Last week at Hearing International we left this story with the “the jury is still out” as to whether the attack is real or a myth.   It was pointed out by one of our readers, a physicist, that this “sonic attack” could possibly have been the result of an Infrasound.  His suggestion was that studies from medical and audiological professionals as well as independent acoustical experts have concluded that some individuals near industrial wind projects will experience adverse health effects due to the noise generated. 

Recall that in Cuba these strange medical symptoms emerged in the fall of 2016, when several employees at the US Embassy in Havana began complaining of physical symptoms. Many of the individuals were new to the embassy and some had to return to the United States because of the severity of their symptoms — the details of which have yet to be disclosed but have been suggested to be hearing loss, nausea, and tinnitus among others.  An investigation by the US government concluded that the symptoms could be attributed to a device that operated outside the audible hearing range and was used somewhere, possibly in their houses. Right now, there’s no word on whether these sonic devices were deliberately used or it was simply a noise such as an infrasound within the environment.  While the mysterious Cuban story has a lot of holes, Charles Liberman, a hearing loss researcher at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston seems to agree with our reader that one possibility is that the workers were exposed to infrasound, or low-frequency sound waves that are below the audible hearing range.  

What Exactly is an Infrasound?

Infrasound, sometimes referred to as “low-frequency sound”, is sound that is lower in frequency than 20 Hz or cycles per second, the “normal” limit of human hearing. Hearing becomes gradually less sensitive as frequency decreases, so for humans to perceive infrasound, the sound pressure (or loudness) must be sufficiently high. The ear is the primary organ for sensing infrasound, but at higher intensities it is possible to feel infrasound vibrations in various parts of the body.  The study of such sound waves is sometimes referred to as infrasonics, covering sounds beneath 20 Hz down to 0.1 Hz and rarely to 0.001 Hz.  Scientists use this frequency range for monitoring earthquakes, charting rock and petroleum formations below the earth, and also in ballistocardiography and seismocardiography to study the mechanics of the heart.  Infrasound is also characterized by an ability to cover long distances and get around obstacles with little dissipation. 

What About Wind Farms

One industry with well documented health issues is wind farms.  Cuba is in many ways an isolated island that has difficulty producing its own electricity and importing enough energy sources.  A few years ago, the government made a significant commitment to expanding wind farms on the island.  In 2015, the Ministry of Energy and Mines announced plans for 13 wind farm projects to increase the island’s capacity to more than 2,000 MegaWatts (MW). A wind farm is a group of wind turbines in the same location used to produce electricity. A large wind farm may consist of a few or several hundred individual wind turbines and cover an extended area of hundreds of square miles, but the land between the turbines may be used for agricultural or other purposes. There are, however, numerous reports of infrasound causing health issues in areas where are a lot of these wind farms [click here for a video].

Just in case this seems a bit far fetched, check out You Tube there are all kinds of videos from around the world on issues just like those being reported at the Cuban Embassy.  Weichenberger et al (2017) demonstrated that infrasound [signals below 20 Hz.] near the hearing threshold may induce changes of neural activity across several brain regions, some of which are known to be involved in auditory processing, while others are regarded as key players in emotional and autonomic control. While they felt that more study was needed, their findings allow for speculation on how continuous exposure to infrasound could exert a pathogenic influence on an organism. Some long term investigators into the effects of wind farms such as Punch & James (2016) reviewed evidence as to the adverse effects of infrasounds emitted by wind turbines on humans.  Their research overwhelmingly supports the notion that acoustic emissions from industrial wind turbines are a leading cause of adverse health effects in a substantial segment of the population.  The closest wind farm to Havana is in Matanzas about 52 miles away from the Embassy (see the figure to the left).  It depicts the proximity of the closest wind farm to Havana.  While that is a large distance, infrasounds have long wave lengths and these waveforms are capable of traveling distances.  

A few months ago Hearing International did a story on “The Hum” a noise that plagues a number of areas around the world. While the Cuban “sonic attacks” could very well be from infrasounds, possibly created by wind farms or other sources they may also be related “The Hum”.  As with the Cuban sounds,  The Hum is also only heard indoors and is louder at night than during the day.  Modern manifestations of the contemporary Hum have been widely reported by national media in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia since the early 1970s.  In 2006, Moir and Alam pinpointed the low-level drone at a frequency of 56Hz, which is very close to the 50Hz frequency produced by the 240 volt AC main electricity supply delivered to homes in New Zealand (and Australia). Although 56Hz is within the standard range of human hearing (20-20,000 Hz.), it is too low for many people to pick up. While all this makes great discussion and presents the affects of infrasound, if the wind farms or the Hum were the causes, there would be Cuban citizens just as affected as the embassy employees.

Of course, these attacks could just be that – attacks that harnessed the infrasound and directed it toward the embassy employees.

References:

Ghose, T. (2017). Weaponizing Sound: How a ‘Silent’ Sonic Weapon Might Work.  Seeker, Live Science.  Retrieved October 30, 2017.

Hutcheon, S. (2006). Mystery humming sound captured.  Sydney Morning Herald:  Tech.  Retrieved October 31, 2017.

Weichenberger, M., Bauer, M., Kuhler, R., Hensel, J., Forlim, C., Ihlenfeld, A., Itterman, B., Gallinat, J., Koch, C., & Kuhn, S. (2017).  Altered cortical and subcortical connectivity due to infrasound administered near the hearing threshold – Evidence from fMRI.  Retrieved October 30, 2017.

Videos:

Wilde, J. (2016) Can Low Frequency Sound Waves Make You Sick.  SCI.  Retrieved October 30, 2017.

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