A report released by the Ohio Department of Health this week does not go far enough in investigating and analyzing the potential health impacts of wind turbines on nearby residents, according to some local residents and an acoustical consultant familiar with the local effort to develop wind turbines.
The 13-page literature search, which consists of a title page, three pages of introduction , five pages on the health issues, a comparison of wind and coal energy, two pages of references and a one-page table comparing various sounds, was prepared at the request of Logan County Health Commissioner Boyd Hoddinott.
“When I did a literature search, there were no good epidemiological surveys. It was all hearsay and there was nothing scientific,” Dr. Hoddinott said referring to an initial search of information he conducted in 2006. “I think the residents didn’t like my opinion that I couldn’t find any scientific studies. There should be ongoing studies, but I don’t know who is going to fund them.”
Residents who believe more study needs to be done before construction begins on wind turbines cite the research of several people – including Nina Pierpont, a medical doctor who is conducting scientific noise and health studies, and acoustical consultants like Rick James of Okemos, Mich., who have done studies at several existing wind farms and proposed sites.
“The report is merely a report on the readily available information,” Monroe Township resident Mary Ann Hartzler said. “The studies reported were not performed by medical doctors. The true impact on human health in the long exposure to wind turbines has not yet been published, as true scientific medical studies take many years to recognize and be completed.”
Mr. James, who discussed his opinion of the report in a telephone interview, agreed with that assessment, noting that neither of the authors, Robert C. Frey, chief of the health assessment division, and John R. Kollman, a toxicologist, have the necessary credentials to speak authoritatively on the subject.
“I have no idea how a toxicologist can read the information Dr. Pierpont has put out and determine that it is all anecdotal information,” Mr. James said. “I disagree with the conclusions and I don’t think they did a very thorough information search.”
Although the report says there have been no conclusive studies done to support claims that wind turbines could adversely impact the health of families who live around them, the health department said the state needs to develop guidelines to make sure citizens are protected.
They recommended turbine noise levels be no greater than 35 decibels at the nearest residence and suggested setback of at least 1,200 feet. While Mr. James agreed the 35-decibel level was acceptable, he said 1,200 feet may be too close to homes.
One of the major issues in the report is the lack of data on lowfrequency soundwaves, or sounds lower than the thresholds of the human ear.
The report briefly mentions the work of Dr. Pierpont, but does not examine it fully, the critics say.
“The noise we are talking about is not the kind of noise that will affect everybody,” Mr. James said. “Wind turbines don’t make the same type of noise as other machines. Wind turbine manufacturers have not released the data and it is very difficult to get in the real world.
“When we ask for data, they won’t tell us anything that happens below 50 hertz, which is basically the sound where people can hear,” he said.
In addition to sound, the report touches on visual impacts such as shadow flicker, or the repeating pattern of shadows made by the blades on the ground or inside a residence, and strobing, or bright reflections of light bouncing from the rotors as they turn.
While the report says that the frequency of both flicker and strobing is too slow to trigger epileptic seizures, Ms. Hartzler, whose property is surrounded by farmers with wind turbine leases, says she suffers from a rare form of epilepsy that she estimates affects about 100,000 people nationwide.
“It’s not just shadow flicker, but the light and pattern from the turning blades. I am also very sensitive to sound,” she said. “I would have a problem at too close a distance. If they come in, we would have to lose our home.”
Dr. Hoddinott acknowledged that it is difficult to predict what will trigger an epileptic seizure.
“If you are really susceptible you can get a seizure by looking through the trees or at rippling water,” he said.
Also in the report, the authors said wind turbines would be far less harmful to Ohioans’ health than continuing to rely on the coal energy.
By comparison to the potential health risks associated with wind turbines, the report clearly defines the known health and environmental drawbacks of coal plants and coal mining operations.
Among them are the fact that a single coal plant releases nearly 10 million pounds of harmful chemicals into the environment annually and coal mining operations damage the landscape and pollute ground water.
“All along, you have people saying they don’t want nuclear power, they don’t want wind, but what we see is it’s a lot better than dirty coal plants,” Dr. Hoddinott said. “That was an interesting comparison.”
Mr. James said he sees the report as an attempt to make residents feel better about a foregone conclusion that wind turbines will be better in the state.
“They (state officials) wanted wind farms and they were going to put out documents to support it,” he said. “I don’t see any real effort on the part of the people to put together an authoritative report.”
By Reuben Mees
Examiner Staff Writer
26 April 2008
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