Wind energy enjoys considerable public support and achieves substantial human health and environmental benefits. Nonetheless wind energy detractors have publicized their concerns that wind turbines cause adverse health effects.
Here we present the medical and scientific evidence regarding wind turbines and health;
Positive health effects
There are many positive public health and environmental benefits associated with the use of wind turbines to generate electricity. Wind energy is an inexhaustible resource that generates no pollution or toxic waste, does not deplete fresh water resources, and requires no mining, transportation, or refining of a feedstock or fuel.
Electricity produced by wind farms displaces electricity from other sources, usually the oldest, dirtiest, and least efficient power plants on the utility system: in other words - coal. Wind power thus has a direct and immediate benefit in reducing illness and deaths, typically caused by asthma, emphysema and bronchitis, associated with air pollution from coal plants..
If we had 1,000 wind turbines in Saskatchewan generating 20 percent of our electricity the health and environmental benefits over 25 years would be as follows;
Reduced deaths: 1,000 people. Many medical studies have documented the negative health impacts (e.g. asthma attacks, bronchitis and emphysema) of using coal and, to a much lesser extent, natural gas to generate our electricity. Those same studies have also calculated human mortality rates. From these we can estimate that approximately 1,000 lives would be saved.
Mercury out of the atmosphere: 3,700 kilograms. Significant quantities of Mercury are released into the atmosphere when coal is burned in a power station such as Boundary Dam in Estevan. Mercury is a bioaccumulative neurotoxin which, even in extremely low amounts, causes brain damage in humans and which is especially dangerous for children and pregnant or nursing mothers. Studies have found that long term exposure to air contaminated with only 42 millionths of a gram of Mercury per cubic metre, can induce tremors, impaired cognitive skills and sleep disturbance in people.
Toxic trace elements not released: Arsenic - 12,000 kilograms, Lead - 9,000 kilograms, Cadmium - 1,000 kilograms. These chemical elements are extremely toxic in very small quantities yet large amounts of them (+ many others which are not included here) are released when coal is burned in power stations such as Boundary Dam in Estevan. SaskPower does not publish data but emissions are calculated based on the known chemical composition of similar coal bodies.
Water not lost through power station cooling towers: 140 million cubic metres. Coal- and natural gas-fired power stations need lots of water to cool their boilers. Wind turbines do not need any. The 140 million cubic metres of water saved is equivalent to 5 days of flow of the South Saskatchewan river or the amount of water which would be contained in a 250 kilometre stretch of the river: 250 kilometres is the distance from Regina to Saskatoon.
Coal not mined and burned: 60 million tonnes. This amount of coal would fill a line of railcars 10,000 kilometres in length - that would stretch from Vancouver to Halifax and back again! Or, to put it another way, that much coal would fill a hole in the ground measuring 1 kilometre long, 500 metres wide and 130 metres deep.
Greenhouse gas emissions avoided: 100 million tonnes. If coal and gas is not burned then carbon dioxide is not released. The total greenhouse gas savings of 100 million tonnes is equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the road.
Negative health issues? studies show no evidence for direct human health effects from wind turbines
The credible peer-reviewed scientific data and various government reports in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, consistently conclude that wind farms do not harm human health.
In their own independent reviews of available evidence, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council found that sound from wind turbines does not cause negative health impacts. These findings are supported by this statement from the Public Health Association of Australia and the Australian Medical Association which notes the lack of evidence to support claims of negative health effects of wind turbines.
Additionally, the Massachusetts Departments of Environmental Protection and of Public Health recently commissioned a panel of experts with backgrounds in public health, epidemiology, toxicology, neurology and sleep medicine, neuroscience, and mechanical engineering to analyze “the biological plausibility or basis for health effects of turbines (noise, vibration, and flicker).” The review of existing studies included both peer-reviewed and non-peer reviewed literature.
Among the key findings of the panel were:
There is no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that can be characterized as “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”
Claims that infrasound from wind turbines (low-frequency sound, below the level of normal human hearing) directly impacts the vestibular system have not been demonstrated scientifically. Available evidence shows that the infrasound levels near wind turbines cannot impact the vestibular system.
The strongest epidemiological study conducted to date suggests that there is no association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health.
None of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed found an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease or headache/migraine.
In September of 2013 the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland published a new study which consisted of a review of nearly 50 scientific research articles conducted in Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand over the past 10 years. Their conclusion: wind turbines do not cause any detectable adverse health effects.
In November of 2014 Health Canada published findings from the Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study. Launched in 2012, in collaboration with Statistics Canada, this study explored the relationship between exposure to wind turbine noise and the health effects reported by, and measured in, people living near wind turbines. Its conclusion "No evidence was found to support a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and any of the self-reported or measured health endpoints examined".