Kingston’s public health department will lobby government for more research into the health effects of wind turbines.
Dr. Ian Gemmill, Kingston’s medical officer of health, says there hasn’t been enough monitoring done to determine whether they’re harmful.
Gemmill made the declaration at a board of health meeting this week in response to residents who live near the proposed site of a wind farm to be built on Wolfe Island.
The citizens had asked public health to assess the health risks associated with the turbines, but based on the information that is available, Gemmill said, there is nothing to indicate that wind turbines have any long-term effect on people’s health.
“We haven’t got a lot of evidence to go on right now,” said Gemmill. Gemmill said that though there are concerns about low-level noise, appearance and stress caused by the turbines, research has suggested that those effects don’t cause long-term health impacts after people are no longer living near wind farms.
As well, much of the research that is available, he said, doesn’t appear to come from reputable sources.
“Our conclusion is that while there may be some short-term concerns, this will not have a long-term health effect,” said Gemmill.
Board member Vicki Schmolka told the board that she wasn’t sure that she agreed with Gemmill’s conclusion. She indicated that she felt there are health concerns associated with the turbines that the board should investigate further.
“Seems to me what we’re really saying is that this person needs to move away and they’ll be OK,” she said.
Schmolka, who is also a city councillor, asked Gemmill if he was comfortable saying that there were definitively no long-term health effects from wind turbines.
“I’m saying it’s reversible,” he responded. “I know that people are bothered by this, but the question here is when do we become involved.”
Schmolka also told the board that she felt that the public health department has a responsibility to gather more information about the health effects of wind turbines.
“Seems to me the role of public health is to monitor,” she said. “The wind turbines aren’t in place yet – I would like to see this board gather some baseline data on the health effects.
“If public health doesn’t do this, who will? I’m not saying ‘stop the project,’ but I am just saying that we don’t know much about the impacts.”
Gemmill said that he took the concerns seriously and agreed with Schmolka that public health does have a responsibility to monitor the situation for potential health risks.
Fellow board member Bill Lowry, deputy reeve of Loyalist Township, said he didn’t support public health conducting such baseline testing on Wolfe Island.
“It’s far beyond our bailiwick,” he said.
Gemmill said his agency will monitor scientific and medical journals and other publications more closely than it has in an effort to keep up to date about the latest research on the health impacts of wind turbines.
Public health will also advocate for more research to be done to provide more definitive information about whether wind turbines cause long-lasting health effects.
“You can’t make policy on hearsay or worry. It has to be evidence,” Gemmill said, adding that if there were known health risks associated with wind turbines, public health wouldn’t hesitate to take a stand against them.
By Jennifer Pritchett
28 March 2008
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