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Genetics may explain why some suffer from wind turbine noise, engineer says

Certain people may be genetically predisposed to suffering negative side effects of living near wind turbines, according to an engineering professor studying the problem.

“Our hypothesis is that we can actually predict a person’s susceptibility to low frequency noise and vibration through a DNA test,” said Colin Novak, an assistant professor in engineering who helped establish the Wind and Renewable Energies Centre of Expertise at the University of Windsor earlier this year. “What we have found is that some people are more susceptible to adverse effects from this low frequency energy.”

Dr. Novak recently launched a research project in partnership with an engineer from Japan who also happens to be a medical doctor and has evidence to suggest there may be a genetic reason to explain why some people suffer certain forms of noise while others don’t. Besides collecting acoustic data from area wind farms, Novak and his team will try to enlist participants from homes around those farms. They’ll take mouth swabs from them in order to obtain their DNA and determine whether they may be more likely to suffer side effects from living there.

In May of 2010, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health released a review of existing research on the impact of wind farms on human health. It concluded that while some people living near wind turbines report symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and sleep disturbance, the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.

Furthermore, it concluded, the sound level from wind turbines at common residential setbacks is not sufficient to cause hearing impairment or other direct health effects, although some people may find it annoying.

Novak noted that report was essentially a review of existing literature and that more conclusive research needs to be conducted. He will discuss his work as well as other initiatives at the centre today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that airs Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM and focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers.