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State panel rejects health complaints over wind turbines

NEW BEDFORD – Wind turbines in general got the green light Tuesday from a panel of academic experts appointed by the state to review the current science.

The findings fly in the face of critics and opponents in Fairhaven and elsewhere who claim there is an array of health maladies associated with wind turbines, singly or in groups.

What limited concern the survey team expressed centered on the effects of sleep deprivation.

In a conference call with reporters, the team made it clear that while there is known risk associated with denial of sleep, it’s not clear that wind turbines are a cause.

While pointing out that the scientific evidence is often limited, the team members said they are confident in their findings.

The study was commissioned by the state to try to put to rest some of the arguments over wind turbines, which are increasingly common.

Selectman Brian Bowcock said: “I think it pretty much vindicates what we’ve been saying, that there’s no ill effects on health issues related to wind turbines. “The town really has done due diligence, visiting locations and talking to people who have had turbines for three, four, five years, even longer. We would not do this if we thought there would present a health issue.”

There was no comment on the findings from the Fairhaven wind farm opponents known as Windwise. Windwise member Ken Pottel said members conferred, agreed to hold their fire and perhaps would be ready to speak today.

Pottel said the group has its own expert consultants in Boston who will review the findings along with them. Likewise, Windwise member Grant Menard also said he needs to digest the report before he can comment in any detail on what it says. But his initial reaction was skepticism of the report’s methodology. He noted that only two panel members had any direct experience with wind turbines.

“I would have no doubt the report would say it had no ill health effects. This administration has had its eye on being pro-wind from its outset,” he said.

Windwise’s attorney, Ann DeNardis, was in the process of reviewing the 164-page document.

The report – it is not a study but a review of existing studies – will be put to a 60-day comment period and three public hearings, one in Bourne on Feb. 16, after which it will become an official document for policymaking.

The key findings as summarized by the state Department of Environmental Protection include:

“There is no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome.'”
“Claims that infrasound from wind turbines directly impacts the vestibular (inner ear) system have not been demonstrated scientifically.”
“The weight of the evidence suggests no association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.”
“None of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggests an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, and headache/migraine.”
“There is limited epidemiologic evidence suggesting an association between exposure to wind turbines and annoyance. There is insufficient epidemiologic evidence to determine whether there is an association between noise from wind turbines and annoyance independent from the effects of seeing a wind turbine and vice versa.”
“Scientific evidence suggests that shadow flicker does not pose a risk for eliciting seizures as a result of photic (sunlight) stimulation. There is limited scientific evidence of an association between annoyance from prolonged shadow flicker (exceeding 30 minutes per day) and potential transitory cognitive and physical health effects.”

Windwise has petitioned for a special Town Meeting in Fairhaven to consider three articles, one of which would shut down a wind project off Arsene Street. That meeting, if it passes legal muster, must be held within 45 days of the petition. That’s 15 days before the expiration of the comment period at the DEP. Pottel said it will not change their mind about the timing of the special meeting.

Selectman Michael Silvia, one of the three who have been advancing the Fairhaven project, could not be reached for comment, nor could the developer, Gordon Deane.

DEP officials underscored that the panel was not charged with investigating any particular installation but did hear many comments from those concerned about particular sites.

But Windwise-Massachusetts, a statewide alliance, issued a statement late in the day condemning the report. “We knew from the beginning that DEP’s report would be politically motivated with a predetermined outcome,” said Eleanor Tillinghast, a steering committee member of Windwise-Massachusetts. “This whitewash is no surprise,” she added.

“This panel was not independent, its work was not conducted in public or with any ongoing involvement by the public. Everything was done in secret, so who can take this report seriously?” asked Barry C. Cosgrove, also of Windwise-Massachusetts.