John Libbey Eurotext

Environnement, Risques & Santé


Energy and environmental intolerance: electromagnetic hypersensitivity, wind turbine syndrome. What is the reality? Volume 16, issue 2, March-April 2017


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The current debate about means of power generation, in the framework of the energy transition, must necessarily consider questions about different forms of idiopathic environmental intolerance, notably hypersensitivity attributed to electromagnetic fields and the wind turbine syndrome, which incriminates the low frequency- and infra-sound waves emitted by industrial wind turbines. This article attempts to take stock of current knowledge about each of these conditions, highlighting their differences and similarities.

Although the offending sources are different, the symptoms, variable and not specific to any particular disease, are very similar. Nor has any consensual clinical definition of these conditions or their diagnostic criteria been established.

Despite the lack of objective diagnostic criteria, many studies have investigated the existence of a potential causal link between the symptoms and the environmental factors implicated, attempting to highlight a possible plausible underlying mechanism, either biological or psychological. Although there is no doubt about the reality or the potential severity of the symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity, no causal link with electromagnetic fields has been demonstrated to date, and no biological mechanism appears plausible. For the wind turbine syndrome, no direct health effect on the ear or other organs due to the noise emission of wind turbines, including low frequency and infrasound waves, has been demonstrated. The frequently mentioned discomfort has most often been linked to a negative perception of wind turbines. Psychological mechanisms have been explored for both syndromes, including a potential nocebo effect. Studies are also beginning to investigate the weight of the collective and sociological aspects that might favor the emergence of these forms of intolerance.

Finally, in terms of medical care, the article considers the relation of these emerging environmental sensitivities to functional disorders, already well known especially to internists.