DOH: More studies needed on infrasound
More opponents of the planned Na Pua Makani wind-farm in Kahuku were arrested overnight for trying to stop the movement of equipment needed to build the turbines. One of the big concerns among demonstrators are the potential health effects caused by infrasound, a low frequency noise humans can't hear. Some people believe the sound caused by wind-turbines can cause headaches, nausea and dizziness.
The Department of Health has a branch that deals with noise complaints and regulation and infrasound is new to them. Sound is measured by decibels and humans can hear most sounds ranging from 0 to about 130 decibels.
"The difficulty with sound though is it affects different people in different ways," James Toma, DOH Noise Section supervisor, said.
It's also proving difficult to connect science to symptoms. DOH acknowledges more studies are needed but claims it doesn't have the resources.
"This would have to be a comprehensive study. You need doctors involved. You need acoustic engineers involved, something that's beyond our scope of one supervisor and four noise inspectors," Toma said.
According to some doctors, most of the published research is non-scientific and more patient-experience.
"There maybe observational studies that people talk about it as symptoms but there's no really good strong studies done to actually show infrasound is harmful or dangerous," Dr. Jared Theler, Queen's Medical Center Otolaryngologist, said. "If there's a large harmful effect, it's obvious even with small studies, you can pick it up quickly. If it's a small effect, it would take a lot of numbers of patients or subject to be able to study and test."
Once the wind farm is operational, the state says it can monitor noise-levels to make sure it complies with rules.
"We would do a 20 minute survey and in that 20 minutes, they can't exceed for two minutes," Toma said.
DOH will also do more testing as it receives complaints.
Na Pua Makani developer AES says it has taken information from 25 published studies regarding infrasound and found no risk to human health.
They said in a statement today "We are confident that we are building a project that is safe and, ultimately, will help Hawai'i meet its renewable energy goals."