By Bruce Urquhart, Oxford Sentinel-Review
WOODSTOCK – Given the recent controversy and vitriol – and the provincial government’s support of wind energy – the topic of Monday night’s “Great Wind Debate” was certainly timely.
But unlike the recent protest in Strathroy, the two opponents debating the potential health effects of wind turbines allowed each other ample time to speak.
Dr. David Colby, an associate professor of physiology and pharmacology at the University of Western Ontario, basically described claims of wind turbine-related illness as an example of a “Nocebo Effect,” saying people were convinced by baseless allegations that turbines caused some sort of health disorder. Dr. Robert McMurtry, a professor of surgery at the University of Western Ontario, took a dissenting position, advocating for more research before the province continued to support more wind turbine developments.
“We’re trying to provide a well-balanced presentation on the health aspect of wind-generated power,” moderator Brent Van Parys said before the start of the debate.
During his 15-minute presentation, Colby focused largely on repudiating the research of Dr. Nina Pierpont, the author of Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment, a book that has become the Bible of wind energy opponents.
Dismissing Pierpont’s research as “uncontrolled” and “unverified” because of an exclusionary approach to its subjects, Colby, who acknowledged co-authoring a Canadian Wind Energy Association-sponsored pane review, said the book failed to establish a causal relationship between wind turbine noise and the alleged disorder. Saying that neither the audible nor infrasonic noise was sufficient to cause a broad range of symptoms such as sleep disturbance, headaches, nausea and vertigo, Colby simply said there was “no evidence” to support the claims of opponents.
“I’ve got this,” he said about the range of symptoms,” except I don’t live near a wind turbine.”
Talking about the dangers posed by fossil fuels and coal plants, Colby said: “Find me a person who has died from wind power noise.
“I rest my case.”
McMurtry, the former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, based much of his presentation to the audience at the Quality Hotel on his own observations. After working and interviewing people who claimed to have suffered from wind turbine syndrome, including a middle-aged woman who died prematurely, McMurtry said the provincial government needed to adequately test the impact of industrial wind turbines.
“Evidence-based regulations are a must,” he said. “You need to have done the research.”
With a number of international bodies supporting a moratorium on industrial wind turbines and hundreds of complaints, McMurtry suggested there had been “substantial” reports that demonstrate a growing problem. With a precise “case definition” that specified sufferers needed to live within five kilometres of a wind development and developed symptoms after the facility began operation, wind turbine syndrome was forcing people from their homes, McMurtry said.
With people recovering as they moved away from the alleged source of their illness, McMurtry said sufferers “became literally nomads.”
“They have no options,” he said.
Colby did acknowledge that some people would be “annoyed” by the woosh of the slowly revolving turbine blades, but stressed that “sick and annoyed are not the same thing.” His colleague, however, said the resultant sleep disturbance contributed to a chronic illness. Through research, McMurtry estimated that between 20 % and 25 % of people would suffer adverse effects from close proximity to these turbines.
“These are vulnerable people,” he said. “There lives are being destroyed.”
McMurtry suggested that proponents of wind turbine developments should “test the (impacted) people” and “do the studies” instead of simply ignoring their claims.
While the debate was intended to simply inform the roughly 150 people in the audience about the two opposing viewpoints, it also helped the Rotary Club of Woodstock raise some money for one of its own causes. The money raised from the event will be used by the local club to help fund the Shelterbox program, which provides families in disaster areas with a survival kit that includes a high quality tent, sleeping bags, tools and cooking equipment.
“The advantage of Rotary,” club president Graham Hart said, “is we work through Rotary Clubs in those countries.”