Systematic Epidemiological Field Study Needed

By Paul Mayne , Western News, University of Western Ontario
Industrial wind turbines (IWT) are popping up all across Ontario.   The 100- to 400-foot structures with blades sweeping an area just under an acre are one of the fastest growing sources of electricity.

While selling the ‘green’ side of wind turbines is easy, the number of people living near the massive electricity generators and claiming adverse health effects – from sleep disturbance and acute hypertensive episodes to cardiac arrhythmia and heart palpitation – is growing at an alarming rate, says Robert McMurtry, former dean of medicine at The University of Western Ontario. 

“Adverse health effects are occurring as we speak. There is no question they are genuinely suffering and more people are at risk if the rules are not changed substantially.”

This past Earth Day, McMurtry presented a survey to the Standing Committee on the Green Energy Act. In it he states national regulations do not exist for wind-turbine setback from a residence, and the provincial regulations are flawed, in particular the failure to measure low frequency noise (LFN).

“It is not possible to develop authoritative guidelines for set-backs and monitoring of industrial wind turbines specifically if LFN is not taken into account,” says McMurtry.

McMurtry says neither the wind industry nor Ontario Ministry of the Environment believe there is a need to monitor for LFN, but he sees is a vital tool in measuring the potential harmful effects on nearby residents.

“The answer is clear – LFN is very important as a source of community noise,” he says. “However, there is a crucial difference of opinion as to whether industrial wind turbines produce it.”

McMurtry says there have been many reports of adverse health events, yet there has been no systematic epidemiological field study to provide authoritative guidelines for the placement of wind turbines. He also says there is no epidemiological study to establish either the safety or harmfulness of IWT.

“In short there is an absence of evidence,” he says. “Until more authoritative information is available it is important to consider the growing number of reports of cases and case series of adverse health effects that are emerging.”

Considering the increasing number of health complaints, is McMurtry surprised Ontario has not yet called for a study?

“Surprised no, disappointed yes,” he says. “The industry has successfully resisted such studies for 20 years. The turbines are becoming larger and more of a problem.”

McMurtry is “hopeful, but not confident” a study will be conducted.

Arguably, this may be a case of ‘putting the cart before the horse’ with the province pushing to become the leader in wind power, which they are. The Melancthon EcoPower Centre near Shelbourne, Ontario is one of the province’s largest wind farms with 133 active turbines.

“McMurtry says there is a way out of this dilemma – with authoritative guidelines being established based on sound science. It is a very powerful lobby who sell themselves as green and convince governments to make priority-based instead of merit-based choices,” says McMurtry. “As a solution to green energy issues, IWTs are highly debatable and provide marginal reductions in green house gases.”

A well-designed epidemiological study conducted by arms-length investigators, mutually agreeable to all sides, must be done, he says. “The reality of people’s health and well-being, as well as the sound physics, needs to be investigated,’ says McMurtry. “Until and unless there are authoritative guidelines in place based on the best available evidence, the Province of Ontario ought not proceed with the development of industrial wind turbines any further.”