Smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity and social inequality “are much more critical health hazards” than wind turbines, but that doesn’t mean the minority of people who suffer from exposure to wind farms should be dismissed, Dr. Hazel Lynn said Friday.
Lynn, medical officer of health for Grey Bruce, told a board of health meeting there are eight areas in which she would like to see more research as the province pushes ahead with its commitment to green energy.
“Whether or not the board (of health) is the one that should be doing this, I have a significant doubt,” she said.
Lynn was discussing a seven-page report she wrote for the board, which had asked her in November to look at initiating a study of the impact of industrial wind turbines “in close proximity” to homes in Grey and Bruce.
The report, which was tabled at Friday’s board of health meeting, says “it is clear that many people in many different parts of Grey Bruce and southwestern Ontario have been dramatically impacted by the noise and proximity of wind farms. To dismiss all these people as eccentric, unusual or as hyper-sensitive social outliers does a disservice to constructive public discourse” about the issue.
Lynn’s report noted “it is clear that wind farm noise is really not that bothersome to most people” but “we cannot pretend that an affected minority does not exist. A determination has to be made as what level or extent of negative impacts is tolerable . . . how many affected neighbours are we willing to accept.”
Among the areas that Lynn suggested warrant further study are determining what portion of people exposed to wind turbines suffer distress, whether some designs and technologies create more problems than others, what the real cost of such technology is, and how to lessen social disruption from the introduction of turbines.
The report immediately caught the attention of the province, which is facing demands by many municipalities for a say over where wind farms can be built, a responsibility the government assumed under the Green Energy Act.
A call to the Ministry of the Environment for comment led to a return call offering an interview with Environment Minister John Wilkinson, who was on tour in his riding.
A similar call of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care led to a return call offering an interview with Dr. Arlene King, the province’s chief medical officer of health. King wrote a report on wind turbines released last May that concluded “the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.”
Asked if his ministry would initiate the research Lynn suggested, Wilkinson said “No. We have plenty of scientific data upon which we’ve made our determination about what has led to the most stringent setbacks in North America.
“We are more than open to review any scientific data . . . but we are confident the data we have on hand and the fact that we have people like the chief medical officer, the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion, all of those kind of outward-looking groups, scanning all available data.”
King also defended the work done to date and noted the Ministry of the Environment is funding a study into the noise created by wind turbines. Most of the literature now is based on models and the ministry-funded study of actual levels will “fill a gap” in the scientific literature, she said.
King repeated several times her study’s conclusion that there was no scientific evidence of a causal link between wind turbines and illness.
Lynn told the board of health meeting that many in the medical profession knew of the link between smoking and lung cancer and heart disease, but it took 20 years to prove it.
King said her review looked at studies from as far back as 1970 to the present to account for long-term exposure. She also noted “the outcomes with tobacco were highly specific . . . the outlook that was largely looked at was lung cancer.
“The symptoms that people have concerns about linked to wind turbines are multiple and quite diffuse . . . It points again away from the argument that there is a link between wind turbines and adverse health impacts.”
King said “a very small proportion of people find wind turbines annoying . . . about four to 10%” who are bothered by noise at the 35 to 45 decibel level – a level found “in libraries where no one is speaking.” The provincial limit for wind turbine is 40 decibels.
“We know definitively there are adverse health impacts associated with burning fossil fuels,” King said. “They produce air pollutants that have a clear, documented negative impact on human health, on the lungs and on the cardiovascular system.
“Wind, on the other hand, is a clean, renewable source of energy which does not produce pollutants and I think it’s very important that fact is remembered as we discuss this issue.”