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Health Canada turbine study welcomed by opponents

WELLINGTON CTY. – Wind turbine opponents throughout the county welcomed the news the federal government will study the health effects of wind turbines.

They have been calling on the federal and/or provincial government to conduct a study on possible human health impacts for years.

Health Canada announced on July 10 that, in collaboration with Statistics Canada, it will conduct a research study to explore the relationship between wind turbine noise and health effects reported by, and objectively measured in, people living near wind power developments.

“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 health minister Leona Aglukkaq.

Health Canada 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.

The proposed research design and methodology was posted on Health Canada’s web site Tuesday for a 30-day public comment period.

The study will be focused on an initial 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 homes to validate sound modelling. Study results are expected to be published in 2014.

Wellington-Halton Hills Conservative MP Michael Chong said the study was the result of concerns raised by MPs and residents living near turbine developments.

“The study is in response to questions from residents who have been living near these wind farms about the health effects,” Chong said.

He said it will be a “peer review study” requiring time to put it together.

“At this stage of the study they’re simply soliciting feedback … on how the study will be conducted,” Chong added.

He is unsure whether Ontario residents living near wind turbines will be part of the study. Chong said because of potential health impacts the study is being conducted by the federal government, which is responsible for health matters.

Janet Vallery, a spokesperson for Oppose Belwood Windfarm, said her group has been waiting for a broader health study by the federal government. Yet she is concerned about the 2014 release date because by then the provincial government could allow some 5,000 turbines to be erected. Belwood members expect turbine companies are in the process of getting approvals for about 10,000 turbines in Ontario.

“They are risking the health of people in rural Ontario,” Vallery said of the potential for turbines to be erected before all health studies, including the federal study, are made public. “Unfortunately these people are going to have to live with the consequences.”

The Belwood association recently asked county council to support its bid to have a minimum distance of turbines from residences of 2,000 meters.

“For the federal government to do the health study is the right thing. We need answers,” Vallery added.

Brad Marquardt, a supporter of the anti turbine group in Mapleton, sees the federal government decision to undertake a study as positive, but late when its findings won’t come out until 2014.

“How is it that all of a sudden now, after we’ve been fighting this for five or six years they’re starting to take notice,” he said. “They are just trying to pacify the people.”

He hopes the timing for the federal study will prevent turbines being built in the future. He does not believe the study findings will impact projects already in the planning phase.

As for decisions by the ruling provincial Liberals, Marquardt said decisions about turbines should be made by people living close to proposed projects.

“At the end of the day we’re the ones who have to live with it.”

Wind opponents have been calling on the provincial government to undertake comprehensive health studies which it has yet to do.

Some of those opponents did not wait for the province. Dr. Jeff Aramini is a public health epidemiologist and former senior scientist with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. He and his family live 2.5 km from a proposed wind farm near Belwood.

He has just taken part in a study of the alleged effects of wind turbines on health in two communities in Maine, in the United States, and the results indicate the closer wind turbines are to people’s home, the higher their chance of sleep disruption and their chances of suffering depression.

Aramini said in an earlier interview with the Advertiser,the two communities studied are “not unlike anything here.”

He said it was “a little surprising the health effect that came across the strongest was depression.”

The researchers found, “It wasn’t simply close and far … It was, the closer you get, the [more] progressively your risk rises.”

He noted, too, that only adults were considered in the study, and wondered what effects sleep disruption would have on children.

“Losing sleep is a big deal. In kids, it affects their learning,” said Aramini.

“The thing that disappoints me is Canada is a big place. Surely we can put them in a place away … For God’s sake, put them out in the middle of nowhere, away from people.”

Unfortunately, he said of the issue, “Clearly there’s a lot of politics and money involved.”

Despite the study’s claims to the contrary, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) maintains there is no “conclusive” correlation between turbines and health issues.

Ontario Conservatives are calling for a moratorium on building turbines until the federal report is complete.

Wind Concerns Ontario president Jane Wilson called for an immediate halt to approvals for large-scale wind turbine projects in Ontario, subsequent to the Health Canada announcement.

“We have been saying this for years as people in Ontario exposed to turbine noise and infrasound are being made ill. We have demanded health studies, we have demanded research to back-up the province’s assertion that its setbacks are safe, and yet, the province issued approvals for these projects with no scientific evidence to prove they were safe,” Wilson said. “Now, Health Canada’s admission that research is needed is confirming that.”

“It is unacceptable for the Ontario government to continue to approve projects when government staff refuse to acknowledge the problem, are not able to measure the noise, and cannot ensure compliance with their own regulations, which are clearly inadequate.

“It is time for this fiasco to stop,” Wilson concluded.

Health Canada, in its announcement today, admits there are “knowledge gaps” in the area of measuring turbine noise and exposure to rural citizens. They say that there is “limited research” on the health effects being reported by people exposed to turbine noise and infrasound which is not factual. There is ample evidence from Ontario and around the world. Now this evidence base needs to be strengthened and acted upon.