by Jim Moodie Manitoulin Expositor
LITTLE CURRENT”A local physician is seeking funds for a major scientific study that would evaluate health effects from wind turbines and inform government policy in establishing appropriate setbacks from dwellings.
Dr. Roy Jeffery, who resides in the shadow of the proposed wind farm for McLean”s Mountain, is working with Carmen Krogh, a retired pharmacist and wind critic, to broker resources for the project, which they envision as provincial in scope, if not national.
Last Friday the pair, both members of the Society For Wind Vigilance, travelled to the Northern Health Research Symposium at Laurentian University in Sudbury to give a presentation on the current evidence concerning health consequences from wind farms, and to make the case for a broad-based epidemiological probe.
“One of the main purposes of us being there was to see if any other academics or clinical researchers would go about getting funding for a fairly large trial,” said Dr. Jeffery. “The study we”re proposing would answer the question of what kind of setbacks from industrial turbines would be safe so sleep is not disrupted.”
The response from symposium attendees was “quite enthusiastic,” said the physician, with “a lot of agreement that this should be the next step.” While he admitted that “there weren”t too many cash-in-hand offers,” the experience was still heartening, as feedback included “suggestions of where we could go for funding.”
One source of research dollars could be Health Canada, he learned at the symposium, while other funds could come through Ontario’s newly appointed research chair in Renewable Energy Technologies and Health, Dr. Siva Sivoththaman.
Dr. Jeffery has already drafted a letter to the provincial research figurehead, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo, outlining the objective and scope of the study that he and Ms. Krogh are proposing.
The physician’s original idea was to set up a small cabin on his own property that could serve as a type of laboratory, in which test participants would be monitored for sleep disruption and other turbine impacts. But he’s since been persuaded that this would not be as effective as “a properly designed epidemiological study.”
For one thing, an experimental lab would probably be “too expensive,” he noted, plus “a cabin on McLean’s Mountain would be open to criticism that any ill effects were sustained as a result of that particular arrangement of turbines and setting.”
Through discussions with a variety of likeminded professionals across the globe, including acoustics experts and other clinicians, the consensus has been that “we need to look at a large number of wind farms in a particular geographic area,” he said.
At these sites”which could include McLean’s Mountain”individuals living near turbines would be assessed for “variables such as blood pressure and cortisol levels” (both indicators of stress), as well as factors like “fatigue and mood disturbance,” he said. Their experience would then be compared to that of a “control group” whose dwellings are located more than five kilometres from a wind farm.
A study of this type has already been done in Maine, said Dr. Jeffery, albeit on a small scale, with 22 households analyzed within two kilometres a wind farm, in contrast to a similar number located beyond that range.
While the Maine analysis is confined to an isolated spot, surrounding the Mars Hill Wind Farm, its findings do call out for more scrutiny of the issue, in Dr. Jeffery’s view. The study”s author, Michael Nissenbaum, a physician, found “a high incidence of sleep disorder, stress, and prescriptions for depression” among those living closest to the turbines, he noted.
The goal now should be to extend that type of research across a much bigger sample population, Dr. Jeffery believes. He envisions as many as 1,000 people being assessed”via questionnaires, as well as medical tests”in each subset of the study: those living adjacent to turbines, and an unaffected sector providing a benchmark.
The study should additionally span both summer and winter seasons, as “noise travels differently through cold air,” he noted, while during the warmer months “people have their windows open,” which makes for varying effects. “We’re also wondering if we should be studying different geography, as sound carries differently from a ridge down into a valley, as compared to turbines that are on flat ground,” he added.
The research, presuming money can be found to carry it out, would result in a solid piece of science, published in a peer-reviewed journal, said Dr. Jeffery, which in his view would fill a big hole in the current literature concerning the health issues around wind farms and hopefully direct policy on their placement in relation to dwellings.
To representatives of the wind industry, this type of investigation would be redundant. “These studies have been done repeatedly over 30 years,” argued Rick Martin, project manager for the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm. “And there is no evidence indicating a relationship with disease. There’s no scientific debate about it.”
Mr. Martin cited a study co-financed by the Canadian and American Wind Energy Associations, and published in December of last year, that concluded: “there is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.”
The report, titled Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects, was admittedly funded by groups that advocate wind power, but that”s only because “it was the only way to get it funded,” said Mr. Martin.
More importantly, to him, the scientific work was carried out by “specialists from across the world, including acoustical scientists and people who deal with the inner ear and occupational safety,” and none of these experts should be questioned for their veracity, in his estimation.
“The reputations of these people are so valuable that they”re not going to put them at stake,” he said. “The idea that they would sell off their reputation for money from an industrial firm is insulting to these doctors.”
One of the study’s authors, Dr. Robert J. McCunney,a research scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a physician in the pulmonary division of the same state’s general hospital”personally told Mr. Martin that “infrasonic sound,” which is cited by some critics of wind turbines as a problematic issue, is so trivial as to be “ludicrous,” according to the Northland rep.
This type of noise vibration “is below 20 hertz,” he said, which puts it in the same category of a heartbeat, and even intestinal rumblings, not to mention “the same frequencies used for ultrasound and other things of that nature that are approved for medical use.”
He”s not the only person convinced by the findings of the industry-funded sound study, and others like it: Ontario’s own chief medical officer of health, Dr. Arlene King, recently echoed that position by stating that no causal link between turbine noise and adverse health effects can be established from existing scientific evidence.
To Mr. Martin, this rules out the need for further study. Dr. Jeffery, on the other hand, would put the emphasis on “existing scientific evidence,” and argue that there have not been enough thorough analyses to form a sound (so to speak) opinion.
At present, decisions have been mostly “based on precedent and conjecture,” he contended. Industry and government tend to drag their heels in investigating any new health question like so-called “wind turbine syndrome,” in his view, while the health establishment may not be much more proactive in this regard.
“The medical profession isn”t immune to that,” he conceded. “There’s a tendency to ignore an environmental illness because we tend to be conservative.”
Many health professionals and scientific types, however, are offended by the lack of data, said Dr. Jeffery, as their instinct is to have credible information in place before any potentially harmful development is given a green light.
He and his colleagues within the Society For Wind Vigilance are “trying to promote a scientific approach, so that political and legal decisions are based on science,” he stressed.
Rather than put the proverbial cart before the horse, “we feel research should come before the cart of green energy,” said Dr. Jeffery.