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A new preliminary state study that says that wind turbines do not pose serious health risks drew criticism from wind farm opponents – and may not be helpful to local planning boards that are reviewing wind turbine bylaw proposals or wind projects.
The report got a “thumbs down” from Eleanor Tillinghast of Wind-Wise Massachusetts, who called it a “whitewash.”
“We knew from the beginning that DEP’s report would be politically motivated with a predetermined outcome,” she said in a statement posted on the group’s website. Wind Wise is a coalition of groups concerned about hazards they feel are posed by industrial wind power.
“WWMA again calls for an epidemiological study of those people living near turbines where adverse health effects are being felt,” said Tillinghast, a resident of Mount Washington in the Berkshires.
Last summer, several members of this group asked for a moratorium on what they called “industrial wind power” until possible health effects could be thoroughly studied.
Landscape architect Walter Cudnohufsky of Ashfield said the study “is a travesty of the highest order that cannot and will not stand. It is politically oblivious to obvious predictable health problems now reported world-wide …”
“This secretive process of cherry picked professionals on this panel is once again an attempt at face-saving for an obvious enormous mistake: adopting industrial wind as a source without any serious evaluation,” said Cudnohufsky.
In contrast, Cudnohufsky pointed to a recent “Strategic Health Impact Assessment on Wind Energy” study by the Oregon Health Authority, which he said tries to sketch out ways in which health impacts of specific projects might later be assessed.
Cudnohufsky is also an alternate member of the Ashfield Planning Board, which is currently working on a town bylaw for wind turbine siting.
Andrew Wells, chairman of Ashfield’s Wind Turbine Siting Bylaw Advisory Committee, points out that, on page 80, the panel recommends adoption of statewide sound standards that would allow for higher noise levels in “sparsely populated and quiet areas.”
In the executive summary, he said, the report suggests allowable night-time sound levels for sparsely populated areas at 42 to 44 decibels – which is 20 decibels more than the ambient noise levels for Ashfield’s Ridge Hill, according to the town’s recent wind study.
“I think it’s clear that the state will now be turning to western Mass. And using this report as a back-door route to introducing the concept of allowing greater noise in rural areas,” said Wells.
When asked how the new report might affect the bylaw process, Ashfield Planning Board Chairman Michael Fitzgerald said: “The Ashfield Planning Board has no official position on this or any specific study. We will read it and it might or might not affect the opinion or add to the knowledge of individual members.”
“I saw no new information in the news report,” he added, “but the study itself is much longer than the article and I have not read it yet.”
When the Berkshire East Ski Resort proposed a wind turbine to power the ski resort in 2009, Charlemont’s Planning Board went through a lengthy permit and public hearing process, in which many of the health concerns were brought up.
When asked what impact the new study may have on the planning board process, Charlemont Planning Chairwoman Gisela Walker said she didn’t think the new report would have any.
“I think, there are already strong opinions. No matter what the government says, if (the report) doesn’t condemn the wind mills for negative health impacts, the opponents are just going to say, ‘they’re in the pockets of the wind companies’ – or the other way around, if the study was negative.”
“What are planning board people supposed to say?” Walker asked. “We can’t say: We believe this (report) or that one. We looked into this a lot with the Berkshire East project.”
“Who do we rely on, other than the strong opinions of the pro- and anti-wind turbine people? We could believe one (study) or the other, but we don’t have the capacity to analyze them and come to an independent conclusion,” she said. “You do the best you can. You read both sides. You see who comes to the meetings, and you listen to both sides. You consider the project at hand, and you hope the democratic process works.”
According to the Wind Turbine Health Impact Study, prepared by panel of experts for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health, there is no evidence for health effects from turbine exposure that could be characterized as “Wind Turbine Syndrome;” there is no apparent link between noise from wind turbines and mental health problems; none of the “limited” evidence suggests a link between turbine noise and pain and stiffness, tinnitus, hearing impairments, cardiovascular diseases and headaches.
The report says there is “limited evidence” that the turbine noise may be linked to sleep disorder. Three public hearings on this report are planned for Boston, Bourne and Lee respectively on Feb. 14, 16 and 28.
The full report can be found online, at: http://www.mass.gov/dep/e nergy/wind/impactstudy.htm
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