by Charlie Fidleman, Montreal Gazette
For New York pediatrician and wind noise expert Nina Pierpont, wind farms blow nothing but an ill-wind.
Pierpont, who coined the term “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” says she’s not against windmills and renewable energy.
But Pierpont’s research of families living near wind turbines shows debilitating health effects – effects that start when the turbines are turned on and then disappear once families have moved away.
Concerned about the health effects of living in the shadow of windmills, a coalition of South Shore communities opposed to wind farms in the area have invited Pierpont to present her findings Tuesday before Quebec’s environmental review agency, which is holding hearings in the Montérégie town of St. Paul de l’Île aux Noix.
Windmills have their place, but not next to where people sleep or learn, Pierpont said Tuesday.
Pierpont’s findings may have broader implications as governments look to alternative energy sources and windmills continue to pop up in rural areas across Quebec and Canada.
Pierpont looked at individual experiences of families in Canada, United States and Europe, living within two kilometres of windmills and their swishing blades.
Pierpont’s book on the turbine syndrome documents severe medical problems including crippling headaches, anxiety and depression, dizziness, nausea and loud ringing in the ears.
Other clinicians in Europe, Australia and the U.S., support Pierpont’s contention that high-intensity, low frequency noise, also called infrasonic noise, may have a negative impact on the body.
The sound can lead to vibrations in the inner ear which could potentially lead to a litany of problems, Pierpont says, including difficulties with concentration, sleep, irritability, fast heart rate and feelings of panic.
It affects some people but not others. Migraine sufferers, those with inner-ear damage, and motion or carsickness are more at risk, she added.
“The wind industry says over and over – and it’s the only leg they have to stand on – is that if you can’t hear it, then it can’t have any other effect on the body,” Pierpont said.
But Pierpont recommends that wind turbines be kept at a distance of two kilometres from the closest habitation because of the risk produced by infrasound.
Gerard Dutil, mayor of St. St. Paul de l’Île aux Noix said he’s concerned by stories of health impacts.
“We’ve seen homes where the turning blades produce shade,” he said. “We don’t want windmills. Put them in an area where it won’t disturb anyone.”
However, officials with the Canadian Wind Energy Association, point to studies that they say prove that wind turbines do not lead to adverse health effects.
“Clearly, our view is that the balance of scientific evidence shows that wind turbines do not have a direct impact on human health,” association president Robert Hornung said Tuesday.
But the studies do acknowledge that some people may find windmill sounds annoying and that may lead to stress and stress-related problems, he added.
At least 56 physicians have signed a petition from Terre Citoyenne, a citizens’ advocacy group, urging Quebec to halt wind turbine construction in residential areas until health officials can establish a safe minimum distance, representative Laurent Lamarre said.
A Quebec Institute of Public Health report last year also called for more research on ill effects specifically from mills.
While Pierpont’s book does not establish cause and effect, it does highlight the need for scientific research, co-author Isabelle Tardif said, “since there are so many witnesses in her study.”