'Wind Turbine Syndrome' Blamed for Mysterious Symptoms in Cape Cod Town


Wind turbines are the most popular form of new energy in the United States and are seen widely not only in coastal Massachusetts but throughout California, Texas and Wisconsin.

The American Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, said that wind power was "an inexhaustible resource," which did not harm the environment and provided a "direct health benefit by reducing air pollution and related health impacts, including asthma."

Spokeswoman Lindsay North, who did not comment on the Falmouth cases, said health complaints were "rare."

A 2010 study by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council found no negative effects from wind turbines.

But Dr. Steven Rauch, director of the Balance and Vestibular Center at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and the doctor who diagnosed Sue Hobart, said he was "unwilling" to rule out wind turbine syndrome as a real medical condition.

Rauch said he had diagnosed only one other patient besides Hobart, but he believed infrasound was a "plausible" explanation for their complaints.

"We don't know enough about it to totally accept it or blow it off," he told ABCNews.com. "When these patients came to me I could not find any other abnormalities to explain their symptoms. I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt."

Hobart, who was referred to Rauch by Pierpont, said she saw him in July 2011, after she had left her house and was living with a friend.

He did a full otology exam and checked on her gait and hearing, she said, and recommended physical therapy for her gait problems but prescribed no medication.

"He said I was recovering well and to just stay away from the wind turbine," she said. "It was a huge relief to have a doctor of his caliber affirm my situation."

Rauch said he consulted with Pierpont and Alec Salt, an otolaryngology specialist at the Cochlear Fluids Research Laboratory at Washington University in Louis who suggests the level of infrasound generated by a wind turbine one mile away could be harmful.

"He tried to lay out the scientific basis for low-frequency pressure affecting the inner ear," said Rauch. "It seems to do something to other parts of the body, and it persuaded me, that at least in animal research, there is proof. We know that animals are pretty good models of differential susceptibility to noise exposure."

The big question is why some live near wind turbines with no ill effects, and others are crippled by symptoms, such as debilitating migraines.

"Migraines alter the way the brain processes sensory information -- light, stimulation, sound touch, bellyaches and sleep disturbances," said Rauch. "If you put someone with migraine disturbances in an environment with throbbing low-pressure pulse, that affects the autonomic nervous system or inner ear balance organs. It may be likely that those patients, because of general susceptibility, have intensified distorted reactions."

Rauch also cautions against those who say complaints are psychological in nature.

"That's a slippery slope, blaming the patient in medicine," he said. "I am not a wind industry businessman or a policy maker. I am a doctor, and I take care of my patients."

As for Sue Hobart, she has had to give up her floral work and now lives miles away from Falmouth's wind turbine towers in neighboring Bourne. Her house by the wind turbines is up for sale, she said, but because she disclosed her health problems to potential buyers, its value has dropped by half. . "We tried to keep our house -- we built it ourselves," she said. I had six acres, planted trees and flowers and bought a bobcat and a backhoe and built the rock walls myself. It was my pride and joy. Every time I think about it I cry."

Hobart's headaches are gone, but depression has set in.

"I didn't know anything about wind turbine syndrome," she said. "It made me abandon my house. I had everything I ever wanted and I can't live there."

ABC News' Karin Halperin contributed to this story.

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