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Risk of Harm and Industrial Wind Energy Facilities: Physicians as Health Advocates  

Author:  | Health

1. Purpose

The purpose of this commentary is:

  • To share some examples of comments received from those reporting adverse
  • health issues to their family physician;
  • To share a snapshot of some of the peer reviewed and other evidence;
  • To encourage that those reporting adverse health ask their family physicians to
  • invoke the precautionary principle; and
  • To encourage their family physicians to advocate for the health and social well-
  • being of families regarding the siting of industrial wind energy facilities in quiet rural areas.

[Download original document for references]

2. Background

Rural physicians are frequently the first medical practitioners consulted by those reporting adverse health effects associated with the start up of wind turbine facilities near their homes.

Many family physicians have been responsive to their patients’ reports and started investigations to determine a diagnosis and initiate mitigation and remedial actions.

Based on the author’s research and commentary received from some of those reporting adverse health effects to their physicians, indications are that some family physicians appear to be uncertain about the correlation of adverse health effects and industrial wind energy facilities.

3. The symptoms

McMurtry (2011) details the commonly reported symptoms:

“Third-order criteria (at least three of the following occur or worsen following the initiation of IWTs): Otological and vestibular

  1. Tinnitus
  2. Dizziness
  3. Difficulties with balance
  4. Ear ache
  5. Nausea

Cognitive

  1. Difficulty in concentrating
  2. Problems with recall or difficulties with remembering significant information

Cardiovascular

  1. Hypertension
  2. Palpitations
  3. Enlarged heart (cardiomegaly)

Psychological

  1. Mood disorder, i.e., depression, anxiety
  2. Frustration
  3. Feelings of distress
  4. Anger

Regulatory Disorders

  1. Difficulty in diabetes control
  2. Onset of thyroid disorders or difficulty controlling hypo- or hyperthyroidism

Systemic

  1. Fatigue
  2. Sleepiness

A December 2010 report commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, submitted as evidence during the Environmental Review Tribunal and released December 2011 by the Ministry notes:

Stress symptoms associated with noise annoyance, and in particular low frequency annoyance, include sleep interference, headaches, poor concentration, mood swings …

The authors of the report prepared for the American Wind Energy Association and Canadian Wind Energy Association [Colby et al (2009)] report determined the documented “wind turbine syndrome“ symptoms (sleep disturbance, headache, tinnitus, ear pressure, dizziness,
vertigo, nausea, visual blurring, tachycardia, irritability, problems with concentration and memory, and panic episodes associated with sensations of internal pulsation or quivering when awake or asleep are symptoms)“ are not new and have been published previously in the context of “annoyance” and are the “well-known stress effects of exposure to noise”.

4. Observations

This is a complex and challenging topic. The many variables such as siting design and proximity, wind direction and speed, terrain, house construction, a variety of noise emissions, and electrical pollution to name a few, associated with wind energy facilities can affect the assortment and description of symptoms being reported.

To assist with this topic, some examples of comments received from those reporting adverse health issues are listed below:

  • When individuals visited their family physician, some comment they felt there was a lack of understanding of the effects associated with the wind energy facilities. They sensed disbelief that they were being harmed by these facilities.
  • Some comment on an inability to adequately articulate or describe the physical and other sensations being experienced.
  • Some feel they were characterized as being jealous and/or resentful because they weren’t receiving economic benefits and/or they didn’t like the look of the turbines, and/or they were anti-wind or against green energy.
  • A few comment that their family physician declined the peer reviewed and other references offered.
  • Some report they were given medication to treat their sleep disturbance, anxiety, stress, depression, nausea, vertigo, migraine/headaches, chest sensations, palpitations, joint pain, exhaustion and other symptoms. Some report the medication did not solve the issues as the source i.e. the wind energy facilities, were still operating in close proximity to their homes.
  • Some report that in their attempt to sleep, alcohol was taken with a sleep aid and that as time went on, more alcohol and extra doses of the sleep aid were required in order to fall asleep and/or remain asleep.
  • In some cases, some report their symptoms were attributed as NOCEBO effects and they were imagining it or it was all in their heads and this was what was making them ill.
  • Some report a feeling of being dismissed/discounted. This caused them additional pain, hurt, grief and a sense of being doubted. Some report that they decided to not describe the full extent of their symptoms and are reluctant to share further information with their physician.

Some report they are hesitant to elaborate on the degradation in their quality of life, the significant changes to their living environment, the negative changes in their health status, and the social-economic impacts. This reluctance could deprive the family physician of information relating to disruptive noise levels, vibration, pulsation and other and the associated symptoms.

These comments could have significant ramifications as in some cases, the family physician may not be receiving all the facts which could hamper or misdirect the clinical investigation.

5. Physicians as health advocates

The role of the physician as a health advocate is known to many health care professionals.

During an Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal, Dr. Robert McMurtry, former Dean of Medicine and Assistant Deputy Minister (Health Canada) supported the role of physicians as health advocates:

Finally, there is health advocate. It is our responsibility to speak on behalf of issues that would be health promoting, as opposed to health harming. That advocacy may take many forms; certainly when you teach on your research, or when you are part of the community. Physicians are part of the community and should be a contributing member to it, and in that contribution they should be a health advocate.”

To facilitate a clinical diagnosis, Dr. Robert McMurtry authored and published in a peer reviewed journal “Toward a Case Definition of Adverse Health Effects in the Environs of Industrial Wind Turbines (Facilitating a Clinical Diagnosis)”. 10 (See attached)

6. A snapshot of evidence [See Appendix II]

Appendix II provides a brief overview of the evidence. However, this overview is not intended to be exhaustive. Additional references are available on request.

7. Conclusion

There is sufficient evidence to support that some are negatively affected by industrial wind energy facilities cited in close proximity to their homes. Associations, symptoms and causation have been acknowledged through peer reviewed and published references, testimony under oath, and/or disclosure evidence and/or witness statements and through other references briefly summarized in Appendix II.

It is proposed that a precautionary approach be taken before continuing with further wind energy development.

The World Health Organization stated with respect to noise in general:

In all cases, noise should be reduced to the lowest level achievable in a particular situation. Where there is a reasonable possibility that public health will be damaged, action should be taken to protect public health without awaiting full scientific proof.

The rural family physician is typically the first point of contact regarding adverse health associated with industrial wind energy facilities.

The efforts of the many family physicians who have responded to their patients’ issues is acknowledged and appreciated.

Based on the evidence, there is an opportunity to invoke the precautionary principle and to advocate for the health and social well-being of families regarding the siting of industrial wind energy facilities in quiet rural areas.

Carmen Krogh, BScPharm
Ontario, Canada
carmen.krogh/gmail.com

Download original document: “Risk of Harm and Industrial Wind Energy Facilities: Physicians as Health Advocates

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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