CTV: Reports of wind farm health problems growing

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More people are coming forward saying they’re experiencing sleep problems, headaches, and heart palpitations caused by living near windmills.

Ontario physician Dr. Robert McMurtry told a news conference in Toronto Wednesday that while wind energy may offer a cleaner, more efficient way to generate electricity, those who live near the giant turbines are suffering through serious health problems.

McMurtry, a retired orthopedic surgeon who used to be an assistant deputy minister of the Population and Public Health Branch of Health Canada, decided to look into the health effects of windmills with the help of Carmen Krogh, a retired Alberta pharmacist.

Krogh and a group of volunteers distributed questionnaires in areas near wind farms, asking residents to describe whether they have experienced any effects from the turbines.

Of 76 people who responded to their informal survey, 53 reported at least one health complaint. They complained of:

  • headaches
  • heart palpitations
  • hearing problems
  • stress, anxiety and depression

He reports that one resident had to be admitted to hospital with an acute hypertensive episode. Another experienced atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm).

“There is no question that they are genuinely suffering, and more people are at risk if the rules are not changes substantially,” McMurtry told the committee.

Krogh’s survey revealed that most of those who complained of health problems lived within a kilometre of a wind farm, while those further away were less likely to experience health problems.

The turbines don’t appear to affect everyone equally and it is not clear what causes the health problems in some people. Some suspect that the constant, low frequency noise and vibration from the rotating blades may be what cause the problems.

But research into the problem is lacking. That’s why McMurtry is calling on governments to conduct a lot more studies into the turbines’ effects on the health of nearby residents.

“There is no epidemiological study that has been conducted that establishes either the safety or harmfulness of industrial wind turbines. In short, there is an absence of evidence,” McMurtry told an Ontario government committee Wednesday.

The committee is debating The Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009, a bill that would enact standards for renewable energy projects, such as standardized setback requirements for wind farms.

McMurtry told the committee that until there are rigorous epidemiological studies of the health effects of wind turbines, Ontario should not go ahead with any further construction of wind turbines.

Wind power advocates contend that studies have been conducted in North America and other parts of the world and they show that residents who live near wind farms have few complaints about them.

Sean Whittaker, vice president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said these studies “have really come to the same conclusion and that is there is no evidence that wind turbines have an impact on human health.”

Whittaker told CTV News that research he has reviewed shows that the percentage of people who approve of wind power increases the closer you get to a wind farm.

Barbara Ashbee is not one of those people.

Ashbee lives in the shadow of 11 of the 45 giant wind turbines at the Melanchthon wind farm near Shelburne, Ont., about 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto. At first, she liked the idea of living near a green-energy facility.

“I thought it was a great idea for the environment,” she told CTV News.

But the day the turbines started running, she and her husband, Denis Lormand, stopped sleeping.

“They are so loud we didn’t get any sleep. You can hear them in the bedroom. There is also a hum and vibration that permeates the house,” she says

All that deprivation started to lead to cognitive abilities, she contends.

“My memory now is horrible,” she says. “It’s terrible to go night after night without sleep. We go to bed 7 p.m. because we don’t know what the night will bring.”

Her husband also suffers from tinnitus, which causes a constant whining sound in his ears.

With more construction at the Melanchthon wind power centre expected to bring the number of turbines at the facility to 133, the couple says they would love to sell their house but can’t.

“Between the noise and the vibration, we couldn’t put a For Sale sign here. There’s no way,” says Ashbee.

Ashbee says she has no problem with the concept of wind farms, but she says they simply shouldn’t be built near residences.

“I thought they were wonderful, but they’re not. There are big problems and they have to get sorted out,” she says.

With a report by CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip