Accusations of bias, sloppy science and political influence became recurring themes during a public hearing last night on a state report on the possible health impacts of wind turbines.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection sponsored the forum at Bourne High School, where most of the 60 or so people in attendance spoke, almost all of them critically of the joint DEP/Department of Public Health report released last month, which found no evidence of harm caused by land-based wind turbines.
A seven-member panel of experts assembled by the state conducted the literature review of existing science on land-based wind turbines and their potential health impacts.
Critics of the report have denounced the literature review approach since it did not involve conducting any actual studies in Massachusetts communities that host wind turbines—specifically Falmouth, where several residents living near the town-owned turbines on Blacksmith Shop Road have reported a variety of symptoms they maintain are caused by the machines.
Alicia McDevitt, deputy commissioner of the DEP, said the literature review was a necessary first step in the overall process to establish baseline scientific information for future discussions.
“A second and essential step in this fact-finding mission was to hear from people directly about their experiences,” DEP Commissioner Kenneth L. Kimmell said.
“No one in state government’s mind is made up about this question,” he added. “We have an open mind and we have open ears.”
Yet many in the audience were skeptical of that claim and accused the expert panel of tailoring their findings to support Governor Deval L. Patrick’s agenda to expand wind energy generation in Massachusetts. The governor has set a goal of developing 2,000 megawatts of wind energy in the state by 2020.
The 164-page report released last month detailed several theoretical health risks posed by turbines in operation and the alleged sources of those risks—audible and inaudible noise, flicker, and vibrations—and found that the available evidence did not support claims of negative health impacts.
More specifically, the report acknowledged that audible turbine noise could be responsible for triggering a stress reaction in individuals who find the noise annoying, but the available science refuted the notion that inaudible sound—infrasound, defined as soundwaves with a frequency below 5 hertz—contributed to any symptomatic reaction among receptors (people).
A number of Falmouth residents countered that the symptoms they experienced—including headaches, dizziness, sleep disruption, and anxiety—were nevertheless real and should not be discounted without the benefit of a proper epidemiological study.
J. Malcolm Donald of Amberside Drive, Falmouth said the “precautionary principle”—when in doubt, err in favor of avoiding harm—should be exercised until such a study could be conducted, and proof supporting or disproving health effects firmly established.
Many speakers criticized the literature review process as “junk science” and claimed that certain members of the expert panel were biased in favor of wind power. James F. Manwell—who holds advanced degrees in mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering—was mentioned several times, unfavorably, due to his status as director of the Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Richard Elrick of Mashpee, vice president of the Waquoit-based Cape & Islands Self-Reliance Corporation, as well as the energy coordinator for the towns of Barnstable and Bourne, was in the tiny minority of speakers who praised the report.
He also stated that Falmouth residents were responsible for the majority of wind turbine complaints in Massachusetts, while turbines in Bourne, at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy; in Hull; and Portsmith, Rhode Island, have operated for considerable lengths of time with “no complaints that have not been able to be mitigated in some form or fashion.”
One more forum is scheduled this month, in Lee at the Lee Middle & High School on Tuesday, February 28, from 5 to 8 PM.
Written comments will be accepted through Monday, March 19. Comments may be submitted by e-mail to WindTurbineDocket.MassDEP@MassMail.State.Ma.Us or by mail to MassDEP Wind Turbine Docket, One Winter Street, Fourth Floor, Boston, MA 02108.
To view the wind panel report online, go to www.mass.gov/dep/energy/wind/panel.htm.
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