The ever-growing number of wind turbines in Chatham- Kent present no health threat to municipal residents, says Dr. David Colby.
“As long as Ministry of Environment guidelines for location criteria of wind farms are followed, it’s my opinion there will be negligible adverse health impacts on Chatham-Kent citizens,” the acting Chatham- Kent medical officer of health said Wednesday.
Colby told members of the Chatham-Kent Board of Health that although opposition to wind farms on aesthetic grounds is a legitimate point of view, opposition on the basis of potential adverse health consequences is not justified by the evidence.
Colby said his conclusion was based on a review of “current white, grey and published literature” and discussions with at least two international experts on wind power.
He agreed to attend the July meeting of municipal council to discuss his findings and answer questions.
Colby, emphasizing that he’s an “infectious disease guy,” said his conclusions were not based on his own personal research.
“But they are based on what I’ve read,” he said. “I know they don’t create any health problems.”
In his report, Colby said wind power has been identified by the United Nations and the World Health Organization as a clean, renewable energy source that has no impact on global warming and no known emissions, waste products or harmful pollutants.
He said one modern wind turbine will save more than 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
Health board members were told that more than 68,000 wind turbines have been installed worldwide over the past 25 years.
“To date, there is no recorded evidence of injury to the public caused by a wind turbine,” he said. “Modern wind turbines must meet strict international engineering standards and documented injuries to construction crews occurred only when construction and operating instructions were not adhered to.”
Colby said that in Ontario, four documented turbine failure issues were found in the literature, all due to lightning strikes requiring the turbines to be shut down for repairs. In 1945, the first commercial wind turbine threw an eight-ton blade 225 meters. Today, wind turbine safety standards meet with strengths equivalent to hurricane forces.”
Colby said that also icing issues are possible, the minimum setback regulations in Chatham-Kent is 250 meters from an onsite residential dwelling and 500 meters from residential or institutional zones.
“This distance is within the generally accepted safety zones and concurs with safe levels of incident probability,” he said.
As for noise, Colby said modern wind turbine construction has drastically decreased the noise complaints that resulted from the thumping sound created by a downwind rotor replacement.
“Noise is one of the few health issues surrounding wind turbines that can be measured and has guidelines that must be adhered to,” he said.
Colby said shadow flicker occurs when the sun is located behind a wind turbine casting a shadow that appears to flick on and off as the wind turbine blades rotate.
“The frequency of wind turbines is well below the current known documented threshold for triggering epilepsy symptoms,” he said.
Colby aid the main opposition concerns appear to be noise and shadow flicker’s potential impact on epilepsy.
“The evidence on shadow flicker does not support a concern,” he said. “Wind turbines in Canada do not rotate at a speed high enough to trigger epileptic seizures and noise remains a subjective issue.”
As for turbine failure, Colby said the public has to trust engineers – “the CN Tower in Toronto isn’t going to blow over.”
He said despite copious literature from experts in government, manufacturers of wind turbines and support groups both for and against wind power, very little scientific evidence exists on the health effects of wind turbines.
West Kent Coun. Brian King, chairman of the health board, called Colby’s report a “refreshing and a commonsense report. It’s what’s been lacking.”
King said the “commonsense, science-based report should help reassure the public” about wind turbines.
By Bob Boughner
26 June 2008
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