Wind power may have its own environmental problems

Jul 05, 2009 By Noriyuki Yoshida and Koichi Yasuda

Wind power generation is expected to be a clean and environmentally friendly natural energy source, but a new kind of environmental problem has surfaced as infrasonic waves caused by windmills are suspected of causing health problems for some people.

Shinjuro Kondo, 76, who moved into his Japanese neighborhood 17 years ago, said, "Stiff shoulders, headaches, insomnia, hand tremors... Since February last year, soon after the test operation of windmills started, I developed various kinds of symptoms."

Kondo's neighborhood is about 350 meters away from a group of windmills.

More than 20 percent of about 100 neighbors also complain of similar physical disorders. They said their symptoms become less severe when the windmills stop due to mechanical troubles and other reasons.

Currently, the relationship between such physical disorders and the windmills is not clear. But infrasonic waves generated by the windmills' rotors is suspected to be the cause.

The sound waves oscillate once to 20 times a second, a frequency too low to be heard by human ears.

Similar complaints also have been reported in other parts of Japan, but it is not known whether these are connected to naturally occurring noise.

Operators of such windmills are very concerned about what measures should be taken. One of them said, "Even if we measure sounds from the windmills, no numerical differences are found from those in the natural environment."

Extrapolating the causal relationship is difficult for a number of reasons:

• Sensitivity to infrasonic noise differs among individuals.

• Effects are changed by psychological factors. For example, unpleasant sounds make people more uncomfortable than pleasant sounds, even at the same volume.

• The causal relationship between the physical disorders and the sounds has not been clarified.

In 2004, Japan's Environment Ministry set guidelines for local governments on dealing with problems caused by infrasonic noise.

The guidelines were issued mainly because of reports of damage at factories and construction sites caused by infrasonic noise at the frequency of 20 hertz to 200 hertz.

The infrasonic noise from windmills is not covered by the guideline as the frequency is lower.

Windmills are not covered by the country's Noise Regulation Law, which regulates noise levels at factories and construction sites, or by the Law for Assessment of Environmental Impacts, which stipulates that effects to surrounding areas should be assessed prior to the start of a large development project.

There have been no research papers published, either at home or abroad, which analyzed the relationship between infrasonic noise and human health.

Fumitaka Shiomi, 85, a doctor in Wakayama, Japan, who has studied infrasonic noise problems for 30 years, said, "There is health damage caused by infrasonic noise. Unless measures are taken immediately, a serious problem will occur."

But Tomohiro Shishime, chief of the Environment Ministry's Air Environment Division, said, "First, we'll examine the real situation." The ministry is at the stage of asking local governments to collect complaints.

Izumi Ushiyama, dean of Ashikaga Institute of Technology, which is promoting the use of windmills, said, "While listening to opinions of both business operators and residents, we'll search for a solution."

generation also poses a danger to birds, which are often struck and killed by the spinning vanes of the windmills. The Japanese Environment Ministry confirmed 13 such bird strikes in which white-tailed eagles, a rare species, were killed since fiscal 2003.

More white-tailed eagles have been killed in bird strikes by windmills than by running trains. A golden eagle was found dead near wind power facility in Iwate Prefecture last year -- the first death of a rare species confirmed near the facility.

Yukihiro Kominami, deputy chief of the nature conservation office at the Wild Bird Society of Japan, said those cases are just the tip of the iceberg. "We have to find out the problem of the locations as soon as possible, or we will see the damage to the bird population continuing," he said.

Some people argue a windmill twirling around on a column dozens of meters high spoils the scenery in the area.

Residents in Nagano, Japan, organized to oppose the building of wind farm there. The prefectural government then made a map showing the effects on nature and scenery of the proposed windmills. An official in charge said "We want the businesses to assess environmental issues and to explain them well to local residents, using this map."

There is a growing consensus among experts that wind-power generation projects should be subject to the environment impact assessment law. The ministry plans to consider the idea, including the possibility of amending the law, at the Central Environmental Council.

"Wind-power generation has been a business success, costing less than solar power generation," said Tetsuya Iida, head of Japan's Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, a nonprofit environmental organization. "There must be a path for residents and nature to coexist. The central government must consider establishing a framework to support finding that way."

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User comments : 12

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3.6 / 5 (5) Jul 05, 2009
All of these symptoms can be caused by lying awake at night worrying about the little green man who lives in your closet, or all of those giant, atomic-mutant monsters crawling out of the ocean heading for Tokyo, too.

We are talking about nocebo effects. There is no evidence that either electro-magnetic fields, mercury in vaccines, or infrasound affects humans adversely. Being a paranoid neurotic, however, does.

The bird deaths are problematic, but could probably be solved. I guess if birds aren't affected by infrasound, then some other warning beacon source could be placed near wind farms, or more visible blade surfaces could be developed, perhaps even using thaumatropic designs so that the motion of the blades would create the illusion of predators or some other threatening image hovering in front of the blades.

Either we do something like those, or you need to unplug the electronic devices, people.
3.8 / 5 (4) Jul 05, 2009
Or we, you know, just start building *real* alternative energy sources, like Thorium Breeder plants in the short term, and Fusion plants in the long term. There is absolutely no need for either wind or solar (PV solar, not thermal solar, which works well) energy production. They're nothing but blind alleys.
3 / 5 (2) Jul 05, 2009
That's a bit narrow minded. To not use solar and wind would be just plain ignorant when there are situations where they work quite well. In Australia there are massive pockets of land that can be used for solar/geothermal and in Australian territorial waters, there are areas of excellent wind generation potential.

Unfortunately thorium breeders and any nuclear plant development is banned in many states within Australia and fusion reactors are many years off.
2.2 / 5 (5) Jul 06, 2009

"All of these symptoms can be caused by lying awake at night worrying about the little green man who lives in your closet, or all of those giant, atomic-mutant monsters crawling out of the ocean heading for Tokyo, too.

We are talking about nocebo effects. There is no evidence that either electro-magnetic fields, mercury in vaccines, or infrasound affects humans adversely. Being a paranoid neurotic, however, does."


Definition: just shut up Im right your wrong if you disagree we will put you on meds you paranoid freak.

Amazing how an otherwise intelligent sounding comment starts out with a childish statement.

As for electro-magnetic fields they emit radiation and pretty much everybody knows that can be bad.

Since when has mercury not been a bad thing are you saying its okay to ingest this substance.

And where in this article does it talk about mercury or magnetic fields perhaps these were included to make your argument sound un-debatable
since we all know only neurotic people claim ill effects.As for the detrimental effects of infrasound you should do some research because incapacitating weapon systems have been designed using this frequency range.
4 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2009

1) "Radiation" simply means "object/field that can impart energy upon impact". If you're talking about a physical object, it means "an object that is in motion". When I walk across the room, I am "radiation". Not all radiation is dangerous, since it is a very, very broad term.

In practical terms radiation can be split up into two energetic categories: "Ionizing radiation" and "Non-Ionizing radiation". Ionizing radiation causes DNA damage to humans (and is therefore dangerous in any amount), while Non-Ionizing radiation *does not* cause DNA damage.

The vast majority of the radiation that you encounter on a day to day basis is Non-Ionizing (light, magnetic fields, radio, microwaves, infrared, etc). The two exceptions are X-rays and UV. And guess what? Those are the two that you're suppose to protect yourself against. Shocker, eh?

2) There is plenty of naturally occurring mercury around in the environment, just like there are lots of other toxins around. Because of this your body had to evolve to handle those toxins efficiently. Your body can rid itself of quite large amounts of pure mercury without being damaged. It's only when you start being exposed to enormous doses of mercury that it becomes a problem (like when little kids use to accidentally ingest the mercury in old thermometers - that's very bad).

The mercury in some vaccines (it is only in a very few at the present time) is not pure mercury, but is bonded to something else. This makes it less dangerous than pure mercury. But even if it was pure mercury, it is present in such small amounts that your body could handle it without any problem. You're exposed to far more mercury than that every time you eat a single portion of fish.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2009
very interesting topic here. sounds like a great discussion topic for our members of commonground, the social network for environmental professionals.

I am going to post something there to see what members have to say.

4 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2009

Hi gopher my point is that radiation can be bad no matter what wavelength we still dont know all the effects, some individuals cannot handle the radiation at the wavelength of light and must be shielded. As you pointed out on mercury we evolved in this environment now add in all the manmade sources of radiation and there could be problems just look at how many kids have autism now which I believe could be caused by abnormal radiation levels during development i.e T.V. and pc monitors.


"Dr. Henry Lai, a well-known bioelectromagnetics researcher at the University of Washington, Seattle, has compiled a 97-page collection of abstracts from studies conducted between 1995 and 2000. The list, in pdf format, can be found on the Research page of the EMR Network%u2019s web site. As the web site points out, 80% of these studies demonstrate some kind of biological effect.



And thank you for setting me straight on mercury.

I was under the impression that even small doses had cumulative effects.

My main reason for commenting was the way mandan

formulated his belittling comment.

Jay :)
not rated yet Jul 07, 2009
What can I say jay66, you're just wrong about the whole "all radiation is dangerous" thing. But don't worry, you're not alone there. The misuse (and misunderstanding of the meaning) of the word radiation is very common.

If you're talking about a physical object, like a neutron, a person, or a baseball, then "radiation" simply means that it is moving. Note that the use of the word radiation doesn't say anything about *how fast* an object is moving.

Since neutrons are small and kinda weird, let's use an everyday object as an example.

You have a little water pistol:). They're fun. If you fire a stream of water at me out of that gun, it won't hurt me at all, even if I'm completely unprotected (naked).

Now replace that water pistol with a firehose. If you fire that firehose at me, you *will* hurt me, and possibly even kill me.

But what gives? Both the pistol and the hose are firing water, right? And water isn't inherently poisonous to people. So why does the firehose hurt you, but the pistol doesn't? Well, it is down to two things: the speed at which the water moves, and the amount of water that's hitting you.

The faster the water is moving, the more damage it will do. And the more water that there is, the more damage it will do. The thing is, if the water is moving slow enough, you could flood the entire area with it and it wouldn't hurt me until I literally drowned in it.

Very small bits of radiation work the same way water does. The faster they are moving (or rather, the more energy they have), the more damage they do. And the more radiation that there is, the more damage it will do.

Non-ionizing radiation can be thought of as "slow-moving"; it has very little energy. Some types of this radiation are like water to a human: you have to flood the entire area with unbelievably colossal amounts of the radiation before we'll "drown" in it. Magnetic Fields fall into this category (humans are non-magnetic). Other types of non-ionizing radiation are more like throwing a baseball gently at someone. One or two baseballs won't do much, but if you chuck a whole bunch at someone at the same time, you'll bruise them. Microwaves fall into this category. They won't give you cancer, but they can cook you, just like heat from a fire does.

Ionizing radiation is like being shot with a firehose rather than a little water pistol. It has a great deal of energy associated with it, and it can indeed cause damage. This is the dangerous kind of radiation. It causes DNA damage, which can sometimes lead to cancer, or other illnesses. It's just generally nasty, and everyone should stay away from it when possible.

So some types of radiation are indeed harmful, but for some reason people don't distinguish between the different types. Probably for the simple reason that no one ever explained to them that there is more than one type of radiation.

One last thing:

"Autism" is a misleading term. It isn't a specific disease or illness, and there is no diagnosis for it. So how do they know when someone has autism? They don't. A random doctor goes "huh. That kid is kinda weird. Should we say that they have ADHD or should we say that they have Autism?" Then they flip a coin. It really isn't much more technical than that.

So causes of Autism haven't been rising. What's been rising are the number of different illnesses that *some* doctors are choosing to describe as falling within the "Autism Spectrum Disorder". That's it.

The reason that Autism cases are rising is because they didn't use to *call* such people Autistic, they use to call them "Village Idiots", "Morons", "Retards", and "Shortbus riders".

So what a (very few) people have decided is an "Autism epidemic" is nothing more than a change in the definition of words, and the spread of Political Correctness. See, we can't call people retards anymore, so now we're calling them autistic instead. It's just the evolution of language, not a new disease or disorder.
not rated yet Jul 07, 2009
And, just for the record, I didn't mean that last part to be insulting to people with Autism, though in rereading it, it did come across that way.

I was just trying to describe how an Autistic person would have been thought of by the population surrounding them, even 75 years ago.
not rated yet Jul 09, 2009
Hi gopher65

Just to clarify I never said all radiation is dangerous I wrote that it could be bad we just dont know all the effects and this is still being studied.Dr. Henry Lai, a well-known bioelectromagnetics researcher at the University of Washington,says that 80% of the studies show a biological effect.

So we can move past the definition of radiation here is what I agree with.


"In physics, radiation describes any process in which energy emitted by one body travels through a medium or through space, ultimately to be absorbed by another body. Non-physicists often associate the word with ionizing radiation (e.g., as occurring in nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors, and radioactive substances), but it can also refer to electromagnetic radiation (i.e., radio waves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet light, and X-rays) which can also be ionizing radiation, to acoustic radiation, or to other more obscure processes. What makes it radiation is that the energy radiates (i.e., it travels outward in straight lines in all directions) from the source. This geometry naturally leads to a system of measurements and physical units that are equally applicable to all types of radiation."

"Electromagnetic radiation (sometimes abbreviated EMR) takes the form of self-propagating waves in a vacuum or in matter. EM radiation has an electric and magnetic field component which oscillate in phase perpendicular to each other and to the direction of energy propagation. Electromagnetic radiation is classified into types according to the frequency of the wave, these types include (in order of increasing frequency): radio waves, microwaves, terahertz radiation, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma rays. Of these, radio waves have the longest wavelengths and Gamma rays have the shortest. A small window of frequencies, called visible spectrum or light, is sensed by the eye of various organisms, with variations of the limits of this narrow spectrum. EM radiation carries energy and momentum, which may be imparted when it interacts with matter."


So my point is this is still being studied and debated .Humans and animals all have different sensitivity to environmental conditions some individuals can be affected while others are not.

To use your example of a baseball lets suppose I was hit with a baseball and there was no apparent sign of permanent damage but this incident caused a seemingly harmless bruise and unseen damage to bone.Now this bone damage may or may not manifest into a bigger health problem later in life.My point is only time and the individuals outcome will tell what the effects were.

not rated yet Jul 28, 2009
Gopher and Jay, a pleasure to read your gradually improving conversation on this topic. Mandan, yes this topic does read like an X-File about military testing of Ultra Low Frequency radio.

Between paranoia and progress lay fear and blind ambition. Perhaps we should build windfarms (and all new energy production systems) further from populated areas. The cost of transmission is higher, but the cost of mistakes is lower.

As for the (off topic) EM Radiation, Gopher could clarify why us computer geeks were instructed during the early nineties to set up CRT screens so that nobody sat directly behind the thin end of the tube?

We were all told that it was because of ElectroMagnetic Radiation, but perhaps you could be more specific and indicate what form of ionised radition was produced by the mass of high-voltage coils (circa 22000 volts for a 19 inch screen) that used to control the particle beam (rastor) to the phosphorous layer at the front of the diplay?
4 / 5 (1) Jul 28, 2009
As for the (off topic) EM Radiation, Gopher could clarify why us computer geeks were instructed during the early nineties to set up CRT screens so that nobody sat directly behind the thin end of the tube?

CRT screens and televisions are basically just small electron guns being fired at a phosphor screen. When the electrons hit the phosphor they emit x-rays. X-rays are indeed EM radiation, but, as I mentioned above, they are in the "ionizing" category (ie, the dangerous kind).

CRT screens and TVs had shielding to protect people in front of the screens from the x-rays (including lead-laced glass), but if you were right behind them then you could get a small dose. It wasn't much, but any unnecessary x-ray exposure is a bad thing.

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