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Claims turbine makes her sick at workplace

A woman who works for the Woods Hole Group in Falmouth Technology Park claims that the Notus Clean Energy wind turbine, which is 650 feet from her workplace, is making her sick. Donna Benevides, a resident of Harwich, wrote to the Falmouth Board of Health that she has been experiencing health issues since the turbine went into full operation in June 2010. “I’ve been suffering from vertigo, dizziness, tinnitus, and a feeling of pressure in my ears,” she wrote. “The pressure can be described as the feeling you get when driving up a mountain; except that yawning or chewing gum doesn’t ease the pressure as it does when driving up a mountain.” The vertigo is constant even when she is at home in Harwich, she wrote. “If I look up, down, or turn my head quickly, the room seems like it’s spinning rapidly and I have to hold onto something so I don’t fall down.”

Ms. Benevides wrote that she is otherwise in perfect health and has no history of motion sickness, ear problems or vertigo and does not take any prescription medication. She is also not an opponent of wind turbines in general. “I was excited when the turbine was being constructed because clean energy and reducing our dependence on foreign oil is important,” she wrote. “My opinion on wind power has not changed. However, I have learned these turbines need to be placed far away from where people live and work.”

While she was at home in Harwich during the Christmas holiday for four days her vertigo lessened. She reported only minor dizziness during that time, but the symptoms returned when she came back to work. “Since I do not own property in Falmouth, this is not a case of not in my backyard,’ ” she wrote.

“I do not know any of the people who live near these turbines, but my heart goes out to them.” Ten residents who live near the turbines were in attendance at the board of health meeting last night. J. Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive asked board members to respond to the letter. Chairman Gail A. Harkness said each board member had read the letter, but had not discussed it. “What would the board infer from this letter?” asked Mr. Donald. “Quite frankly, she could have a brain tumor,” said board member Jared V. Goldstone. That comment drew the ire of Brian W. Elder of Blacksmith Shop Road. “Should we all get tested for brain tumors?” he asked. “It depends on the circumstances,” Dr. Goldstone said. Dr. Harkness said Ms. Benevides feels her illness is due to working close to the wind turbine.

“Isn’t that a good control?” asked Mr. Donald. “This is somebody who is immersed in the situation and developed a health issue, and when that person is removed from the situation, the problems go away.” Dr. Harkness said Ms. Benevides is not a control, but is another case of someone who reports health effects from being near wind turbines. “We can’t infer anything,” she said. “We can accept it and add it to the data-base.”

Board member John B. Waterbury said information from one employee in the technology park is not enough to draw conclusions. There are many other employees there who have not reported any negative health effects, he said. Kathryn L. Elder of Blacksmith Shop Road asked if any other employees in the Falmouth Technology Park have filed complaints with the board of health. Dr. Goldstone said he checked the complaint log in late December and is not aware of any other complaints.

Neil P. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road volunteered to go to the technology park and speak to employees and report back. He said he is frustrated by how resistant the board is to complaints about turbines. “This is so sad it’s comical,” he said. “This is a waste of my time.” He left the meeting after his comments. Falmouth Health Agent David W. Carignan said Ms. Benevides’s letter raised other issues. If her letter is simply a statement of observations, the board did not have to take any action. If her letter is a formal complaint about unsafe work conditions, it must be forwarded to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Mr. Donald wrote in a letter to the board that Ms. Benevides works within the ice throw area of the turbine. “What happens when the ice lets go, especially when she (and any other employees) are coming and going outside of the building,” he wrote. Ms. Benevides is not a resident of Falmouth, Mr. Donald wrote, and is unbiased and not affected by the loss of real estate values. “Isn’t Ms. Benevides the smoking gun we have been waiting for?” he wrote.