Health Concerns Dominate St. Marys Meeting

St. Marys, Ontario

St. Marys, Ontario

by Andrea Macko Journal Argus

Concerns over a proposed wind farm are blowing south of St. Marys.  Potential health affects of the alternative-energy wind turbine farm were front and centre at an independent public meeting held Sept. 30 at the Uniondale Fire Hall. The hall was filled to capacity, and some residents had to be turned away due to lack of standing room.

The meeting was organized by Stew Slater, who said that he “wanted to get the community together, to ask questions — as a community.” He explained that a meeting organized by Energy Farming Ontario (EFO) in July in St. Marys was too isolating, as conversations between residents and EFO representatives were one-on-one, rather than a group discussion.

As such, the meeting was independent; two representatives from MK Ince & Associates were present (a representative from Energy Farming Ontario was unable to attend), as was Carmen Kroegh, a former acting director of Health Canada who says she suffers adverse affects from wind turbines and is heading up a survey to determine how they affect health.

Kroegh offered some “food for thought” that, in the rush to introduce so-called green technologies, they have not been fully studied — such as how compact fluorescent lightbulbs contain mercury, which can be deadly if the bulbs are disposed of incorrectly.

“We haven’t studied wind turbines on humans yet,” Kroegh offered. “(If turbines turn out to be bad) it will be difficult to manage them — how can we do it right?”

In the survey, which is sponsored by a group called Victims of Wind and follows a Health Canada-approved research protocol, suggests that the low-frequency noise emitted by wind turbines seems to be the main culprit; vibrations affect heart rate in some, and has caused cause dizziness and nausea for others.

“We now have 98 victims in our survey,” Kroegh says. “I really want to make sure we’re all safe.” Study subjects include those who live near wind farms near Kincardine and Amaranth, ON (near Orangeville).

Kroegh believes more research needs to be done on the long-term health impacts of wind turbines in humans. Problematically, however, Kroegh says that her research so far shows that “not everybody gets sick… it’s an individual thing.”

Questions that need addressing include whether effects are immediate (such as what Kroegh herself experiences; she said she can no longer drive on Hwy. 21 through Kincardine without feeling nauseous), if they build up over time, or if they affect those with pre-existing conditions, such as a predisposition to migraines, or inner-ear problems.

Kroegh believes that studies on how the noise from turbines carries are vital; the height of the turbine and the size of the blades can affect how loud and how far the sound transmits.
She noted that the decibel limits can be deceiving. “There is a mix of sound coming off a turbine at 40 decibels (the provincial limit for sound level at a residence closest to a turbine)” she said, that can make people sick. “But we’re willing to tolerate traffic at 70 decibels.”

Kaitlyn MacMaster of MK Ince, who is leading the environmental assessment process for Energy Farming Ontario, explained that her team will do “at least one year of study to determine if the project is appropriate at all (for the area).” This includes research into bird and bat flight paths, as well as an archeological survey, and noise, wildlife and wetland impact.
There will also be an “extremely detailed” visual assessment, MacMaster explained. “If you can see even the tip of a blade (from your house), we count that,” she says.

So-called “shadow flicker” — the shadows of the moving turbine blades, will also be reviewed. German guidelines (Energy Farming Ontario is part of a German firm that was established in the province in 2007; this is its first project) indicate that there should be less than a total of 30 hours per year of any kind of shadow.

Peer-reviewed medical studies on human turbine impact will be factored into all decisions as they become available, MacMaster added. “What we’re good at is reading other people’s reports and studies,” she said.

As well, even though a meteorological tower has been collecting data for almost a year, MacMaster explained, it will continue to collect data to ensure the area is a good site for the 10 or so turbines proposed by Ince and EFO. The area proposed for the farms is roughly bordered by Highway 7 to the north, and Road 96 to the south, Cobble Hills Road to the west and Line 23 to the east.

Initial landowner interest coupled with research shows that there is space for seven or eight turbines; however, landowners living further south in the area have expressed interest as well, said project manager Thomas Bernacki, which could bring the number up to 10 or 11.
“This is envisioned as a single wind farm; once these 10 or so turbines are built, that will be the end of it,” Bernacki said, noting that capacity is expected to fill up quickly.

MacMaster says that the earliest the turbines could be built is the summer of 2011; however, the province’s newly passed Green Energy Act could affect the process greatly.

The legislation includes turbine setback minimums of 550 metres from homes, as well as a a maximum sound level of 40 decibels at the closest residence.

“In order to make sure we don’t come out with a new problem, we have to make sure to site them correctly,” MacMaster said, encouraging anyone with specific issues to contact her directly to address them.

The impacts of turbines on livestock was questioned; Kroegh commented that “we have hints — but we don’t know a lot,” adding that some anecdotal events shows that there are areas on property where livestock won’t go to.

MacMaster noted that in Europe, there are turbines on land “and the cows are still producing calves … it could be that not all bodies are affected the same way.”

The question that garnered the most support from those assembled, however, was “how can you go ahead with this despite the entire community not being ok with it — how can you justify this?”

MacMaster replied that “we do want people to come into the process early on with questions and comments… it’s our responsibility to have some information (which is why MK Ince been doing research).”

It was followed up with a question of whether a lot of public negativity would stop the project.
“If I knew an entire community was against a project, I wouldn’t feel good about doing it… I can’t speak for the investors,” MacMaster said.