A new study that links living close to wind turbines with disturbed sleep should push the government to keep turbines farther away from homes or shut them off at night, one of the study’s authors says.
“We know in Ontario people are getting sick,” Jeremy Aramini, an epidemiologist who lives north of Fergus, said Friday. “There is more and more scientific evidence and studies like ours that strongly suggests, if not demonstrate, that yes, something is happening. Keep them far enough away until all studies and the science is in.”
Aramini is co- author on Effects of Industrial Wind Turbine Noise on Sleep and Health, which he says is the first peer-reviewed study that links turbines and ill health. The study, done in 2010, involved 79 people in Maine filling out health surveys. It compared people living near – between 340 and 1,400 metres – turbines to people living between farther away – 3.3 kilometres and 6.6 kilometres. The study was published recently in the journal Noise and Health.
“A quarter to two thirds of people living close have disturbed sleep compared to less than 10 per cent to 40 per cent of those living farther away. It essentially doubled the number of people who have disturbed sleep,” he said.
That evidence comes too late for Amherstburg’s Bill Anderson, who headed up the former Essex County Wind Action Group in opposition to wind turbines in 2008 and 2009. He lives on Concession 7 about 1.5 km from a turbine, one of hundreds that have sprung up throughout the region. He said his wife Maureen, who sometimes takes sleeping pills, keeps their windows closed to try to cut down on the noise, which is not constant but is annoying.
“It can sound like there is a jet engine going or there are times when you’re hearing just like a thump, thump, thump,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he fought wind farms more because he thought it was a waste of taxpayers dollars, but others feared there could be health impacts.
He said he doesn’t think the province will heed the study and expects it to be an election issue, just like it was last Ontario election when Conservative Leader Tim Hudak assailed the Liberal government green energy strategy.
In an e-mailed response, Ministry of Health and long-term care spokesman David Jensen said the ministry continues to monitor and review new scientific information as it becomes available, including the recent study.
In 2010 a report by the chief medical officer of health Dr. Arlene King on potential health impacts concluded that while some people living near turbines say they experience dizziness, headaches and sleep disturbance, “the available scientific evidence did not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects,” Jensen said.
Ministry of Environment spokeswoman Kate Jordan said the province took a cautious approach in setting setbacks for turbines. “The ministry remains confident that our 40-decibel noise level criteria and 550-metre minimum setback limits for land-based wind turbines are protective of human health and environment.”
In an e-mail response from the Canadian Wind Energy Association, spokesman Chris Forrest wrote the research is not new and had been reviewed by experts in Ontario at the environmental review tribunal and didn’t stop wind projects from proceeding.
“The scientific experts we have consulted indicate that they have concerns with the approach, methodology and statistics in this paper, and that it should not be used to draw firm conclusions on the health of residents living near wind turbines,” Forrest wrote.
Aramini said the research was presented to the tribunal but it had not been peer reviewed and published at that time.
He said the study isn’t about being for or against wind turbines but examines how people living within certain distances can suffer health consequences. He said he expects there will be endless lawsuits and taxpayers will have to foot that bill.
Aramini said turbines should be placed at least two kilometres from homes until it is clearer what the best distance would be. He is against grandfathering in current turbines since it is a health issue and suggested they could be turned off at night.
“Ontario is such a big place,” he said. “It seems as if we are doing an experiment when we already have enough information to at least keep them back two kilometres.”
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