Are windfarms “torture farms”?

wind turbine syndrome

Professor Alun Evans, from the Centre of Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast, is a leader into the research of ‘wind turbine syndrome’ – symptoms include sleep deprivation, anxiety, nausea and physical conditions such as vertigo. Last year he co-authored an editorial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) arguing that “a large body of evidence now exists to suggest that wind turbines disturb sleep and impair health at distances and external noise levels that are permitted in most jurisdictions”.

Although the wind industry have described the condition as ‘mythical’, the sheer numbers of people around the world that are complaining about the effects of living near wind turbines is simply too overwhelming to constitute a myth.

A group of families in a north Cork village are suing a wind farm operator in a landmark case, claiming the huge turbines are adversely affecting their health. The seven families from Banteer claim they have been severely impacted, particularly through noise pollution, since the turbines began operating in November 2011. From what I can gather from the High Court website, the case is in the advanced stages of discovery, and has yet to be set down for hearing (SHIVNEN & ORS -V- ENERCON WIND FARM SERVICES LTD & ANOR 2011/9955 P). Perhaps the family’s solicitor, Joe Noonan, could do a comment which I can publish?

The UN Committee Against Torture has explicitly identified prolonged sleep deprivation as a method of torture. The Committee had this to say about the impact of prolonged sleep deprivation:

“The Committee against Torture (CAT) has noted that sleep deprivation used for prolonged periods constitutes a breach of the CAT, and is primarily used to break down the will of the detainee. Sleep deprivation can cause impaired memory and cognitive functioning, decreased short term memory, speech impairment, hallucinations, psychosis, lowered immunity, headaches, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stress, anxiety and depression.”

Physicians for Human Rights also consider sleep deprivation as well as sensory bombardment with noise to be methods of torture, and list the clinical evidence of the harm to physical and mental health, and the legal precedents to support this opinion in their document “Leave No Marks”.

The Brown County Town Health Board in Wisconsin recently declared Duke Energy’s Shirley Industrial Wind Turbine Development to be a Human Health Hazard. The precise wording of the declaration was:

“To declare the Industrial Wind Turbines in the Town of Glenmore, Brown County. WI. a Human Health Hazard for all people (residents, workers, visitors, and sensitive passersby) who are exposed to Infrasound/Low Frequency Noise and other emissions potentially harmful to human health.”

The declaration was made after acoustic investigators found evidence that acoustic emissions from the Shirley Wind Turbines could be directly causing the symptoms including repetitive sleep disturbance reported by residents. The symptoms were confirmed by the doctors treating the residents, including Dr Jay Tibbetts, the Vice Chair of the local Health Authority.

On 21st January, 2013, the Wisconsin Towns Association Board of Directors adopted a resolution that the Wisconsin State and the Wisconsin Public Service Commission should enact a moratorium to:

“Stop the permitting and installation of industrial wind turbines until further studies are done, solutions are found, and the State’s wind siting rule (PSC 128) is modified to implement standards that address ultra-low-frequency sound and infrasound from wind turbines that will protect the health and safety of residents”.

Click to access 13-01-21-Wis.-Town-Assoc.-calls-for-moratorium.pdf

The updated “Diagnostic criteria for adverse health effects in the environs of wind turbines” was recently published in the peer reviewed Journal of the Royal Society for Medicine.

Click to access 2054270414554048.full.pdf

The symptoms listed in this revised McMurtry & Krogh Diagnostic Criteria are consistent with the symptoms described as “wind turbine syndrome”, also known as “noise annoyance” symptoms to some acoustic engineers.

The McMurtry and Krogh Diagnostic Criteria, and the acoustic and clinical data collected from the Shirley Wind Development and other locations have confirmed that the adverse health impacts, particularly relating to sleep disturbance, extend out to at least 10km from Industrial Wind Turbine Developments, especially with larger, more powerful wind turbine generators.

Recent acoustic evidence collected by Emeritus Professor Colin Hansen’s team from the Waterloo Wind Development in South Australia has confirmed that residents living out to 8.7km from the nearest wind turbine were subjected to excessive levels of low frequency noise, sufficient to disturb sleep.

Click to access Waterloo_wind_farm_report.pdf

Repetitive sleep disturbance with chronic exposure is inevitably leading to prolonged sleep deprivation and is being reported by these residents living near wind turbines. What this means is that the current practice of a 500 metres clearance zone underestimates, by a factor of twenty, the documented distance of the acoustic impact zone resulting in sleep deprivation from chronic exposure to wind turbine noise pollution.

There is also legal precedent confirming the existence of serious adverse health effects from wind turbines, including prolonged sleep disturbance, and the Superior Court of Massachusetts ordered that turbines should be immediately shut down overnight in order to prevent irreversible harm to physical and psychological health (Falmouth, USA) whereas the Supreme Court of Portugal went one step further and ordered that the turbines be removed permanently.

The Superior Court of Massachusetts in Falmouth, USA (Town of Falmouth versus Town of Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals and others) found that the affected residents faced “a substantial risk (that they) will suffer irreparable physical and psychological harm if the injunction is not granted.”

Similarly, the Supreme Court of Portugal accepted evidence that after the commissioning of the wind turbines, the 1st plaintiff had complaints of mood changes, fatigue, headache, and hypersensitivity to noise. The remaining members of the household had similar but less severe complaints.

The Supreme Court held:

“The right to rest, tranquillity and sleep are aspects of the right to humane treatment (Article 25, para. 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Portugal), which is part of established fundamental rights, the collection of rights, freedoms, and guarantees. These personality rights are well protected against any unlawful interference, not necessarily in blame for an offense in intent to harm the victim, but in the offense itself.”

The Supreme Court ordered the removal of the wind turbines and awarded the plaintiff thirty thousand euro in damages.


Article 40 of the Irish Constitution provides as follows:

3 1° The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.

2° The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen.

The e UN Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Article 4 states:

“1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.
2. Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.”

In 2002, Ireland ratified the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This imposes on Ireland legal obligations to prevent torture being conducted in its jurisdiction or by State personnel in other jurisdictions. It also obliges the Irish State to provide services for survivors of torture.

The Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Act 2000 was passed to give effect to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Act defines torture as an act or omission by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person:

(a) for such purposes as obtaining from that person, or from another person, information or a confession, punishing that person for an act which the person concerned or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or  intimidating or coercing that person or a third person, or
(b) for any reason that is based on any form of discrimination, but does not include any such act that arises solely from, or is inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions.

The Act creates a statutory offence of torture with extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Based on this definition, the noise arising from wind turbines does not amount to the offence of torture as defined because the noise is not being made with the intention of extracting information or punishing or intimidating the unfortunate residents living nearby (not that I know of anyway). The noise is rather as a result of the windfarmer greedy to collect his subsidies for running the turbines, courtesy of the taxpayer. There is a crime in there somewhere, but it is not the statutory offence of torture, which is clearly (and narrowly) defined.

However, Section 2 of the Non-Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act of 1997 says:

2.—(1) A person shall be guilty of the offence of assault who, without lawful excuse, intentionally or recklessly—
(a) directly or indirectly applies force to or causes an impact on the body of another, or
(b) causes another to believe on reasonable grounds that he or she is likely immediately to be subjected to any such force or impact,
without the consent of the other.
(2) In subsection (1) (a), “force” includes
(a) application of heat, light, electric current, noise or any other form of energy, and
(b) application of matter in solid liquid or gaseous form.
(3) No such offence is committed if the force or impact, not being intended or likely to cause injury, is in the circumstances such as is generally acceptable in the ordinary conduct of daily life and the defendant does not know or believe that it is in fact unacceptable to the other person.
(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £1,500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.

It might be possible to argue that an incessant noise from a wind-turbine which causes serious illness arising from sleep deprivation is an assault as defined. The intention for the offence is supplied by the fact that windfarm operators are well aware of complaints from neighbouring residents about the noise and the impact on sleep and general health of these long-suffering people and yet continue to operate despite these complaints.

One wonders whether the Director of Public Prosecutions would prosecute a windfarm operator for assault if a criminal complaint is made about the sleep deprivation caused by the turbines and its serious consequences for people’s health.

You can write and ask the DPP that question at:

Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions
Infirmary Road, Dublin 7.
Tel: +353 (0)1 858 8500+353 (0)1 858 8500 ; Fax: +353 (0)1 642 7406

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from full-time practice in 2002 to take up a lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). His current interest is the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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5 Responses to Are windfarms “torture farms”?

  1. We will of course all ignore the assertion as hyperbole until we have a wind turbine in the next field depriving us of sleep. And then my friends, it will be too late to recognise the underlying truth for what it is.
    The effectiveness of the wind energy industry in spreading their message was perhaps epitomised by the picture painted by a charming lobbyist from the Irish Wind Farmers Association (Meitheal na Gaoithe) who has attended and spoken at all of the DCENR Green Paper seminars to date.
    One would imagine from his words, that wind farms consist of attractive and virtually silent towers, with blades rotating gently in harmony with nature. A pleasure to behold and an enhancement of the rather plain Irish landscape, while enabling Ireland to meet EU-enforced commitments to renewable energy.
    Perish the thought that one might mention sleep deprivation from low frequency noise, the visual intrusiveness of 150m structures and shadow flicker? Exaggerations by the usual crowd, no substance in this at all.
    Perish the thought that anybody would use a word like torture . . . . until it is too late.

  2. Francis Clauson says:


    some interesting new research which suggest we can “hear” infrasound down to 8Hz when the previous level was 20Hz

  3. Pingback: It’s official – wind farms are a damned Nuisance | The Law is my Oyster

  4. Pingback: It’s Official- wind farms are a Dammed Nuisance | Mothers Against Wind Turbines Inc.

  5. Pingback: Wind Turbine Noise & Nuisance: Irish High Court Trial on Damages Set For April – STOP THESE THINGS

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