Northern Ireland’s potential to lead the way on green power could be threatened by fears of health dangers to people living near wind turbines.
Renewable energy experts have pointed out that Northern Ireland is ideally placed to capitalise on wind and wave energy, cutting its heavy reliance on imported power — but the race to go green could be held up by damning new research from a leading New York paediatrician.
Dr Nina Pierpoint has warned that living too close to wind turbines can cause heart disease, tinnitus, vertigo, panic attacks, migraines and sleep deprivation in groundbreaking research due to be published later this year.
Following studies of people living near wind turbines in the US, UK, Italy, Ireland and Canada for the past five years, she has identified a new health risk called wind turbine syndrome (WTS).
She says the disruption of the inner ear’s vestibular system by low-frequency noise from the turbines is causing problems ranging from internal pulsation and quivering to nervousness, fear, a compulsion to flee, chest tightness and increased heart rate.
To date, the Government and wind companies have denied any health risks associated with powerful noise and vibration produced by wind turbines, backed by recent research by acousticians at Salford University, who argue that earlier claims by Dr Pierpont are “imaginary”.
Scientific orthodoxy has been overturned by the discovery that like fish, humans are affected by vibrations through their ear bones, Dr Pierpont claimed.
“It has been gospel among acousticians for years that if a person can’t hear a sound, it’s too weak for it to be detected or registered by any other part of the body. But this is no longer true,” she said.
“Humans can hear through the bones. This is amazing. It would be heretical if it hadn’t been shown in a well-conducted experiment.”
It will be of concern to the Government which has plans for around 4,000 new wind turbines across the UK. Energy Secretary Ed Miliband has made wind power a central part of his green policy to encourage renewable energy sources. Another 3,000 are planned offshore.
Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister Edwin Poots is also in favour of exploring more sources of renewable energy, and experts in the industry have tipped the province as ideally situated to take advantage of the global move towards green power.
At present, Northern Ireland imports more than 98% of its energy but has the potential to derive a lot more grid energy from wind and wave power. Dr Pierpont has recommended at least a 2km set-back distance between potential wind turbines and people’s homes.
“It is irresponsible of the wind turbine companies — and governments — to continue building wind turbines so close to where people live until there has been a full epidemiological investigation of the full impact on human health,” she said.
“What I have shown in my research is that many people — not all — who have been living close to a wind turbine running near their homes display a range of health illnesses and that when they move away, many of these problems go away.”
The British Wind Energy Association said there is no scientific research to suggest that wind turbines are in any way harmful.
“Noise from wind farms is a non-problem and we need to move away from this unproductive and unscientific debate, and focus on our targets on reducing carbon emissions,” a spokesman said.