All clear on noise and public health

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Noise from wind turbines does not have any effect on public health, reports the French agency for environmental and occupational health and safety (AFSSET). An investigation into wind turbine noise was commissioned by the ministers of health and the environment in the wake of a report last year by the National Academy of Medicine, which argued that turbine noise constituted a real health risk and recommended that machines over 2.5 MW should not be built within 1500 metres of houses pending further studies.

In response, AFSSET says that it found no evidence of harmful effects on hearing caused by low-frequency emissions. Heard from a house, noise from a wind turbine can be a nuisance in certain circumstances, the report goes on, but this is usually associated with a negative perception of turbines in general, such as objections on aesthetic grounds. In such cases, people might suffer from "stress or trouble sleeping, but it is very difficult to quantify or attribute such effects uniquely," the report says.

AFSSET also disagrees with imposing a uniform exclusion zone. Because of the wide variety of factors influencing noise emissions, including topography, vegetation and climatic conditions, it argues that it would be more appropriate to assess the acoustic impact of each project on a case-by-case basis. "It is possible to carry out exact studies and simulations which ... ensure the regulations are respected," the agency asserts.


Nor does AFSSET agree with the academy of medicine's call for turbines to be treated as industrial "installations classified for the protection of the environment" (ICPE) and therefore subject to much more draconian regulations. AFSSET considers the current regulations governing turbines, which come under a general decree covering neighbourhood noise, are sufficient. But it recommends the regulations should be adapted to include certain aspects particular to turbines, such as spectrum and tone and the pulsing nature of turbine noise.

The industry welcomes AFSSET's report, particularly its views on bringing turbines under ICPE regulations, but is still waiting for a response from government.

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