In a speech before House Republicans this week, President Donald Trump mocked the energy policies of his Democratic challenger in 2016 and claimed that wind turbines cause cancer.
"Hillary wanted to put up wind. Wind!" Trump said on Tuesday. “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value. And they say the noise causes cancer."
Critics of the renewable energy source have blamed the technology for a whole spectrum of human ills over the years. One researcher from the University of Sydney compiled a list of nearly 250 symptoms and diseases that sufferers blamed on their proximity to wind farms, including accelerated aging, alcohol abuse, blurred vision, diabetes, head aches, infertility, weight gain and loss, and, yes, a variety of cancers.
But there is no evidence that the noise from wind turbines causes cancer—or that any sound does. Indeed, more than two dozen scientific reviews found no evidence that wind farms cause any serious health impact at all. One 2014 review did confirm that, depending on the windspeed, distance, and ambient noise levels, the sound windmills generate can be annoying enough to cause sleep disturbances—which could, in turn, cause physiological or mental-health problems of their own. The review found that sleep disturbances were greatest in rural areas, where background noise, which might have otherwise masked the noise of the turbines, was minimal.
Meanwhile, there are countless studies linking the extraction and burning of fossil fuels to serious health problems and disease. Research has shown that people who live within a mile of oil and gas wells, as some 17.6 million Americans do, have an elevated risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The fossil fuel industry is a major driver of air pollution in general, which has well-documented links to birth defects, memory loss, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses, and causes more than eight million early deaths around the world every year. A 2017 study found that women who live within two miles of fracking sites are more likely to give birth to low and underweight babies.
And while the noise pollution associated with wind turbines affects a limited area around wind farms, air pollution from fossil fuels can drift great distances through the atmosphere; a different 2017 study, for example, found pollution from a coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania drifted across state borders, putting women living as much as 30 miles downwind of the plant in New Jersey at an increased risk of delivering low-weight babies, weighing less than 5.5 pounds—the weight below which babies are at risk of serious complications and have a harder time staying warm, putting on weight, and fighting off infections.
Not only does burning coal for energy release pollutants into the atmosphere, coal-fired power plants also produce a toxic waste product known as coal ash—the material left over after combustion that's laced with heavy metals, radioactive elements, and aromatic hydrocarbons—a known carcinogen. Coal ash waste is disposed of in historically unlined ponds near the power plants—which have been known to leech waste products overtime or overflow during bad weather, threatening drinking water supplies.
Trump's comments don't appear to have shifted Senate Republicans' views on wind energy, some of whom pushed for more funding for wind energy technology just a day after his speech.