Wind turbine noise can be annoying, but there’s no proof it causes serious harm to human health, according to expert witnesses testifying at an Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal in Chatham Tuesday.
Dr. Christopher Ollson, an expert in environmental science, and Dr. Kenneth Mundt, an expert in epidemiology, testified on behalf of the proponents, Suncor Energy, which is defending a challenge to the approval of its Kent Breeze Wind Farm – the first project to get the green light under Ontario’s Green Energy Act
The challenge to the eight-wind turbine project underway near Thamesville is being brought by Katie Erickson and Chatham-Kent Wind Action Inc. on the basis it will cause harm to human health.
Ollson oversees and reviews several environmental assessments annually, including the Kruger Energy project in West Kent.
He said based on peer-reviewed literature, medical journals and acoustic journals he reviewed for his expert submission “on the weight of the evidence of that approach . . . living in proximity to an industrial wind turbine would not result in serious harm to health.”
Opponents of the project fear the setbacks from residences are not far enough and the noise can lead to such ailments as sleeplessness, stress or psychological distress, inner ear problems, headaches and loss of enjoyment of life.
Ollson said it is his opinion that Ontario regulations requiring a minimum setback of 550 metres for wind turbines from residences and a maximum night time noise level of 40 decibels “is reasonable and sufficient to protect against adverse health effects.”
However, he does acknowledge data from studies indicating noise from wind turbines is annoying to people at certain levels.
“It’s always been our position that if left unchecked and unmitigated, noise from industrial wind turbines, that could lead to annoyance depending on the level of annoyance and the severity of that annoyance that could result in a health affect,” he said. “What I’m not suggesting is that is equivalent to serious harm to health.”
Dr. Mundt, who is director of epidemiology at ENVIRON, a global consulting firm that focuses on environmental issues and risks associated with environmental exposures, told the tribunal his conclusions, based on peer reviewed studies and other reports published to date, “is not sufficient to support statements that wind turbine exposure causes severe harm to human health.”
As for annoyance, he told the tribunal that humans are exposed to many stimuli, which can result in a physiological response or a pathological response.
He said prolonged exposure to the sun, which results in a sunburn, would be a pathological response.
However, Mundt said, “I place annoyance at the end of a response. It’s clear people are annoyed by a stimuli. I don’t place that in a pathological response.”
In a study Ollson reviewed from the Netherlands in 2009, he pointed out annoyance was also linked with people seeing the turbines and having a negative attitude about the devices.
He added the study noted there was a significant decrease in the level of annoyance among people and communities that are paid to have wind turbines on their land.
The tribunal continues Wednesday in the council chambers at the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre with the Ministry of the Environment scheduled to call two witnesses.
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