Do Windmills Cause Cancer?

Learn why windmill cancer is a myth

Engineer at wind turbine farm

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Windmills don't cause cancer despite rumors stating the contrary. For the past few decades, some doctors and anti-wind energy activists have used pseudoscience to suggest that wind turbine noise causes a slew of different health problems ranging from tinnitus and insomnia to birth defects and death.

None of these claims have been proven. Rather, they're based on anecdotal reports from people living near wind farms, small animal studies, or have no basis in truth whatsoever.

While in office, former President Trump sparked confusion when he claimed that wind turbines can cause cancer. Again, this is simply untrue. Over 20 studies indicate there are no direct links between wind turbines, the noise they create, and any health problems.

Here’s everything you need to know about how this rumor got started and what the research shows in regards to the potential health effects of living near wind turbines. 

What Is Wind Turbine Syndrome?

Wind turbine syndrome, also known as wind farm syndrome, is a cluster of symptoms including tinnitus, headaches, dizziness, nausea, loss of sleep, mental fatigue, and trouble concentrating. It is purportedly linked to living within 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) of wind turbines.

This syndrome is not recognized as an actual medical condition by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and has been characterized as pseudoscience.

The phrase “wind turbine syndrome” was coined by Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD, a behavioral pediatrician whose husband is an anti-wind activist. Dr. Pierpont interviewed ten families residing near these “spinning giants” for her book "Wind Turbine Syndrome" which she self-published in 2009. 

Sarah Laurie, an Australian physician (who is not formally registered or practicing as a doctor), has claimed that adverse health effects supposedly associated with proximity to windmills may develop within 20 minutes of exposure. 

The Waubra Foundation, an Australian advocacy group funded by the fossil fuel industry and known for astroturfing (an apparent grass-roots organization formed and funded by industry for their benefit), was a leading proponent of furthering the study of wind turbine syndrome.

However, the organization was stripped of its nonprofit status due to unsupported health claims about "wind turbine syndrome" and “vibroacoustic disease” in December 2014.

Concerns of windmill-related health problems arose again in April 2019 when then-President Trump, a long-time critic of wind energy, said “the noise causes cancer” in regards to wind turbines at a fundraiser for Republicans.

There is no scientific evidence for this, and the claim was largely criticized and debunked as a myth by politicians and public health leaders alike.

Wind Energy: A Growing International Market

China and the United States lead the world in the onshore wind market, accounting for over 60% of new capacity in 2019, per the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). There are over 59,900 utility-scale wind turbines in the U.S. Wind could provide 20% of electricity by 2030 and 35% by 2050, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Does Wind Turbine Syndrome Exist? 

As of reporting, no peer-reviewed scientific studies back the existence of "wind turbine syndrome."

Research has failed to show a direct link between living near wind turbines, the sound they emit, and resulting health problems. Studies have not connected living near wind turbines to mental health problems or adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight or preterm birth. 

In Australia, where researchers have taken complaints of those living near wind turbines seriously, the Australian Medical Association has stated, “The available Australian and international evidence does not support the view that the infrasound or low-frequency sound generated by wind farms, as they are currently regulated in Australia, causes adverse health effects on populations residing in their vicinity.” 

What studies do show is that wind turbines can be an annoyance to those who live near them. Frustrations like noise and shadow flicker from windmills may lead to headaches, mild nausea, or disrupted sleep in some people.

Still, research is mixed in regards to these symptoms. All in all, more studies are needed to rule out whether windmills are the specific cause of these health issues or other factors are to blame, per a 2014 review in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

While the presence of windmills on the horizon might be annoying to some, these energy-generating spinners pose no known threat to human health—and there’s no proof that they cause cancer. 

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has stated that it is “unaware of any credible evidence linking the noise from windmills to cancer.”

Concerns and Response 

Although there is no evidence that wind farms cause any adverse health effects, the impact of noise on nearby residents and safety concerns have led some governments to enact legislation regulating the location and sound levels of industrial wind turbines.

While many countries apply industrial noise limits to wind turbines, others such as Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, and Sweden have also created sound limits specific to windmills.  

In other countries, regulations may vary by location. In Ontario, Canada, the Ministry of the Environment has issued guidelines that require all wind farms to comply with sound level limits. Similarly, Alberta requires noise impact assessments for each new wind power project application. 

In the United States, wind farms must work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as well as state and local authorities to meet a collection of different regulations.

Wisconsin, for example, requires a setback (meaning a distance between wind facilities and landmarks, buildings, roads, public transmission lines, and communication lines) for occupied buildings like schools and places of worship of 1,250 feet or 3.1 times the maximum blade tip height. 

A Word From Verywell 

There is no evidence that wind farms or wind turbine noise can cause cancer or other health problems. If you’re worried about cancer or your health, empower yourself with the wealth of knowledge we have on how you can reduce your risk of developing cancer. Educate yourself about risk factors for cancer and lifestyle changes that may help lower your risk.

Rather than worrying about a nonexistent threat like windmill cancer, aim to reduce your exposure to known carcinogens or cancer-causing substances. Some smart changes to make: Quit smoking, drink less alcohol, limit your red meat intake, cut processed meats out of your diet, and wear sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

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