Health Canada to probe possible health effects of wind turbines

By Don Butler, Postmedia News July 10, 2012

OTTAWA — Wind power opponents were celebrating Tuesday after Health Canada announced it will conduct peer-reviewed research, in collaboration with Statistics Canada, into the effect of wind turbine noise on human health.

Jane Wilson, president of the anti-wind group Wind Concerns Ontario, learned of the study in a phone call Tuesday morning from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.

“Wow, I said, is it Christmas? It’s July!” she said in an interview. “This is exactly what we’ve been saying all along, that there really wasn’t the science there to base policy on.”

Wilson is confident the study will confirm the link between wind turbines and human health. “The symptoms that are being reported by people in Ontario are the same as those being reported around the world,” she said. “So there really is something there.”

But the wind industry had a much different response.

“We believe that the balance of scientific evidence clearly shows that wind turbines don’t have an impact on human health,” said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. “That’s been supported by numerous reviews of the scientific literature.”

While Hornung didn’t want to prejudge the results of Health Canada’s study, he noted that research in this area is ongoing. “As that research has been added to the knowledge base, it hasn’t, to this point, led to any fundamental change in the conclusion.”

Health Canada’s announcement immediately led to calls for a moratorium on new wind power developments pending the completion of the study, expected in 2014.

“It is unacceptable for the Ontario government to continue to approve projects when government staff refuse to acknowledge the problem, are not able to measure the noise, and cannot ensure compliance with their own regulations,” Wilson said.

Nepean-Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre issued an open letter to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, calling for a moratorium on the Marlborough Wind Farm, a proposed 10-turbine development near North Gower, Ont., about 40 kilometres south of Ottawa.

The project, which has stirred strong local opposition, is on hold awaiting release of Ontario’s revised Feed-in Tariff program, expected later this summer.

The question of whether wind turbines harm the health of those who live near them has been highly contentious. Opponents say low-frequency sound emitted by the turbines makes some people dizzy, causes headaches, and disrupts sleep.

“Some people are unable to work,” said Wilson, who lives in North Gower. “Over time, that gets worse, and they’re not able to stay in their homes.”

In Ontario alone, Poilievre said, more than 130 people — living an average of 675 metres from a wind turbine — have reported adverse health effects due to turbine noise.

Warren Mabee, director of Queen’s University’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, said the consensus worldwide is that “there may be people who are sensitive to the noise, but it’s not consistent across the whole population.

“There’s also an emerging consensus that there’s a pretty strong mental component to this,” he added. “There’s people that have homes that are very close to some of these projects, and it is stressful for them. There may be people that are suffering, and we shouldn’t dismiss those claims.”

Mabee said it was responsible of the federal government to commission the study. “It’s always good to have more information.”

But, he added, “I don’t expect any big surprises in this report, because it’s been very, very difficult in the past to link conclusively cause and effect, to show that the turbines themselves are solely responsible for any kind of health impacts people are experiencing.”

Wind power projects have been proliferating in recent years, spurred by generous government subsidies. As of May 2012, Canada’s installed capacity was 5.4 gigawatts, a nearly seven-fold increase since 2005.

Wind power now supplies 2.3 per cent of Canada’s electricity demands, and the industry hopes to ramp that up to 20 per cent by 2025.

Unlike some past studies, which have simply reviewed other literature, Health Canada’s will be a field study, conducted at 2,000 dwellings ranging from 500 metres to more than five kilometres from wind power plants with eight to 12 turbines.

It will involve interviews with residents, automated blood pressure measurement, sleep evaluations and measurement of cortisol levels, a marker for stress. All the data will be correlated with calculations of wind turbine noise so any potential relationship to health symptoms can be reliably determined.

While Hornung wouldn’t speculate on the impact of a negative finding on Canada’s burgeoning wind power industry, he said his association will review the study’s proposed methodology and monitor the results.

Mabee said Ontario’s wind power expansion has been very much led by industry, with projects going wherever wind developers can line up willing landowners with access to hydro lines.

“Often that is where there’s a lot of people living,” he said. “And that’s a bit of an issue. Maybe we need to think about that more in the future. Is there a way that we can cluster them away from large populations?”

The decision to proceed with the study follows the collapse of efforts by a working group from all levels of government to draft national guidelines to mitigate the potential health impacts of turbines on nearby residents. That project was cancelled earlier this year when working group participants were unable to reach a consensus.

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Original source article: Health Canada to probe possible health effects of wind turbines