DARTMOUTH – In their continuing research into possible wind turbine regulations for the town, Dartmouth Board of Health members Gail Davidson, Thomas Hardman and Lynne Brodeur recently visited turbines located at Portsmouth Abbey and Portsmouth High School in Rhode Island. They discussed their findings at last week’s health board meeting, where potential health regulations for turbines were once again on the agenda.
The Portsmouth Abbey wind turbine is approximately 750 feet from the nearest neighbor. The turbine has three, 77-foot carbon fiber blades atop a 164-foot tubular steel tower, and the rotor turns at a constant 28.5 revolutions per minute. The structure stands 240 feet, from the ground to the tip of the highest blade.
According to Dr. Davidson, the school staff lives closest to the turbine, and reported that they got used to the turbine after time. The school also indicated that the turbine they had purchased had a good maintenance record so far.
The committee visited the Abbey for about two hours, and spent much of the time directly in front of the turbine. “We actually went inside the area where all the electronics are located. I felt I was affected by the sound,” Ms. Brodeur said.
According to Dr. Davidson, at about 400 feet in front of the turbine, the sound of the blades was a swishing noise which comes and goes. “At 600 feet, the noise didn’t sound like sneakers (tumbling) in a dryer. However, I don’t think I would want to hear it in my back yard; but a car sounds worse,” she said.
According to board members, the town-owned turbine at Portsmouth High School is on a 50-meter tower, and is much quieter. They found the blades run slower and the turbine was much quieter overall. It is a newer machine and the ambient noise is lower, Dr. Davidson indicated at the Dec. 7 meeting.
Mr. Hardman said he was surprised how much louder the turbines from different companies can be. “The newer machines are quieter,” he noted.
A senior student nursing at UMass Dartmouth, Courtney Testa presented a report outlining the impacts on health of wind turbines at the last meeting. She visited the 154-foot town-operated wind turbine in Hull as part of her research, but did not speak with neighbors, she reported.
“The board has been working with the nurses to complete a blind study on the health impact of wind turbines, and what would be a safe and good distance away from them,” noted town Director of Public Health Wendy Henderson.
Ms. Testa noted some of the common health impacts included sleep disturbances, headaches, and a decrease in the quality of living conditions for neighbors. She said the sound from some turbines could be comparable to sneakers tumbling in a dryer.
According to Ms. Testa, some people are sound sensitive and have a stronger emotional reaction to noise. People who may have had a past medical history of mental illness or depression may also be more likely to be sound and light sensitive and thus affected by wind turbine sound and shadow/flicker, she added.
“Statistics show 15 to 20 percent of the population is overly noise sensitive,” she stated. Without proper sleep, people are easily more vulnerable to many illnesses, she indicated.
Ms. Testa suggested the Board of Health could implement regulations on turbines to include requirement to turn them off at night, and provide dark curtains to those nearby residents affected by light flicker.
“Appoint a neighborhood liaison to serve as a resource to residents,” she recommended. “This person can be the ‘go to’ contact for problems with the turbines,” she advised.
She put together a Wind Turbine Quality of Life Survey that would allow residents to provide feedback and serve as a basic screening tool for the town to assess whether the turbines are causing significant health problems. She cited several online case studies for her information, but did not interview anyone living near the Hull turbine, she said.
Board members are considering a visit to Wind One in Falmouth, and are reviewing the health regulations in other towns related to turbines.
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