Falmouth Board of Health last night drafted a letter to request that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health immediately initiate a study of the health impacts of wind turbines in Falmouth and advise the board whether an emergency shutdown of the turbines is necessary.
Neighbors of the wind turbines, who in the past have made emotional appeals to the board, did not comment but listened to the board members fine-tune the language of a letter to Massachusetts Department of Public Health associate commissioner Suzanne Condon. After the board finalized the letter, Kathryn L. Elder of Blacksmith Shop Road and Barry A. and Diane C. Funfar of Ridgeview Drive, West Falmouth, thanked board members for their work.
Board members explained in their letter that the request was in response to two years of health complaints from neighbors and a public hearing last month where 47 people said they have experienced negative health effects from the wind turbines. “This appeal is compelled by two years of consistent and persistent complaints of health impacts during turbine operation,” wrote board member George Heufelder in a draft of the letter. He also noted that requesting a study on the health impacts of wind turbines is unusual. “We realize that this is an atypical health assessment study. The suspected agent of harm is not a foodborne, waterborne, or air- borne contaminant,” he wrote.
The state recently completed a Wind Turbine Health Impact Study, which suggests wind turbine operation can cause “health impacts potentially as harmful as those caused by organic agents,” he wrote. Along with the letter, the board of health will send copies of the testimony given at the public hearing, and a map showing where the affected residents live in relation to the turbines. The turbines in question are the two town-owned 1.65-megawatt turbines at the wastewater treatment plant on Blacksmith Shop Road and the privately owned Notus Clean Energy turbine owned by Daniel H. Webb in Falmouth Technology Park. Mr. Webb attended the meeting last night, but also did not participate in the discussion.
Chairman Gail A. Harkness compiled the written testimony of affected neighbors into a spreadsheet and gave an updated tally of complaints. Of the 47 people who gave testimony about the health effects from wind turbines, 40 said they have trouble sleeping, 25 reported an increase in stress, 21 reported mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, 15 reported hearing problems, 12 reported cognitive difficulties, 11 said they have headaches, and 10 people reported increased blood pressure or atypical heart rhythms.
A smaller percentage of residents reported other problems. Six people said they have problems with spatial relationships, such as judging distances, three described eye problems, two said they have had difficulties with interpersonal relationships, and two people reported thoughts of or attempted suicide.
Dr. Harkness said one who gave testimony was a physician who verified that a person who lived near the wind turbines attempted suicide and spent five days in intensive care. In the discussion, Dr. Harkness said, “the symptoms seem to be increasing in intensity, for instance, suicide is on the table now, where it never was before.” “Due to the increasing intensity of the reported health impacts, the board is considering emergency actions,” Dr. Harkness added to the letter. “To determine the appropriateness of such actions, the board requests immediate guidance on interim measures to protect the health of affected individuals while the complete health assessment is being conducted.”
Much of the more than two hours of discussion was taken up with fine-tuning the language and tone of the letter. Board members asked for guidance from the state department of public health in responding to the complaints. “We look to your Department, as that which holds the highest duty to protect the health of the citizens of the Commonwealth, to assist us in this matter,” Mr. Heufelder wrote.
Board member Stephen D. Rafferty said that the testimony will compel the state to respond. “We are certain that once you have read the attached testimony that we received, you will appreciate the urgency and need for such a meeting,” Mr. Rafferty wrote.
At one point, Dr. Harkness suggested adding language about the political implications of wind turbines in Falmouth, because Governor Deval L. Pat- rick has promoted wind energy as part of a statewide energy policy. But Mr. Rafferty and the other board members advised against that. “We have some pretty powerful testimony here,” Mr. Raf- ferty said. “The minute you introduce politics into it, you will dilute it,” he said. The letter will also be sent to the Massachusetts Senate President Therese M. Murray (D-Plymouth), State Representative Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket), State Representative David T. Vieira (R-Falmouth), and Falmouth Board of Selectmen. Mr. Madden represents part of Falmouth.
Almost all of the people who gave testimony to the Falmouth Board of Health have said they would participate in a Massachusetts Department of Public Health study on the health impacts of wind turbines. Mr. Rafferty and Dr. Harkness pointed out that the Massachusetts De- partment of Public Health has the ability to keep such studies confidential, but the Falmouth Board of Health does not. At least four people said they would not submit testimony to the board of health because it would not be confidential, Dr. Harkness said.
Board of health members suggested that the meeting with state officials take place as soon as possible. The meeting will be arranged by Falmouth Health Agent David W. Carignan.