December 30, 2011
Massachusetts, Opinions

Remarks presented on wind turbines to the Board of Health

Louise Barteau, 29 December 2011

Editor’s note: Louise Barteau made the following remarks to the Board of Health on Dec. 19.

By Louise Barteau

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Louise Barteau and I am an artist, a writer, and an environmentalist. I used to teach art to Grades 3-6 at an elementary school. My late husband was a pediatrician. I care deeply about both sustainable energy as well as the health and well-being of children and adults in our community.

When I spoke at the School Committee meeting last week, I had just located the August issue of the Bulletin of Science Technology and Society and read the abstracts. I have since obtained the whole articles, read them, and submitted them to the committee. If you want to get a crash course in the Adverse Health Effects of Industrial Wind Turbines on Public Health, Wind Turbine Noise, Infrasound, and other scientific aspects of IWTs, I highly recommend these articles.

The reason the information in them should be highly valued is that they have been submitted, reviewed and accepted by an academic journal that reviews them for accuracy and good science. It further requires the authors to disclose any financial support or conflict of interest. This is important because information funded by the wind industry has an innate tendency to suppress dangerous safety information because it will lower demand for their product. If wind turbines are perceived to be dangerous, it will be harder to sell them to towns like Fairhaven.

But although I respect the science behind the journal articles, I also value highly the first person accounts of ordinary citizens like myself. These reports should also be considered as data. As I watched online videos or read many first-person accounts in the studies, I was struck by how often the folks telling their stories were originally in favor of the wind turbines, but later were accused in their own communities of being liars – despite having suffered unexplained and debilitating physiological symptoms, and often the complete disruption of their economic life as their houses lost 30, 50 or 100 per cent of their value.

I try to imagine what that might feel like, to feel physically ill, to not be able to live in your house, and then be accused of being a liar. When many citizens living next to wind turbines first started reporting their symptoms, there wasn’t much independent science available to back them up and there wasn’t any context to understand their symptoms, so they were met with a lot of scepticism. A certain amount of scepticism is healthy, but to completely discount people’s experiences makes no sense to me either.

So when I received a very recently written study by two extremely respected scientists that verified people’s experiences by measuring sound scientifically while the authors themselves were actually experiencing symptoms, I knew it was very important. Every citizen in Fairhaven should read it.

What makes this study unusual is that both authors started experiencing physiologic symptoms within 20 minutes of entering the Falmouth home where they were measuring sounds for the study. They experienced headaches, nausea, dizziness, and had a difficult time performing their usual research the first day when symptoms were at their worst and wind speeds were at their highest.

These observations confirm the first-hand accounts of our Falmouth neighbors who experienced the same symptoms. It turns out that low frequency sounds are actually amplified by our houses, which end up acting a bit like a drum. People experience actual pressure in the ears, head and chest, which is further worsened by dizziness, confusion and anxiety as the body seeks to balance and orient itself while receiving pressure pulses, which distort the vestibular experience. One of the authors experienced vertigo for seven months following the study.

There has been a question raised as to whether the private funding of the study by Mr. McPherson, for whom the study has been named, in any way lessens the importance of the conclusions. What is extremely chilling and should give us all pause is that Mr. McPherson funded the study privately because he could not get the developers or the state to do it.

Furthermore, the authors of the McPherson study, Mr Ambrose and Mr. Rand, are both members of INCE, the Institute of Noise Control Engineering, a professional certifying association, and must agree to comply with the institute’s “Canon of Ethics,” which includes up front disclosure about funding and conflicts of interest, which they comply with. Their first conclusion is that we need more studies to study how brain waves and heart activity are affected by these pulsing low frequency sounds.

That may be true, but I don’t think Fairhaven residents should be the guinea pigs in those studies. If we build those turbines despite this growing and independent body of research, we may be doing just that.

Louise Barteau

West Island

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