'Wind Turbine Syndrome' Blamed for Mysterious Symptoms in Cape Cod Town
Residents say low-frequency sound gives them headaches, ear popping, anxiety.
Oct. 21, 2013— -- Sue Hobart, a bridal florist from Massachusetts, couldn't understand why she suddenly developed headaches, ringing in her ears, insomnia and dizziness to the point of falling "flat on my face" in the driveway.
"I thought I was just getting older and tired," said the 57-year-old from Falmouth.
Months earlier, in the summer of 2010, three wind turbines had been erected in her town, one of which runs around the clock, 1,600 feet from her home.
"I didn't put anything to the turbines -- we heard it and didn't like the thump, thump, thump and didn't like seeing them, but we didn't put it together," she told ABCNews.com.
Hobart said her headaches only got worse, but at Christmas, when she went to San Diego, they disappeared. And she said the same thing happened on an overnight trip to Keene, N.H.
"Sometimes at night, especially in the winter, I wake up with a fluttering in the chest and think, 'What the hell is that,' and the only place it happens is at my house," she said. "That's how you know. When you go away, it doesn't happen."
Hobart and dozens of others in this small Cape Cod town have filed lawsuits, claiming that three 400 feet tall, 1.63 megawatt turbines (two owned by the town and one owned by Notus Clean Energy) were responsible for an array of symptoms. A fourth, much smaller turbine, is owned by Woods Hole Research Center, but it receives fewer complaints.
The wind turbines have blown up a political storm in Falmouth that has resonated throughout the wind energy industry. Are these plaintiffs just "whiners," or do they have a legitimate illness?
"It goes all day and night. My initial take was that she was being a hypochondriac, but I went to their house two years ago with a little skepticism and within 10 minutes of being in the house, I could feel it and hear it." -- Brian Mannal, lawyer for Sue Hobart
In 2011, a doctor at Harvard Medical School diagnosed Hobart with wind turbine syndrome, which is not recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The name was coined by Nina Pierpont, a John Hopkins University-trained pediatrician, whose husband is an anti-wind activist, criticizing the economics and physics of wind power. Pierpont, who lives in upstate New York, calls wind turbine syndrome the green energy industry's "dirty little secret." She self-published "Wind Turbine Syndrome" in 2009, including case studies of people who lived within 1.25 miles of these "spinning giants" who reportedly got sick.
But her wind-turbine research has been criticized for improper peer review (Pierpont reportedly chose her reviewers), and for its methodology -- small sample size, no control group and the fact that she did not examine her subjects or their medical records but interviewed them by phone.
Neither Pierpont nor her husband, Calvin Luther Martin, responded to ABCNews.com's request for comment.
Hobart and her husband, Edward, filed a nuisance claim last Feb. 5 in Barnstable Superior Court against Notus Clean Energy and its owner, Dan Webb. According to the Hobarts' lawyer, Democratic State Rep. Brian Mannal, they are seeking between $150,000 and $300,000 in damages for loss of value of their home, and for medical bills.
They filed an earlier nuisance complaint against the town in July 2012, but the judge granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on Dec. 3, 2012.
"The heart of the issue is that they have been pushed off their land," said Mannal. "They have erected these enormous industrial-scale turbines -- larger than a 747 -- in close proximity to residences. They have had to leave their house because they couldn't live there anymore."
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