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Health Canada to study health effects of wind turbines

Health Canada’s plan to study whether there are health problems associated with wind turbine noise was welcomed Tuesday by opponents of the green energy installations.

But the Chatham-Kent acting medical officer of health questioned the need for the study.

“I think the hope is they are going to be able to silence the critics who say nobody is doing anything about these obvious health effects,” said Dr. David Colby. “If they don’t find a relationship between noise and physical symptoms that won’t stop people from saying there is one.”

Colby has reviewed 17 studies about wind turbine noise and health effects and has testified internationally that he doesn’t believe there is a connection. Kingsville Deputy Mayor Tamara Stomp has called for a moratorium on wind turbine construction in Essex County. She said she doesn’t doubt the study will show some people get sick, while others don’t.

“If they come back and say there is no health effect, you’ll be calling people liars and whiners for no reason,” she said. “These are well-respected people in the community. People don’t just get sick for nothing.”

The $1.8-million study will initially look at 2,000 dwellings near eight to 12 wind turbine installations in Canada. There are 140 land-based wind farms in Canada, mostly in Ontario and Quebec.

By 2013, there will be 500 wind turbines in Chatham-Kent, according to MPP Rick Nicholls. It’s not known whether anyone in the Essex County region will be in the study group. A spokesperson for Health Canada could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Health Canada researchers will interview residents faceto-face, do physical measurements, take blood pressure readings and record noise readings from inside and outside the home. Some residents will wear a device that monitors sleep disturbance and give hair samples to detect stress hormones.

A team of 25 experts in acoustics, health assessment and medicine will conduct the study, which will be published in 2014.

“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,” Health Canada said.

Most people who complain of illness associated with wind turbine noise report headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety and high blood pressure.

Last summer, the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal ruled wind turbine opponents hadn’t proved that machines cause serious harm to human health. But it also said there were “risks and uncertainties associated with wind turbines” that warranted further research.

In September, after examining 42 international studies, Ontario’s chief medical officer said there was no evidence of adverse health effects from wind turbines.

Colby questioned whether the Health Canada study was the best use of taxpayer money.

“You can’t prove a negative hypothesis,” Colby said. “You can’t prove there are no ghosts.”

Nicholls, who represents Leamington, said the Health Canada decision signals the province should institute a moratorium on wind turbine construction.