity investigates both sides of a story, not print only their opinions.

    An opinion that is way off.

  9. r

    Other pro-wind campaigners, such as Australian public health professor Simon Chapman, have gone still further by insisting that the symptoms reported by Wind Turbine Syndrome victims around the world are imaginary and often politically motivated.

    But the 1987 report, based on earlier research by NASA and several universities, tells a different story. A team led by physicist ND Kelley from the Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, Colorado tested under controlled conditions the impact of low-frequency noise generated by turbine blades.

    It found that the disturbance is often worse when indoors than when outside (a sensation which will be familiar to anyone who has heard a helicopter hovering above their house).

    In subsequent lab tests involving seven volunteers, it found that “people do indeed react to a low-frequency noise environment”. As a result of its findings, the report recommended that in future wind turbines should be subject to a maximum noise threshold to prevent nearby residents experiencing “low-frequency annoyance situations.”

    However these recommendations – widely publicised at the Windpower 87 Conference & Exposition in San Francisco – fell on (wilfully, it seems more than plausible) deaf ears.

    It found that the disturbance is often worse when indoors than when outside (a sensation which will be familiar to anyone who has heard a helicopter hovering above their house).

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