A story of Vibro-Acoustic Disease, VAD

By Robert W. Endlich

This is a story of the discovery of a new effect of sonic vibrations, Vibro-Acoustic Disease, but it is a far cry from the sounds of human voices, birds, or the rustle of breezes through leafy trees. It is the story of discovery of dangerous low frequency infrasound, frequencies below what humans normally hear and measure for protection from deafness. It is the story of low frequency infrasound causing debilitating effects on humans and other forms of animal life.

A Portuguese Doctor finds problems with Aircraft Maintenance Workers

This story starts in 1980 when Dr. Nuno Castelo Branco was assigned as chief medical officer at OGMA, the Portuguese Air Force Aeronautical Plant near Lisbon, and his visits to his workers while at their work sites; one such occasion occurred during an aircraft engine run-up. One of the maintenance workers on duty during the run-up wandered towards the turbine engine exhaust, seemingly without purpose, and a colleague grabbed him before he was injured. Dr. Castelo Branco observed this abnormal behavior, called “automatism,” and, after examining medical records, determined that this individual was one of the 10% of these maintenance workers who had developed adult-onset epilepsy, much more frequent in these workers than the 0.2% in the general population.

One of Dr. Castelo Branco’s patients had pre-arranged to have an autopsy by the doctor, and called Castelo Branco early one morning, told of his not feeling well and to meet Dr. Castel Branco at the hospital for his autopsy; he had already called the ambulance.  When Dr. Castelo Branco arrived at the hospital, the worker had arrived, but had perished; the autopsy revealed two unknown tumors, pulmonary fibrosis, thickening of the pericardial tissue, eleven silent heart attacks; the 12th heart attack had resulted in the worker’s death. After examining the medical records of his maintenance workers, Dr Castelo Branco realized that these workers had developed cardiovascular and central nervous system abnormalities, revealed with the increase in epilepsy. The same research also showed abnormal thickening of pericardial tissue around the heart and abnormal thickening of blood vessel walls. This “morphogenesis” of the blood vessels constricts blood flow, the way cholesterol clogs blood vessels.

Continued research with both humans and laboratory rats showed the cause of these abnormalities was exposure to low frequency vibrations, sub-auditory vibrations, lower than the usual low frequency cutoff of human hearing, less than 20 cycles per second (less than 20 Hz).  This research showed strong low frequency acoustic waves are an agent of disease.  The usual methodology to determine damage to humans from acoustic wave energy is the loss of hearing from high amplitude noise, such as from a rivet gun, near railway locomotives and train noise, or, for instance, near active bulldozing at a construction site.

Dr. Castel Branco’s group found that the measure of acoustic decibels, the dB a scale, is not at all a figure of merit for the phenomenon of harmful effects from low frequency acoustic energy.  A new disease, caused by exposure to low frequency infrasound, harmful “inanimate mechanical forcing” was diagnosed;  it affects the entire body, and it’s called Vibro-Acoustic Disease, VAD.

In the above video discovered on the NoTricksZone, Dr. Mariana Alves Pereira explains the impacts low frequency infrasound.

Here are some manifestations of this threat to humans and other animals from low frequency or infrasound:

The acoustic energy propagates through the air, ground, structures and buildings.

It’s difficult to get away from strong vibro-acoustic waves when you are near the source.  A protective barrier would be on the order of the wavelength of these low frequency waves.  For a 20 Hz wave, it would be about 55 ft, for a 1 Hz wave it would be about 1125 ft.  Imagine building a barrier 55 ft or over 1000 ft thick!

As exposure to low frequency noise continues, medical problems get worse

Based on results of study of these workers by Dr. Castel Branco and his team of researchers, there is a sequence of VAD progression, based on occupational exposure (5 days a week, 8 hours per day) to high energy, low frequency, vibrations.

VAD progression, experienced by over 50% of the exposed workers, has these characteristics:

1-4 years: mouth and throat infection, bronchitis, heartburn, some mood swings

4-10 years: chest pain, blood in urine, back pain, skin infections

>10 years: psychiatric disturbance, decreased vision, severe joint and or muscle pain, neurological disturbance, adult onset epilepsy.

These symptoms accumulate over time, so the early symptoms are also seen in the later progression of diseased individuals.

When humans are exposed to loud noise for a long period of time, they lose their hearing and adapt by turning up the volume of electronic devices or asking those in their company to speak louder.

When humans are exposed to infrasound for long periods of time, they wake up tired and cannot stand normal exposure to noise.  They avoid restaurants, electronically amplified sounds, music, theater, etc.; they retreat from social contact.

Residential Exposure Progresses faster than Occupational Exposure

Beginning in 2000 Dr. Castel Branco’s team started getting requests from residents whose homes seemed to be the source of Vibro-Acoustic distress. This seemed puzzling to the team at first, since this was not at all what they had experienced with workers around aircraft during run-up procedures.

One such request was from a couple who lived in an apartment on the Tagus River in Lisbon. Their apartment was close to a facility which unloaded grain from boats into grain elevators using a huge vacuum pipe apparatus and loaded empty boats with grain using the same system.

The residents were diagnosed with the same disease symptoms as the aircraft maintainers, but the onset was much more rapid because their exposure was not 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, but continuous, including the overnight hours while they were sleeping, so the effects accumulated more rapidly; Dr. Castelo Branco’s team measured the low frequency signature of the environment and found it was the same as at the OGMA aircraft facility.

Residents Near Wind Turbines Show Similar Symptoms

Another request came from a family in Quinta, Portugal; in November 2006, four nearby wind turbines started turning and in March 2007 the family received a letter from the teacher of the son noting a significant decrease in the student’s scholastic performance and noting his lack of energy, the teacher asked if the student was getting enough sleep.  Dr. Castelo Branco’s team recorded infrasound in the master bedroom and observed notable resonance while the turbines were rotating.

The father sued in 2007, and in 2013 “won” the lawsuit because the wind turbines had caused the family loss of rest, tranquility, and sleep, and the court decreed the four wind turbines had to be torn down.

During the time the lawsuit was in court, more wind turbines were erected, so even though the original four turbines were removed, others had been erected, so the family had to move away, losing considerable money in the court fight.

After the wind turbines started rotating, the husband, a bullfighter, who had horses on the property saw all of his horses develop “boxy foot,” similar to club foot in humans, a condition which had never occurred in a single horse prior to the wind turbine construction and operation.  Biopsies by Dr Castel Branco of samples from the boxy-foot horses revealed thickening of the walls of the arteries leading to the horses’ boxy feet.

Figure 1. Layout of the house and four wind turbines in Quinta, Portugal. A 2007 lawsuit alleging loss of rest, tranquility and sleep was upheld in 2013 resulting in an order to remove the four wind turbines.

In addition to the adverse effects on horses, humans and lab rats, the study revealed low frequency noise has caused hundreds of aborted fetuses of minks from a Danish mink farm, non-viable eggs from chickens, and misshaped feet of chicks.

Dr. Castel Branco’s team studied a family in Germany living in a home with a beautiful view of a lake. After a number of wind turbines were constructed in their neighborhood, they abandoned their second-floor bedroom and relocated it to a walled-in bunker in the basement, an arrangement to reduce the debilitating effects of the infrasound noise from the wind turbines at night.

The final story is of a family from Ireland with two sons, nineteen years old and nine years old living in a clean, modern house. The boys developed adverse health effects from nearby wind turbines, and the family was forced to abandon the house. The nineteen-year-old was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while the nine-year-old developed epilepsy.

Proponents of Wind Turbines: “No Problems Here!”

However, there are those who seem to be incapable of doing a literature search diligent enough to see that this dangerous to health situation exists.  Our friends at The Atlantic provide a good example: “’Why People Believe Low-Frequency Sound Is Dangerous–Anxiety over “wind-turbine syndrome” stems from a decades-old misunderstanding of inaudible noise.’”

Parallel Story in the USA: NASA and DOE in 1980

There have been dramatic observations of VAD over the years; an early study by NASA and the Department of Energy in 1985, “Acoustic Noise Associated with the MOD -1 Wind Turbine: Its Source, Impact, and Control,” by Dr. N. D. Kelley.  Dr Kelley described many of the elements that Dr Castelo Branco was to publish later:

Vibration complaints were more severe inside the houses than outside,

There was a resonance response in the houses and in humans,

The bedrooms were more severely impacted than larger rooms,

And the effects were stronger when the house wall faced the turbine blades.

This report states the effects on the residents were “real, and not imagined,” and frequently took the form of “an intermittent thumping sound accompanied by vibrations,” and, “a feeling or presence was described, felt rather than heard, accompanied by sensations of uneasiness and personal disturbance.”

Even at this early stage, this NASA-DOE report shows the low frequency effects were dominant, and, “evidence that the strong resonances found in the acoustic pressure field within rooms actually measured indicates a coupling of sub-audible energy to human body resonances at 5, 12, and 17-25 Hz, resulting in a sensation of whole-body vibration”

Figure 2. NASA-DOE Wind Turbine near Boone, NC, in 1980. This turbine had two blades and a 4-sided tower to support the turbine. Even at this early date, investigators found the low frequency noise affected nearby residents. Source: Kelley et al, p2. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/old/1166.pdf

In 2012, a report from the National Institutes of Health, “Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health,” concluded, “The adverse event reports of sleep disturbance and ill health by those living close to IWTs (Industrial Wind Turbines) are supported.”

Fig 3. Time series of wave passage of sonic pulses from the MOD-1 Wind Turbine in Boone, NC. Top line shows wave passage from two pulses from the turbine outside a house. Bottom line shows resonant “ringing” of the sound waves measured inside one of the houses under “moderate to severe impulsive annoyance.” Source: Kelley et al, p 23. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/old/1166.pdf
Shirley Wind Project, Brown County, Wisconsin

Punch and James, in “Wind Turbine Noise and Human Health,” described in 2016 residents more than 4 miles distant from the Shirley Wind Project in Brown County Wisconsin reported Adverse Health Effects from wind turbine noise to the Brown County Board of Health; this Board subsequently declared that wind turbines at the Shirley Wind site “. . . are a human health hazard.”

On 29 June 2015, Dr. Sarah Laurie CEO, Waubra Foundation, testified before the Australian Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines, and these quotes are from testimony before that Select Committee:

“CHAIR: Ms. Laurie, could you tell us when it was first known that people exposed to chronic excessive infrasound and low-frequency noise did not get used to that sound?

Ms. Laurie: The first reference I can find is in Dr. Kelley’s work, the extensive acoustic survey that was conducted in Boone County in America with NASA and, I think, 15 or so American research institutions—General Electric were part of it; there were quite a number of aero-acoustics and mechanical engineering university faculties involved. I was very interested to read that because on, I think, page 199 of that 1985 acoustic survey they specifically say that there are residents who have become conditioned to the sound—the later terminology is ‘sensitised’ to it.

What that means is that they do not become used to it and they get progressively more sensitive as time goes on. The reason this is important is that, if you do not have sufficiently low thresholds set to protect people, over time they are going to get worse and we are going to have more and more people in our communities who are chronically sensitised to the sound. That really is a terrible thing for the people concerned because then they can pick up very low-frequency sound energy from other sources. They end up in a situation where they find it often very hard to sleep—they are perpetually sleep deprived—and they have a physiological stress response. They do not do well. They can become profoundly depressed and acutely suicidal.”

European Office, The World Health Organization

On 10 October 2018 the European Office of the World Health Organization released new guidelines on noise being, “one of the top environmental hazards to both physical and mental health and well-being in the European Region.”

This new guideline specified, “inclusion of new noise sources, namely wind turbine noise and leisure noise, in addition to noise from transportation (aircraft, rail and road traffic).”  The adverse health effects of excessive noise are described as, “cardiovascular and metabolic effects, annoyance, effects on sleep, cognitive impairment, hearing impairment and tinnitus, adverse birth outcomes, and quality of life, mental health and well-being.”

Almost Four Decades of Adverse Health Effects

The original NASA-DOE measurements of wind turbine noise and the adverse effects on humans living nearby was done in Boone, NC, in 1980, the same year that Dr. Castelo-Branco noticed an aircraft maintenance worker walking in a daze towards an aircraft engine exhaust during an engine run-up.  It has been 38 years, and now the European Office of the World Health Organization has published noise and acoustic vibration guidelines to prevent adverse cardiovascular, cognitive, metabolic, mental health, birth, sleep, and quality of life effects.

What is the story in the USA?

This might be an indication that the foot-dragging and studied ignorance of these real-world adverse health effects are coming to an end, but the political impetus to bring more wind turbine energy to the USA and New Mexico seems undiminished.

The political impetus in the UK:

One wonders when critical thinking will enter the conversation.


Kelley, N. D., et al, Acoustic Noise Associated with the MOD-1 Wind Turbine: Its Source, Impact, and Control https://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/old/1166.pdf












Author: Robert Endlich

Robert W. Endlich served as Weather Officer in the USAF for 21 Years. From 1984-1993, he provided toxic corridor and laser propagation support to the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range. He has published in the technical literature and worked as software test engineer. He was elected to Chi Epsilon Pi, the national Meteorology Honor Society, while a Basic Meteorology student at Texas A&M University. He has a BA degree in Geology from Rutgers University and an MS in Meteorology from the Pennsylvania State University.