The Government of Canada has set the foundation for a wind turbine noise and health effects study, with Health Canada and Statistics Canada taking the lead.
Both politicians and wind-turbine activists have also used the opportunity to call for a moratorium on wind turbine approvals until the study is complete.
The two government agencies will conduct a research study exploring the relationship between wind turbine noise and health effects reported by, and objectively measured in, people living near wind power developments like the Municipality of Kincardine and Huron-Kinloss along Lake Huron, one of the richest areas for wind resources in North America.
“This study is in response to questions from residents living near wind farms about possible health effects of low frequency noise generated by wind turbines,” said the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health in a media release. “As always, our Government is putting the health and safety of Canadians first and this study will do just that by painting a more complete picture of the potential health impacts of wind turbine noise.”
Health Canada said it is aware of health-related complaints from individuals living in close proximity to wind turbine establishments. The study is being designed with support from external experts, specializing in areas including noise, health assessment, clinical medicine and epidemiology.
“This study will contribute to an area of ongoing global research,” Health Canada said in a letter to stakeholders. “Currently, there is insufficient evidence to conclude whether or not there is a relationship between exposure to the noise from wind turbines and adverse human health effects, although community annoyance and other concerns have been reported to Health Canada and in the scientific literature.”
The proposed research design and methodology was posted on Health Canada’s website today (July 10) for a 30-day public comment period from July 10 to Aug. 8. Feedback obtained will be reviewed by the design committee, compiled and published to the website, along with the design committee’s responses, the release said.
“Health Canada’s approach will support decision makers by strengthening the evidence base of peer-reviewed scientific research that ultimately supports decisions, advice and policies regarding wind power development proposals, installations and operations in Canada,” the stakeholder letter continued.
Health Canada said the study will be focused on an initially targeted sample size of 2,000 dwellings selected from eight to 12 wind turbine installation facilities in Canada. In addition to taking physical measurements from participants, such as blood pressure, investigators will conduct face-to-face interviews and take noise measurements inside and outside of some homes to validate sound modelling.
It will not be known if Kincardine or Huron-Kinloss will be included in the study, as Health Canada said it could impact the findings.
But Health Canada did confirm the study will focus on specific areas where the highest concentration of wind turbines are to people.
“Specific details related to the study locations, timing and survey components will be made available on the Health Canada website upon completion of the research in order to protect the integrity of the study,” the letter said. “Premature disclosure may lead to bias in the research setting.”
Health Canada has expertise in measuring noise and assessing the health impacts of noise because of its role in administering the Radiation Emitting Devices Act (REDA). As defined under REDA, noise is a form of radiation.
Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb praised the structure of the report, for its focus on the wide variety of wind turbine health impacts he has heard from constituents, ranging from sleep deprivation to heart palpitations reported by people living near turbines.
“This is the one thing people in the riding have asked for, even before I was elected,” said Lobb.
Proper setbacks will also be assessed, with noise levels to be measured inside and outside of homes, from less than 500-metres from homes to 5kms away, Lobb said, along with many other health impacts. This will include the measurement of cortizol, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland that can be used to measure specific stressors, through a sample of hair. This will reflect the amount produced by the body over a 90-day period, according to Health Canada
The federal government is also priding itself on the transparency of this process, Lobb said, stressing that both the public and wind power companies should share their comments in the public review, to ensure all pertinent information is included. He said the Health Canada website provides all the details about the research team conducting the study, their qualifications and the details of how the study will be conducted.
“Health Canada will be getting experts out into the field, rather than conducting a literature review, which was not what people wanted,” said Lobb, referring to the Province of Ontario’s recent wind turbine health report.
The result of the public comment period determining the study’s design method will also be peer-reviewed by the World Health Organization, to determine its credibility moving forward.
Lobb said although it’s a provincial issue, over the last few years his office has been bombarded with calls about turbine impacts and the need for an independent study. He has supported the call for a wind power moratorium in Ontario and again reaffirmed his stance based on the announcement.
“The province and wind companies would be well-advised to work through this study once we see what the results are,” Lobb said. “If the premier believes wind power is a long term solution for the province, he should wait the time required to see where before moving forward. There will likely be a lot of compelling information and he wouldn’t want to have to backtrack on it.”
“This will be world-leading research,” he said. “It’s not for or against wind turbines. It’s a study for the health of Canadians to find out if there are impacts from wind.”
The results of the 30-day public comment period will be announced, likely in the fall, Lobb said. The study results are expected to be published in 2014.
He did stress that the study is not binding in its impact across Canada. But he added it would be a strong document for provinces to turn to on wind power.
“The provinces would be well-advised to use this in the development of their policies when it comes to renewables,” he said. “The information on the study will be provided to all, so hopefully they can make governance decisions based on the result.”
Health Canada also confirmed Tuesday that the results of the study will be shared with all interested stakeholders and will not be used to set any specific policies
The Municipality of Kincardine currently has 120 operating turbines, five in the Bruce Power-owner Huron Wind project and 115 operated by Enbridge Ontario Wind Power with 110 in Bruce Township and another five in Kincardine Township.
A one-turbine project has been approved for Leader Resources Services Corp. southeast of Inverhuron, which is set to be constructed in 2013 and the company has plans for another 80-turbines between Kincardine and Saugeen Shores.
The 90-plus turbine Samsung-Pattern Armow Wind Power Project has received massive resistance from its host municipality and neighbouring residents as it moves towards construction next year.
In Huron-Kinloss, Suncor-Acciona operates a 36-turbine project outside of Ripley. The 125-MW International Power Bluewater Wind Project along the Lake Huron shoreline near Point Clark has also faced resistance from property owners, but has been silent to the media and community for over a year.
Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) president Jane Wilson said her group is reaffirming its call to the province for an immediate moratorium on wind power development until the study is completed.
“We’ve been talking about these concerns for years, so this is a long time coming,” said Wilson, who is a registered nurse. “We have asked the province why are they putting turbines so close to people? It just makes no sense.”
With the federal government noting in its announcement that evidence is lacking to guide wind power policies to protect people, Wilson said this “huge knowledge gap” should be reason enough for Ontario to cease turbine development immediately.
“They should stop issuing permits until the results are in,” she said. “How can Ontario, in good conscience, continue to proceed as they’ve been doing?”
Wilson said wind power activists worldwide are calling for 1-2km setbacks, more than doubled the 550-metre Ontario standard under the Green Energy Act (GEA) that is free of municipal government control. With so many wind projects across the province on a waiting list, any chance of expanding the setbacks from their current layout “would destroy any chance” of future wind projects with Ontario’s population density.
Within minutes of the release being issued, Ontario PC Energy Critic and Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli called for an immediate moratorium of further wind power development in Ontario in light of a study announced by Health Canada.
“The fact the federal government feels this study is necessary is reason enough to put a halt to any more wind turbines being built in Ontario right now,” said Fedeli.
“I’ve been to dozens of town halls across the province and have heard the painful stories of those who’ve reported these adverse health effects,” Fedeli added. “Dalton McGuinty needs to do the right thing and implement an immediate halt to further wind power development in Ontario.”
This past session, the Ontario PC’s put legislation before the House calling for a moratorium on wind turbines, which was rejected by Liberal and NDP members.
Fedeli reiterated the concerns with wind power go well beyond health concerns.
“Wind power is helping drive up the cost of Ontario electricity to second-highest in North America, killing jobs and our competitiveness,” said Fedeli, noting wind producers are paid twice what it costs to produce the power through the Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) subsidy.
“It also is generated at times we don’t need it creating surplus power we have to sell at a loss, and isn’t there when we need it, as was seen during last week’s heat wave,” said Fedeli. “Wind power, quite simply, has been a dismal failure for Ontarians.”
In a media release Tuesday afternoon, the president of Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), Robert Hornung, said he believes “the balance of scientific evidence to date clearly demonstrates that wind turbines do not have an impact on human health and that this perspective has been confirmed by numerous independent reviews of the scientific literature.”
“CanWEA supports the responsible and sustainable development of wind energy in Canada and we continue to monitor ongoing scientific research in this area,” Hornung said in an e-mail regarding the stance of the wind power developer lobby group. “Health Canada’s new study will contribute to the scientific literature and our knowledge base and we appreciate the opportunity for stakeholders to review the draft methodology and study design and we look forward to undertaking such a review and providing our feedback.”
Comments on the study can be provided to:
David S. Michaud, PhD
Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection Bureau
Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch
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