FAIRHAVEN – The Board of Health held a working session Monday to develop a complaint form for health issues related to wind turbines.
Board member Jeannine Lopes wanted to keep the form simple and eliminate a check list of complaints. The check list is used on a form in Falmouth and other towns the board was using as guidelines.
Ms. Lopes said it was too complicated to include check lists for things like the flicker effect or ailments like nausea. She said they should allow residents to describe the ailment, but, “Because we are looking at statistics … I don’t think that we should offer any suggestions. Let them say if it’s the noise that’s irritating” or any other turbine-related illness. “Let them explain what their issue is.”
Ms. Lopes said they also shouldn’t ask people to identify whether they experienced a problem in a specific part of a property, like the north side, basement or outside.
But new member Dr. Barbara Acksen said the detailed information is useful. She said it is not much different from the check lists patients fill out in doctors’ offices.
After receiving a health complaint form, Ms. Acksen said, “We could go out to a house and know the orientation of the house” to the turbines. “It just gives us more data.”
She added, “There are different theories out there about the noise inside a building (compared with) outside a building,” so gathering data about the location where someone experiences health issues is valuable. She said in some cases, people say the problems are “more intense inside because it’s vibrating. Whether you believe the theory or not, it just collects data.”
Chairman Peter DeTerra said when looking at data from other places, they should focus on turbines that are similar to the ones just in Fairhaven. The turbines have been installed, but were not up and running up as of Monday’s meeting.
He said they might also want to ask about pre-existing conditions are whether an existing health problem had worsened after the turbines started running. He mentioned the situation of a woman who has cancer.
Ms. Acksen said they could elicit such information without treading on privacy issues. She said they could ask if someone had sought a physicians’ care.
Ms. Lopes then reiterated the value of a simple form “so people can understand it and tell us what they’re experiencing,”
But health agent Patricia Fowle said the form has to be something her assistant can deal with easily when handling complaints by phone. She said it would be more difficult if the form is too open-ended. Ms. Fowle said it would also be awkward under Hippa laws for them to ask about preexisting conditions.
Ms. Acksen said they could include that information if a caller offers it without soliciting it.
She said they could also rate symptoms on a scale of one to five, with a question that asks, for example, if they had migraines previously, “how much worse” are they, as in frequency.
Ms. Fowle agreed with Ms. Acksen’s suggestions saying they made it “easier to compile data.”
Mr. DeTerra said some people may have complaints because they “don’t like the looks of the turbine.”
Ms. Acksen said if a complaint is “not related to any symptoms, it’s not valuable data.”
She said they should ask if the symptom goes away or lessens when someone leaves the area and that they should account for differences among people who live or work there.
Mr. DeTerra said weather could be a factor, too, as when it is raining.
Ms. Acksen also showed a map that could be useful, circling areas that are 2,000 feet or 3,000 feet from the turbines. But Ms. Fowle said the health department could use a GPS system to mark where the complaints are coming from geographically, just going by the address someone provides on the form. She said people don’t always know how far away they live from something and that the GPS would be more accurate.
Ms. Acksen said she didn’t realize the town had a GPS system that could provide such useful tracking data.
Ms. Acksen said they should keep the question about whether the symptom was occurring at school and also the age of the person involved – such as a child or senior experiencing inner ear problems. The Wood School and Council on Aging are both near the turbines on Arsene Street.
Among the symptoms proposed for a check-off list are sleep disturbance, inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, nausea, headaches and stomach ailments. People can also just off “other” and say what the symptom is.
Ms. Fowle said she would have a proposed form ready in a few days. She said they can always adjust it in the future after using it for awhile.
Ms. Lopes said Phil Washko, a selectmen candidate who formed Yes4Fairhaven in support of the new elementary school on Sconticut Neck Road and who supported the turbines, had offered to help tabulate the data. Mr. Washko has a background in information systems.
But Ms. Fowle said they could not let a public citizen have access to the Board of Health data on private citizens.