“Acoustic radiation”

by Walter Olson on February 16, 2009

Some opponents of wind turbine farms in Maine say they’re concerned not just about audible noise but “low-frequency noise, so soft you can’t hear it,” from the installations, which they claim is linked to a wide array of health problems, not to mention “the strobe effect created by the sun setting behind the spinning blades, which some say can lead to seizures”. On an anti-turbine website, a New York doctor describes “acoustic radiation” as a mix of “audible sound, infrasound and vibration, in a pulsating character, that appear to trigger serious reported health problems in those families living near wind turbine installations.” State officials in Maine, on the other hand, would prefer to keep the focus on sound levels loud enough to actually be noticed:

The state’s chief medical officer has her doubts about turbine-related health effects. When it comes to potential hazards, “If anything, there’s evidence to put a moratorium on fossil fuels not on wind turbines,” Dr. Dora Ann Mills said Friday.

[Kathryn Skelton, Lewiston Sun-Journal] (& Solicitr, UK)

{ 14 comments }

1 SmartGuy 02.16.09 at 1:57 am

The litigation quacks must have failed their college physics courses. The charlatans are confusing acoustics with electromagnetic radiation. Of course all you need is one Judge stupid/corrupt enough to buy this steaming pile of manipulative prevarication.

2 Xmas 02.16.09 at 8:21 am

This is a setup for NIMBY suits to stop windmills from being built. If they can win one case of “acoustic radiation”, they can stop windmills from being built anywhere near anyone’s house.

This is like the EMF suits against power lines.

3 Martha 02.16.09 at 8:52 am

I live on the coast of Massachusetts and I see the coast of Maine out my back windows. I have no problem with either the look of wind turbines or the subsonics they allegedly generate. I wish people would just give up the NIMBY and start thinking about the public good. If I can deal with seeing the wind turbines (which I actually think are beautiful in a design-y sort of way), then so can they.

Sheesh!

(actually, Xmas, I see this as very different from the EMF suits).

4 Bob Lipton 02.16.09 at 9:01 am

Gosh, they don’t want the wind farm? Then you won’t mind a coal-fired power plant next door. Scrubbers optional.

Bob

5 Todd Rogers 02.16.09 at 9:40 am

purely laughable. Of course, let’s not forget all the poor little endangered birds who may be in jeopardy because of these capitalistic icons.

The best thing that could come out of this would be inter-suing among factions of the Green Movement.

6 Pleasedon'tsueme 02.16.09 at 10:53 am

Altough the NIMBY people are talking bogus, a recent study has shown that, when compared with other types of renewable energy, windmills are relatively unreliable and expensive. Solar power is the best option as a renewable energy, so if I could choose, I’d rather have a solar power plant next door than a windmill farm. That said, I would prefer any type of ‘green’ powerplant over a fossil fuel powered one.

7 kimsch 02.16.09 at 11:12 am

I don’t know about “acoustic radiation” but I do know that a car or truck is acting as a rolling speaker with the bass on 11, and the car or truck is within about 25-30 feet of my vehicle, I get physically nauseous.

I also get a headache when neighbors, who can be half a block away, play polka music in the car or truck in their driveway. Bass and volume at 11. The house vibrates as well.

8 Bill Poser 02.16.09 at 12:02 pm

The claim about the strobe effect of the setting sun behind the spinning blades triggering seizures actually does have some scientific basis. There is such a thing as photogenic epilepsy, in which epileptic seizures are triggered by visual stimuli, one of which is light flashing at a certain frequency. I’m not aware of cases triggered by wind turbines, but it is conceivable.

That said, this is hardly likely to be a significant problem. The incidence of photogenic epilepsy of all types is about 0.02% (I don’t have figures specifically for flashing light), so the number of people likely to be sensitive to wind turbines is quite small. Furthermore, photogenic epilepsy is generally triggered only by continued exposure to the flashing light. How many people are going to stare at rotating wind turbines at sunset?

9 Douglas 02.16.09 at 5:39 pm

“Subsonic” is likely to be a confusing term, as it is also used to contrast “supersonic” speeds of moving objects. “Infrasound” is probably better as a term to describe acoustic emissions that are outside the range of human auditory perception on the low-frequency end.
“Radiation” is likely to be confusing as a scare-word, but I just spent two class periods lecturing on the radiation of sound from loudspeakers, so it is a common use of the term at least in my world.
I don’t consider it outside the realm of possibility that haptic and/or auditory response to low-frequency sound could produce anxiety or sleep disorders.

10 Bumper 02.16.09 at 8:11 pm

This has all the makings of a Kennedy Special. Teddie doesn’t want a wind farm in front of his beach and Robert, Jr is without a cause since the Special Masters rained on his autism and vaccine parade.

I can see the headline now:

“Acoustic Radiation Causes Brain Cancer”

11 kimsch 02.16.09 at 10:28 pm

Bill, that’s what Shelley Winter’s character in the Andromeda Strain had, the photogenic epilepsy. There was a flashing red light on the computer screen…

12 Melvin H. 02.17.09 at 1:11 am

What got Ms. Winter’s character at the end of the movie was a flashing alarm light on the corridor wall.

(Quick aside: In the book version of the movie, Ms. Winter’s character had a different name–I think–and was male instead of female.)

13 Bill Poser 02.17.09 at 1:18 am

Douglas,

That reminds me of the story about the Harvard physicist sent to Vermont to help improve milk production during the Depression. After several weeks of study, he called a meeting in the town hall. He began his talk thus: “Consider a spherical cow radiating milk isotropically…”

14 Todd Rogers 02.17.09 at 3:54 pm

“Radiation” has a sort of Bikini Atoll / Hiroshima / Silkwood connotation. Thus, I submit its use in this cases is clearly for spin and persuasive ends. Kind of like, “Toxic Assets.” If we let them put those big windmills up, we’ll have Spaniards trying to joust with them…next thing you know the kids will be glowing…and the grand kids will look like aliens

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