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Industry, opponents both expect validation from Health Canada wind farm study

HALIFAX – The federal government is investing $1.8 million in a first-of-its-kind study, in Canada, to see if noise coming from wind turbines does in fact cause negative human health effects.

Health Canada officials say the study is a result of “many” complaints from Canadians exposed to low-frequency noise from large-scale wind turbines.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced the study Tuesday in Ottawa.

About 2,000 dwellings, located near eight to 12 wind-turbine installations, will be randomly selected for the study.

Health Canada says researchers will be conducting face-to-face interviews with residents, as well as taking physical measurements such as blood pressure and heart rate, and assessing noise levels both inside and outside some of the homes.

“This is really what we’ve been asking for, for a very long time,” says Alastair Saunders.

Saunders is the co-chair of Friends of Jeddore, a Nova Scotia group that opposes wind turbine development in the Jeddore Peninsula – a part of Halifax Regional Municipality.

Earlier this year, the group collected more than 500 signatures of people opposing the construction of the East Jeddore Oyster Pond Turbine, saying the sound pollution from turbines could cause sleep disorders, headaches, hearing loss and heart attacks.

“Health Canada will find that yes, there is a specific kind of noise which causes negative health impact coming from industrial wind turbines,” Saunders says.

Researchers conducting the study will be gathering information on well-being, sleep disturbance and noise annoyance and are expected to release their summary results in 2014.

And it seems Kings County, N.S. residents might have to wait until then to find out what their community’s policy is on the matter.

Councillors voted last week to remove and review their current wind turbine policy: the new policy will be shaped by the study’s findings.

“Because there was a number of concerns from the public in terms of health concerns and the high risk, that’s basically why the policy was rescinded,” Kings County warden Diana Brothers says.

An official with Scotian Windfields thinks the study will wind up playing in the industry’s favour.

COO Daniel Roscoe told Global News Wednesday afternoon he expects the findings will “validate what we’ve been saying all along.”

“There’s a substantial amount of evidence that supports what we do,” Roscoe says. ” We encourage them to do (the study) because once this is done, there shouldn’t be any more debate.”

He says there is still a lot of misinformation about wind power, despite there being about 200 turbines in the province already, insisting the noise they produce is fairly low.

The study is being conducted by a team of more than 25 experts in acoustics, health assessment and medicine, including four international advisers.

Some of the study’s subjects will be fitted with devices to monitor sleep disturbances for seven consecutive nights, and hair samples will be taken to measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol over the previous 90 days, said a Health Canada scientist involved in the research.

There are about 140 land-based wind farms in Canada, with eight to 12 turbines. Most of them are in Ontario and Quebec, where there is also resistance.

*With files from Global’s Mayya Assouad and The Canadian Press