By Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD
*The following is the text of Pierpont’s keynote address before the “First International Symposium on the Global Wind Industry and Adverse Health Effects: Loss of Social Justice?” in Picton, Ontario, Canada, October 30, 2010. It is followed by a discussion of several other relevant talks at the symposium by Drs. Alec Salt, Michael Nissenbaum, Christopher Hanning, and Mr. Richard James.
The latest research, as discussed below, suggests the following mechanism for Wind Turbine Syndrome: air-borne or body-borne low-frequency sound directly stimulates the inner ear, with physiologic responses of both cochlea (hearing organ) and otolith organs (saccule and utricle—organs of balance and motion detection).
Research has now proved conclusively that physiologic responses in the cochlea suppress the hearing response to low-frequency sound but still send signals to the brain, signals whose function is, at present, mostly unknown. The physiologic response of the cochlea to turbine noise is also a trigger for tinnitus and the brain-cell-level reorganization that tinnitus represents—reorganization that can have an impact on language processing and the profound learning processes related to language processing.
New research also demonstrates that the “motion-detecting” otolith organs of mammals also respond to air-borne low-frequency sound. Physiologic responses and signals from the otolith organs are known to generate a wide range of brain responses, including dizziness and nausea (seasickness, even without the movement), fear and alerting (startle, wakefulness), and difficulties with visually-based problem-solving.
Increased alerting in the presence of wind turbine noise disturbs sleep, even when people do not recall being awakened. A population-level survey in Maine now shows clear disturbances of sleep and mental well-being out to 1400 m (4600 ft) from turbines, with diminishing effects out to 5 km (3 miles). ··
Sensory systems change brain functioning
I confess I have an odd medical practice. I’m a pediatrician by training, but I’m fascinated by brains and development, and essentially practice psychiatry and child development. I’m interested in how to help children’s brains grow well, and, at the other end of the spectrum, in what derails normal brain functioning in normal people—like Wind Turbine Syndrome—and how to get that functioning back on track.
So much of brain function is about the sensory systems—vision,