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No, Mr. President, wind turbines do not cause cancer

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
President Donald Trump speaking at the National Republican Congressional Committee Annual Spring Dinner on Tuesday.

In a speech Tuesday night at a National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser dinner, President Trump seemed to promote yet another conspiracy theory, this time about wind turbines.

“They say the noise causes cancer,” he told the audience.

No, Mr. President, it doesn’t. No noise causes cancer.

So where did this bizarre idea come from? It’s perhaps impossible to know how Trump came to embrace it (although he has a personal history of despising and denigrating wind turbines). It is possible, however, to trace this weird and wacky conspiracy theory back to the pseudoscientific and totally debunked “research” on which it’s based.

Freelance writer Philip Jaekl did just that in a fascinating article published a couple of years ago in the Atlantic.

A sensationalistic study

As Jaekl points out, health concerns about wind turbines stem from a decades-old misunderstanding about inaudible noise, or “infrasound.”

“Sensationalistic reports on the dangers of low-frequency sound originate from the unscientific research of the Russian-born French scientist Vladimir Gavreau in the 1960s,” he writes.

Gavreau claimed his research proved infrasound harmed health. But that was far from what the research actually showed, as Jaekl explains:

While Gavreau’s research did indeed show some of the harmful effects of sound, what accounts of his research have overlooked is the difference between volume, which is perceived as loudness, and frequency, which relates to our perception of pitch. The notion that infrasonic frequencies are inaudible is actually a myth, because sounds within this range can be heard if presented at high enough volumes. Based on the numbers in his publication, Gavreau’s exploits involved dangerously high volumes, causing the reported “infrasonic” frequencies to be incredibly loud — levels that would be considered outrageously unethical by today’s standards. They were very likely to have been harmful, regardless of frequency.

Gavreau also exaggerated his findings, claiming that infrasound is “certainly one of the many causes of allergies, nervous breakdowns and other ‘unpleasant phenomena of modern life.’”

The creation of a ‘syndrome’

Since then, writes Jaekl, “infrasound has been blamed as a source of everything from gag sensations, mental disturbances, and automobile accidents to absenteeism of school children and brain tumors.”

It’s even been used to explain (without any evidence) the “anxiety and eyeball vibration” that people experience when they believe a building is haunted.

By the 1990s, when the construction of wind turbines began to take off, people opposed to the large, rotating structures glommed on to the discovery that they emitted weak levels of infrasound.

And, as always seems to happen with health concerns based in pseudoscience, the list of symptoms reportedly caused by the turbines grew exponentially to include such things as panic, sleep disturbances, headache, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea and visual problems.

The anti-wind protesters even coined a name for this collection of symptoms: wind turbine syndrome.

All around us

Yet, the infrasound emitted by wind turbines is no different from that caused by other common sources.

“Everyone is surrounded by infrasound every day. It’s emitted by natural sources like the surf, storms, wind itself, our own heartbeat and respiration. We also are exposed to it in cars, from ceiling fans, motors, and urban noise,” Simon Chapman, a professor emeritus at the University of Sydney, told Jaekl.

“If wind turbines were harmful to nearby residents, entire cities and small nations would be stricken across much of Europe, where we see the highest density,” he added. “Copenhagen is surrounded by turbines but my Danish colleagues are not seeing queues of sick people.”

So, no, Mr. President, the noise from wind turbines does not cause cancer — or any other health problems.

But, as New York magazine reporter Jonathan Chait points out, “a power source that does cause many health problems, including cancer, is coal, an extremely dirty fuel Trump loves and has attempted to bolster, with almost no success. Aside from costing more to produce energy than other sources of power, and in addition to enormous air pollution side effects, coal also emits greenhouse gases in large amounts.”

“Though this of course is another aspect of science Trump rejects,” Chait adds.

FMI: You can read Jaekl’s article on the Atlantic’s website.

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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 04/03/2019 - 11:45 am.

    It is hard to find the oranges of all of Trump’s dumb ideas.

  2. Submitted by Robert Lilly on 04/03/2019 - 12:20 pm.

    And this guy still has a 93% Approval Rating in the Republican Party. I think pollsters should be asking people if hey would rather be Russian or Democrat, to show the rest of us how UN-American Republicans have become.

  3. Submitted by Matthew Murrian on 04/03/2019 - 12:26 pm.

    There are plenty of related research articles cited here: http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2018/01/23/ilfn-infrasound-low-frequency-noise-turbine-health/

    You’ll also find this information published by the NIH: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15273020

    I’d appreciate a detailed analysis whereby you flippantly dismiss all of these studies as “unscientific”.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 04/04/2019 - 01:48 pm.

      How many of them say wind turbines cause cancer? That’s what the guy said. Its odd that Donald’s supporters have such a difficult time with what the guy actually says. The fact that it must be twisted into something that sounds reasonable tells you a lot about them. I guess that’s how you can support an obvious liar, by rationalizing the lies away.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/06/2019 - 11:51 am.

      Here is my detailed analysis: those articles say nothing about cancer. There is no evidence whatsoever of any link to cancer.

      I want to saying this in the most flippant way possible: Trump is telling a bald-faced lie. Its complete nonsense.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 04/10/2019 - 12:52 pm.

      Ss MM what is the point? eliminate all sources of frequencies below 1000 Hz or between 20 Hz and 1000Hz, so you put out the link with no explanation of your conclusion.And what should we do about micro-waves? Understanding is that they could do far more potential harm then ELF type frequencies. A big ya and?

  4. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 04/03/2019 - 12:46 pm.

    There is a significant body of research coming out that links brain cancer and listening to someone lie umpteen thousand times a day. In essence listening to Donald J. Trump has been proven to cause brain cancer. Also too, it dramatically reduces IQ levels.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/04/2019 - 10:24 am.

      It releases a substance known as “covfefe.” The first symptom is an inability to remember which country your father was born in.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/03/2019 - 02:33 pm.

    Trump is an expert on wind machines — he are one.

  6. Submitted by Bill Mantis on 04/03/2019 - 04:12 pm.

    Our president claimed he saw “thousands of Muslims” cheering when the planes crashed into the World Trade Tower on 9-11. Why anyone gives any credence to anything he utters is beyond me.

  7. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 04/04/2019 - 08:28 am.

    Took the time to look into this, and as too often the case with stories bashing Trump, there is more to the story.

    I know nothing about the issue, but a cursory search reveals that there is concern among some of the people that actually do know about it.

    http://oto.wustl.edu/saltlab/Wind-Turbines

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3653647/

    Please note that those are links to credible scientists, not a crackpot conspiracy blog (or leftist opinion writers quoting other leftist opinion writers). It’s also worth noting, that according to researchers, not all wind turbines are equal; some evidently to not create infrasound.

    So no, turbines don’t cause cancer (I guess) but there are credible suggestions that they can be harmful to human health.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 04/04/2019 - 01:43 pm.

      Let me get this straight, the president states unequivocally that wind turbines cause cancer. You find research that states that there are health concerns with wind turbines, but have to admit that you didn’t find research claiming that they cause cancer. Your conclusion, whether you admit it or not is the same conclusion reached by leftwing opinion writers: Donald told an untruth. (In kindergarten we were taught to call them lies.)

      I’ll never understand why people feel the need to cover for his lies, he would never offer anyone that same courtesy.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 04/04/2019 - 01:52 pm.

      So, you’ll dismiss study after study regarding climate change, but try and trot out two vague opinions that don’t even try to correlate wind turbines with cancer? The gist of these opinions are that noise could lead to hearing loss….stop the presses.
      I guess these two links completely exonerate the “president” from being a dullard as well.

    • Submitted by Brian Gandt on 04/04/2019 - 04:37 pm.

      Exhibit A in making the case that rational conversation is near impossible.

      • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 04/04/2019 - 07:50 pm.

        It is impossible when the premise of the conversation is irrational. Time spent trying to rationalize it is a complete waste.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/05/2019 - 09:45 am.

      There may be “credible suggestions,” but there is no hard evidence.

      https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/health-effect-of-wind-turbines/

      There is, however, hard evidence regarding the health effects of coal mining and burning. There is also hard evidence about the health effects of a nuclear accident.

      There is also hard evidence that a certain President has had it in for wind power ever since he decided he didn’t like turbines spoiling the view at one of his golf courses.

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