I have attended as many of the sessions of the ERT hearing as I have been able to justify. The last witness was Dr. Robert McCunney, who has a specialty in environmental and occupational health. Dr. McCunney speaks without the bombast and personal hurt that Dr. Colby exhibited during his testimony. Instead, he comes across more like one of those 1950’s dads – dressed in gray, driving a gray ’52 Pontiac. I first saw him in action when he appeared with Dr. Michael Nissenbaum in a debate in Rutland, VT in May, 2010.
Mr. Engel, Suncor counsel, as he did previously with Dr. Heraud, lead Dr. McCunney to specific points in the witness statement that required clarification and correction. Dr. McCunney was wise enough to admit when he had erred, unlike Dr. Heraud who had to be physically led word by word and chart by chart through his corrections.
Dr. McCunney revised his original statement of, “Annoyance is not a health effect.” to,
“Annoyance per se, is not an adverse health effect. Each situation needs to be evaluated on its own merits. In some cases protracted annoyance can lead to stress, which in some cases may lead to sleep disturbance that if untreated may lead to harmful, adverse effects.”
Dr. McCunney is a seasoned administrative warrior. In his testimony, he came across as a very incurious, defensive person. His testimony gave no hint of interest on his part, in what might be causing so many people living near wind turbines to exhibit the symptoms expressed. Like Dr.Colby, he inferred that the symptoms were common to the population and were the result of other factors.
He went on to quote (selectively) from Eja Pedersen’s work about the positive correlation between the visual cues of seeing the turbines , the aural cues of hearing the turbine noise and the resultant annoyance – implying that annoyance is due more to the sight of the turbines than the noise. He reinforced this idea by saying, “…this point (seeing and hearing turbines) is repeatedly made in the peer-reviewed literature…that the visual impact of wind turbines has the strongest relationship with annoyance.” – he didn’t bother to offer any expansion or explanation for this, nor did he offer citations – just a flat-out assertion. Not 2 minutes later, when asked about the effects of “shadow flicker”, he had “No comment”.
The disruptive effects of the combination of turbine noise and shadow flicker are prominent features of wind turbines – well documented in various case studies and several videos posted on You-Tube – if not in the “peer-reviewed” literature. Dr. McCunney only used “Pub-Med” for his searches, and so restricted himself to “peer-reviewed” articles. As it turned out, Pub-Med was a convenient filter for the ACanWEA report to use for the benefit of the wind industry.
Mr. Gillespie read aloud the mission statement of the ACanWEA Report on the Health Effects of Wind Turbines which proposes to offer, “… an authoritative reference document for regulators, legislators…”
Mr. Gillespie and Dr.McCunney had a protracted battle over the significance of the Salt/Hullar study into the perception of infrasound by the human ear through the outer hair cells – Dr. McCunney stressing that it is only a hypothesis at this point. He then used an analogy for illustrative purposes saying that, “… not all physiological responses are deleterious …for example, if we’re cleaning out a garage and there is dust and exposure and you get too much, you want to be able to cough, that cough is an appropriate physiological function, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s deleterious.” He then concluded, “ So, I have no reason to dispute Dr. Salt’s assessment for the need for further research.” – huh??? was he equating wind turbine noise with dust?
Mr. Gillespie noted the ACanWEA report authors were instructed to do a comprehensive and exhaustive literature review, to include case series and single case reports; yet, only Dr.Pierpont’s study of 38 subjects was cited in the report, and it was criticized for selective bias. His further claim that it was not “peer-reviewed” because she chose to self-publish is an incorrect, narrow interpretation of peer-review – very condescending. The study was peer-reviewed and amended in some cases because of that input. The fact that it is self-published, not journal-published is immaterial.
As if to emphasize the one obvious deficiency of peer-review Dr. McCunney claimed that the lack of a search mechanism such as Pub-Med for non-peer-review articles was why they did not include the non-peer-review literature (case reports). He further insisted, “…case series reports have value…it’s incumbent upon physicians, including myself …to take the time and effort to write it up and have it reviewed by your colleagues to improve the quality of the work…” implying that patient observations and field notes are not worth much.
Does not the immediacy of the work serve in alerting us the medical profession to potential problems? It’s interesting that we hear this call for peer-reviewed studies repeated over and over by the MOE and Suncor witnesses. It comes across as delay/derailment tactic. Yet, as Mr.Gillespie pointed out, the ACanWEA report that Dr.McCunney co-authored clearly states the importance of informal physician reports, case reports, and case series reports – very few of these are ever put through the “peer-review” journal process. What field physician has the time and resources to publish such work?
Dr.McCunney tried to have it both ways, offering that they had considered Dr.Pierpont’s study in their report. Taking the cue, Mr.Gillespie asked if Dr.McCunney had considered the 2007, Dr. Phipps study (NZ) of 92 subjects. The reply was no, because it was not peer-reviewed, journal-published. He gave the same answer for the Dr. Amanda Harry (UK) of 42 subjects and the Windvoice study of 83 subjects. Mr.Gillespie then asked Dr.McCunney if he “…now had a suspicion of harm” based on the 255 reports from 3 continents.
The response, “I would suggest that all those authors (Pierpont, Phipps, Harry, Windvoice) submit their papers for a refereed journal,,,have it peer-reviewed,,, get it published…do a longitudinal study…I’ve recommended that in fact. It’s not such a bad idea to do a cohort study and try to sort out some these case series that have been been appraised in other settings…certainly a cohort study or longitudinal-cohort study would be more definitive in addressing the question.” – contorted as it is,he has endorsed the idea of an epidemiological study – at least in this statement.
Asked if more research needs to be done on the health effects of wind turbine noise, Dr.McCunney stated, “…there was enough information in the scientific literature about environmental noise exposure from a variety of sources, to formulate some conclusion. Now, as Dr. Colby indicated on Tuesday and I would agree with him, clearly some priorities have to be set… It’s a matter of priorities whether that research is necessary to formulate good public policy decisions.”
Mr.Gillespie surmised, “…the answer is that you and Dr.Colby agree with each other that no further research, publicly funded, should be done on this issue…We have his answer, and those are my questions.”
I’ll end with this quotation from Dr. McCunney given in his debate with Dr. Nissenbaum last May, 2010, “There’s no question that some people may be very annoyed and adversley affected by the sound and the characteristics of the sound. There’s no question that annoyance can cause sleep disturbance. There’s no question that if sleep disturbance persists it can cause health effects and all sorts of consequences. However, I am struggling to understand how the noise from wind turbines is substantially different from other aspects of life, whether its’s trucking, transportation, railroading, aviation and so forth. That’s where I draw the line.”
So ends the testimony of the imaginary scientist.