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Wind farms, sound and health

Wind farms, sound and health

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Published by Dan Cass
Simple community information sheet from the Victorian Government Department of Health. The facts call into question the theory of wind turbine sickness of Nina Pierpont and Sarah Laurie.

Environmental Health Program, Department of Health.

Authorised and published by the Victorian Government, 50 Lonsdale St, Melbourne.
© Department of Health, April 2013
Simple community information sheet from the Victorian Government Department of Health. The facts call into question the theory of wind turbine sickness of Nina Pierpont and Sarah Laurie.

Environmental Health Program, Department of Health.

Authorised and published by the Victorian Government, 50 Lonsdale St, Melbourne.
© Department of Health, April 2013

More info:

Published by: Dan Cass on May 03, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Sound and hearing are complex concepts. This act sheet explains these concepts,particularly as they relate to wind armsand health, and provides denitionso the most commonly used language.
What is sound?
Sound is produced by vibrations which cause pressurechanges in a medium such as air. The resulting waveso pressure travel in all directions away rom theirsource. When these sound waves all on the human ear,the sensation o hearing is produced. Audibility reers to whether or not a sound can be heard;sounds which we can hear are
; sounds whichwe can not hear are
is unwanted sound.
Environmental noise
(also known as noise pollution)can be caused by air and road transport, industry,and commercial and domestic activities.
Sound level
reers to the intensity o a sound. Generally,the higher the level, the louder a sound will seem. As sound waves travel away rom a source, the leveldecreases (the sound gets ‘quieter’).Sound level is measured in
decibels (dB)
. The scaleo human hearing is typically 0 dB to 130 dB (thresholdo pain).
is how intense a sound seems when heard bythe human ear. Loudness depends on the sound level,but also on other actors, such as the requency, durationand character o the sound, and the hearing sensitivityo the listener.
o sound (also reerred to as
 ) is the rateo reception o the sound pressure wave. It is measuredin
hertz (Hz)
or cycles per second.Sounds with mostly low requencies oten sound like a rumble,such as thunder. Sounds with mostly high requenciesoten sound like a buzz or whine, such as mosquitoes.Sounds can be grouped into categories accordingto requency:
 (very low requency sound)Below 20 Hz
Low frequency sound
Below 200 Hz
Mid frequency sound
200–2,000 Hz
High frequency sound
2,000–20,000 Hz
 Above 20,000 HzFor example:
(low requency)
(mid to high requency).Most sounds contain a mix o many requencies.
Wind farms, sound and health
Community information
Wind farms, sound and health: Community information
What sounds can people hear?
frequency range of human hearing
is typically20 Hz to 20,000 Hz or young healthy adults. However,requencies outside o this range are audible i the soundis loud enough. The ear is most sensitive to sounds in the 300–10,000 Hzrange, similar to the range o speech. We are less sensitiveto sounds outside o this range, particularly soundsbelow 20 Hz.
How is loudness measured?
Simply measuring the sound level does not tell us howloud a sound seems to the human ear, because theloudness o a sound depends not only on its level, butalso on its requency. Most sounds are a combinationo many requencies.
is a sound measurement technique which takesaccount o the requencies, as well as the levels, in thesound. It is representative o how our ears respondto noise.
Table 1: Typical dBA levels of environmental sounds
Noise sourceSound level (dBA)
Quiet bedroom2025Rural night-time background
Wind farm(at moderate wind speed 7 m/s)35–45
55Busy general oce
Pneumatic drill at 15 m95Jet aircrat at 50 m105 Threshold o pain130
can be used or sounds where inrasound may be
which is the hearing threshold or inrasound. At this level,the inrasound will be imperceptible, even or people withsensitive hearing.
How are low frequency sounds differentfrom higher frequency sounds?
Sound levels decrease as sound waves travel away romtheir source. However, sound levels o lower requenciesdecrease less quickly than higher requencies.For example, when standing next to a road, the higherrequency sounds o the tyre against the road are mostobvious. At a large distance, the sound which remainsis the rumbling low requency noise rom the engines.It is more dicult to insulate against low requency soundthan mid and high requency sound. This explains whybass sounds are oten the main component o musicheard rom the next-door neighbour’s sound system.It also explains why low requency sound rom wind armscan seem more prominent than higher requency soundinside houses.
Inrasound is very low requency sound; it usually reersto sounds with a requency below 20 Hz. It is commonlybelieved that inrasound is inaudible. While it is true thatwe are less sensitive to sounds below 20 Hz, the humanear can perceive sounds in this range i they are at veryhigh levels.Inrasound is perceived by the ear like other requencies,so it has to be audible to be detected. However, thesensation it produces is dierent to that o higherrequencies. This has led to conusion regarding howinrasound is detected and how it aects the body.Most inrasound is accompanied by sounds at otherrequencies, so it is unusual to experience pure inrasound. There are
many sources of infrasound,
as shownin Table 2.
Table 2: Sources of infrasound
NaturalenvironmentHouseholdand industryHuman body
WavesWindWateralls Air conditioningRail tracPower plantsBreathingChewingHeart beatHead movement
Inrasound is produced by the body at higher levels thanmany external sources, including wind arms. Humanshave thereore been exposed to inrasound throughoutour evolution.
1 Based on sound level measurements taken rom multiple residentlocations near two Victorian wind arms, at distances 500–1,000 mrom the nearest turbine.
Wind farms, sound and health: Community information
What sounds do wind farms produce?
Wind arms produce a range o sounds. The types o sound that can be heard depend on the type o turbinebeing used and the distance o the listener rom theturbine(s). Landscape and weather conditions also impacton the character o the sound. An intermittent ‘swish’sound is the main sound within approximately 300 mo a wind turbine.
Wind farm sound levels
 At the distance o most neighbouring residents(or example, 500–1,000 m), the
(dBA) o soundrom wind arms is lower than that o many other sourceso environmental noise. This is shown in Table 1.
Frequency of wind turbine sound
Sound rom wind turbines contains many dierentrequencies. The ‘swish’ sound is in the mid to highrequencies. Low requency sounds may be morenoticeable than the ‘swish’ at distances urther awayrom the turbine.However, wind turbines actually produce more midand high requency sound than low requency sound.
Masking of wind farm sounds
Wind turbines produce more sound when wind speedsare higher. This means that they are louder whenambient sounds caused by the wind are also louder. The ambient sounds may mask sounds rom the windarm, making them less noticeable. This can make themeasurement o wind arm sound more complex thanother environmental sound.
Special audible characteristics of wind farms
 Although sound levels rom wind arms are generally low,there are some
special audible characteristics (SACs)
o wind arm sound that may be present, and may make thesound more annoying than predicted. Two o these SACsare
amplitude modulation
. The ‘swish’ sound described above is caused by theregular rise and all o the sound level as the blades o the turbine rotate. This variation in sound level is knownas
amplitude modulation
.Under certain conditions, particularly at night, this eectmay be more noticeable; the swish may become a‘beating’ or ‘thumping’ sound. It is unclear what causesthis eect, but it may be more prominent when it occursat multiple turbines at the same time. There is less ambientnoise at night, so the noise generated by the wind turbinesmay seem relatively louder than usual.However, this type o ‘enhanced’ amplitude modulationcausing annoyance has only been detected at a smallnumber o wind arms.Sometimes a distinctive sound such as a hum or whinecan be heard. This occurs when there is a dominantrequency associated with the noise (instead o an evenmix o dierent requencies). This is known as
.High requency tones can be just as annoying as lowrequency tones. These special characteristics may not be detected bystandard measurement, so must be specically assessed. They can oten be minimised by changing wind armoperating conditions.

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