Stephana Johnston is 80 years old and sleeping on her son’s couch because she can’t go home. Everytime she goes home she gets a “stuffiness” in her ears and a “buzzing” in her brain. Her home is on the north shore of Lake Erie and surrounded by 18 wind turbines. She’s convinced they’re the source of her troubles.
“I’ve been trying to sell for over a year but no one wants to buy it. I can see every one of the turbines,” she said.
Johnston was one of about 300 people at a meeting last night put on by West and East Perth Against Turbines (WEPAT) at the Arden Park Hotel. The group formed less than a month ago but is one of several like it in other rural counties.
Dr. Robert McMurtry, former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, said he thought wind turbines were a good idea and considered them for his Prince Edward County property until he began researching.
“There’s no doubt in my mind people are suffering adverse health effects,” he said.
Symptoms presented at the meeting ranged from inner ear problems and sleep deprivation to heart problems including hypertension.
One of the recurring concerns is the low frequency noise. Another issue is the “shadow flicker” caused by the revolving blades.
“It’s very difficult to escape from even if you close your eyes,” said Carmen Krogh, former director with Health Canada.
Krogh did a “windvoice survey” to study the effects of the inaudible and audible noise on the body.
“We’ve moved from strong suspicions to there’s no doubt people are adversely effected,” she said.
She had “victim impact statements” from people around the world including Germany and Japan.
In a phone interview before the meeting, local MPP and Environment Minister John Wilkinson said he would live near a wind turbine as long as it met the minimum requirements set out by the province.
A single wind turbine must be at least a distance of 550 metres away from where people live, sleep, pray, work or go to school. If there’s more than one turbine the distance is greater than 550 metres.
McMurtry suggested the 550 metre distance is arbitrary.
“We have searched far and wide and deep. It’s a false claim. They can’t say 550 metres is sound science. That claim can’t be substantiated,” he said.
Regulations also require wind turbines cannot have a noise level above 40 decibels which is considered “background noise” by the World Health Organization, Wilkinson said.
Because the province regulates wind turbines, if they’re noisier than 40 decibels the province can shut them down, Wilkinson added.
The province gets advice from Dr. Arlene King, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
“As long as (turbines) are a sufficient distance away and not exceeding the noise (limits), there’s no evidence there’s an effect on human health,” Wilkinson said.
“Having said that, we are open to any new science.”
McMurtry and Krogh both insist there’s plenty of science to show there are negative consequences on the health of people around the turbines.
McMurtry also insists the onus of responsibility for proof is on the province to follow the precautionary principle. If there’s the potential for harm, it’s up to the government to show there is none, he said.
McMurtry was also critical of King’s report. He said it was just a review of the literature that was previously published and it ignored any literature that raised alarms.
The final speaker of the night, Dave Collings had wind turbines on his farm property until last December when the lease expired.
“These things destroy your neighbourhood and your neighbours,” he said.
Four houses around his property are empty now.
He also noted, there are no earth worms near wind turbines because of the sonic vibration and the ground currents generated by the turbines. “Dirty energy” or stray voltage from the lines substations is another factor making people sick, he said. He tests properties around the Ripley area.
He advised any farmers considering signing a lease to show it to a corporate lawyer because the leases favour the wind power companies, he said.
Wilkinson was invited to attend the meeting but couldn’t go because he’s taken an oath that forbids him from attending public meetings, either for or against, projects he may later make a decision about, he said.
“A referee doesn’t lace up his skates with any member of a hockey team before a game,” he said.
“We have to make decisions based on (a project’s) merits or lack thereof.”
His attendance at a public event could be interpreted as an endorsement of a certain side, he suggested.
While the debate continues, Johnston has offered her house up as a research centre for renewable energy and health.
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