Another spate of psychological research is exploring the psychological and health effects of quieter — albeit constant — noise from wind farms. While these turbines are typically many decibels lower than the noise emitted by busy city traffic, power lawn movers or leaf blowers, sounds don’t have to be loud to be disturbing or to decrease quality of life, says Bronzaft.
“A dripping faucet may not measure that loud, but it sure can keep someone awake,” says Bronzaft, who has testified on the hazards of noise to government and health organizations in the United States and Canada and served as an expert witness in court cases on wind turbine noise.
Since the technology is still relatively new, a strong link between wind turbine noise and impaired human behavior or performance has yet to be proven — and the lack of federal funding means that research is unlikely to remedy this anytime soon. Yet several small case studies and observational interviews have found an increase in sleep disturbance, psychological stress and headaches among those who live near the structures, according to New York pediatrician Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD. Pierpont documents the individual experiences of families in Canada, Europe and the United States who live within several miles of the windmills in “Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment” (2009), and advocates for more research on the health effects before additional harm is done. Yet some experts, including Robert J. McCunney, MD, a staff physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, argue that to establish a better connection between wind turbines and health, an individual’s health status must be studied before and after the windmills are installed, and the research should be peer reviewed. In addition, in 2009, a panel of independent experts in public health, audiology and medicine commissioned by the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations looked at peer-reviewed studies on the health effects of wind turbines and found that while some people might be annoyed by the “swish, swish” sound of the windmills, no medical basis existed for the health complaints that often arise near large wind-farm projects.
“The sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique,” panelists, including McCunney, contend in their review. “There is no reason to believe, based on the levels and frequencies of the sounds and the panel’s experience with sound exposures in occupational settings, that the sounds from wind turbines could plausibly have direct adverse health consequences.”
Still, Bronzaft’s efforts — along with a continued focus by psychologists around the world on noise pollution research and on teaching psychology students about the potential negative effects of noise — can help to increase society’s understanding of how to help abate chronic noise.