By Tracey Richardson, Owen Sound Sun Times
The Grey Bruce Health Unit will provide a cost estimate for studying the health effects of wind turbines in the area in response to a growing number of calls for a study from municipalities.
Huron-Kinloss spearheaded the call for a local health study, with Georgian Bluffs and Arran-Elderslie jumping onboard. Earlier this week Bruce County also agreed to throw its support behind the Huron-Kinloss demand.
But if a study is done it will be expensive, and in Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hazel Lynn’s estimate, it could take as long as a decade to link wind turbines to ill health effects. It took 40 years, she said at Friday’s public board of health meeting, for studies to confirm the link between smoking and lung disease.
Lynn said the health unit is not set up as a research institute and would not have funding for a study that could cost millions.
“We’re not set up, nor are we funded, to do large cohort studies . . . But I think there’s probably enough turbines in the province now to look at communities comparatively.”
Ideally a study would be done in conjunction with a research institute, such as a university, or with the backing of the province. Lynn also said any kind of study would have to be narrowly defined. For instance, are some people more susceptible to ill effects from turbines? And what is causing the problem — stray voltage, noise, wind, vibrations? How much exposure is causing the problem? There needs to be a research question, she said.
There is no doubt, she said, that some people are suffering. “There’s not too many other technologies when they’re introduced that cause about 15% of the people, at least in some of the areas we have, to be affected by it.”
She said symptoms from people have been “pretty consistent throughout, and I think the fact that the closer you are to them, the more people have symptoms, is a start on all of this.”
Sleep disturbance is the biggest complaint, she said.
Lynn told the board she will inquire if there is an appetite at the provincial level for a study. She will report back to the health unit’s board of health in January.
The province has never commissioned a health study of wind turbines. Its chief medical officer of health reviewed studies done elsewhere and concluded the turbines were not dangerous.
Lynn said she suspects wind turbine health studies will have to continue to come from outside of government.
“They’re heavily invested; they’ve already paid these companies to put the turbines up. And the companies aren’t inter-e sted either because they’ve been paid to put the turbines up.”
There’s a message in the municipalities’ demand for a health study. Lynn said, “I think what they’re saying is stop it (the turbines). But the government hears the same kind of stuff I’m hearing day by day.”
Health board chairman Bob Pringle said he is not in favour of a locally produced study if it is expensive and if it means the province might skip doing its own study. He said if a study costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, he might be in favour, but not if it costs millions.
Grey County Warden Arlene Wright said a study would be difficult to sell to the county because of its potential cost. She wants the province to do a study.
“We all want green energy, but not if it isn’t safe green energy,” she said.
In the meantime, Lynn said the government would be prudent to at least increase the distance between wind turbines and residences, “and that would at least reduce the number of people who are distressed, and maybe that’s the best way to start into this.”