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Turbine Trouble: No consensus in Falmouth: Board of health plans new survey

FALMOUTH – It’s often said that silence is golden, but in the case of health concerns revolving around Falmouth’s town-owned Wind 1 and Wind 2 turbines, silence seems to be presenting a problem.

The Falmouth Board of Health has decided to distribute another survey to residents living near the wind turbines, and the hope is to hear from residents who have so far decided to keep quiet throughout the controversy that has erupted over the turbines’ continued existence.

“The survey that is contemplated now by board of health will go to everyone that they decide is possibly impacted,” said board of health member George Heufelder. “So that would go not just to complainants – of course if would go to them – but it will go to people who are within the same range from one of the wind turbines of somebody who is complaining. So, those houses who we have heard nothing from, we would like to hear are there other complaints that they’re not telling us or are there no complaints?”

As the Wind Turbine Option Process group continues its discussions, one idea that has emerged is the town buying houses from those who claim they are affected by turbine noise. But that talk appears premature.

“No,” said Town Manager Julian M. Suso. “No decisions have been made.”

One Falmouth resident, Mark Cool, has been anything but silent when it comes to health concerns resulting from the wind turbines. Cool began experiencing pressure headaches in the spring of 2010, around the same time Wind 1 was turned on.

“As spring progressed into early summer and you started hearing the neighbors concerns and their symptoms that they were going through, surprisingly enough, many of the neighbors around Wind 1 were having similar effects,” Cool said. “Beyond just being kept up at night.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health recently completed a study that focused on characteristics of wind turbines that disturb sleep. Coincidentally, the biggest health concern plaguing neighbors of the wind turbines was sleep disturbance. This past June, selectmen decided to only run the turbines from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. in an attempt to alleviate that problem.

“The majority of people that have publicly and officially made noise complaints have been relieved to a certain degree because it’s allowing people to sleep at night,” said Cool. “But there remains a certain percentage of people, myself included, which yes I can sleep at night but when I work in my yard if the wind is out of the north then I’m suffering these pressure headaches which I’ve never had before the turbines were erected. So there’s still a problem from the standpoint of it’s affecting a low portion of the population because the nighttime curtailment has cured the majority of people.”

Besides sleep disturbance, some residents have issued complaints about headaches, vertigo and tinnitus, which is otherwise known as a ringing or buzzing in the ear.

“I know of no hard evidence indicating that there are actual, physical health symptoms that are directly related to wind turbines or the various things that are reported like infrasound or vertigo,” said Heufelder. “We’ve certainly heard a lot of complaints from people, but we’ve also heard from a number of people living closer than those experiencing those symptoms that they don’t have anything like that.”

Cool advises that more questions need to be asked and said he heard about the second survey from the last board of health meeting.

“Personally, I think it’s a waste of time. The board of health has to be more proactive in their investigation,” said Cool.

There is no word on when residents should expect to receive a survey from the board of health.