Imagine, for a moment, that you're sitting in your car at a red light when a car full of teenagers pulls up alongside, blaring Awolnation's "Sail." The crunchy, pulsing bass notes surge from the subwoofers, rippling your shirt, shuddering your own car's rearview mirror. Now imagine that slow, throbbing sound permeating every part of your life. That's sort of like the Windsor Hum.
Since around 2010, many residents in Windsor, Ontario have reported a mysterious hum that in some people is causing nausea, sleep disturbances, as well as mental and emotional distress. The sound is something like a low-frequency guttural diesel engine; it occurs at unpredictable times; and it has no definitive source. Some hearers think that it's less of a sound and more of a vibration — its barely there quality makes it even more maddening to those who perceive it.
Not everyone in Windsor hears it. But those who do call it everything from a minor nuisance to a major health concern and a detriment to their quality of life. No one can pinpoint exactly the cause of the hum. Locals have set up Facebook pages to track the hum's activity and to voice their complaints.
If all of this sounds like something ripped from the pages of an "X-Files" script, you're right. Conspiracy theorists blame the hum on everything from extraterrestrials to natural gas fracking to oil drilling to nuclear testing.
A 2011 study by the University of Windsor found that the sounds originated in the vicinity of Zug Island, Michigan, near Detroit. The manmade island is relatively uninhabited, except for a coke battery operated by a local utility and a huge U.S. Steel factory that operates blast furnaces. These furnaces turn ore into steel. Some observers have noted that the noises seem to emerge when the island's exhaust stacks go to work. The researchers wrote that further investigation would be required to locate the exact source of the signals.
In 2013, the University of Western Ontario and the Canadian government looked into the matter, and did confirm that the hum seemed to come from Zug Island. However, the sound only manifested for a few days during their study period and not when special noise-detecting equipment was deployed in the Detroit River, which separates Windsor and Zug Island.
But, according to the Guardian, in spite of public concerns and government inquiries, U.S. Steel officials won't openly discuss the matter – nor allow anyone on the property to investigate – a fact that's likely to fuel conspiracy theories and suspicions.
Because the hum happens near the U.S.-Canadian border, and the fact that it's very possibly of industrial origins, there are jurisdictional and legal issues in play. Plus, U.S. Steel is both a major taxpayer and employer that no local politician wants to prod. Those factors may complicate efforts to silence this very loud mystery.