LONDON, ONT. – They live in the shadow of wind farms, and their stories of turbine-induced illness have been brushed aside by the wind industry, Ontario regulators and the province’s Liberal government.
But now, researchers have published the first ever peer-reviewed study linking wind turbines and ill health – giving opponents of wind turbines their heaviest arsenal in a fight that could shape the landscape of rural Ontario and perhaps political fortunes in the next election.
“I view it as a huge step forward. It definitely gives credibility to our case,” said Esther Wrightman, who’s led a crusade against 70 wind turbines west of Strathroy.
The study, published in the periodical Noise and Health, found that a random sample of residents living within 1.4 km of wind turbines in two Maine communities suffered more from impaired mental health and sleep deprivation than those who lived at least 3.3 km away.
That was their finding, even though most of the closer residents had welcomed the turbines because they came with a financial benefit.
The epidemiologist who created the study is a Guelph, Ont., resident who worked eight years for Health Canada.
Jeffery Aramini says he’s not eager to cross swords with public health officials – Aramini’s company does business with the provincial and federal governments, helping them, for example, to monitor certain diseases based on pharmacy records.
But while public health officials in Ontario generally do well by the provinces’s residents, when it comes to wind turbines, those officials have had a major blind spot, he said.
While the peer-review study this month is the first, there’s a growing number of people reporting illness near wind farms, Aramini said.
“The reality is that some people are getting sick,” he said. “As a public health person, I can’t wrap my head around (government’s inaction).”
Regulators and Liberal politicians have pushed for wind power by pointing to a report by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Arlene King, who two years ago dismissed health concerns in part because there were no peer-reviewed studies showing a link between turbines and illness.
“Published papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals (carry) more weight in the assessment of health risks than case studies and anecdotal reports,” she wrote.
Asked Thursday if the study would cause her to re-assess, King declined to be interviewed, directing questions to the environment ministry.
When QMI Agency asked why King would pass off a question to someone without expertise in public health, she had a health ministry spokesperson reply instead.
“This (new study) has not changed the conclusions of (King’s) report,” the spokesperson e-mailed.
King’s reply drew an angry reaction from Wrightman: “She’s passing the buck…. That is just ridiculous.”
Much quicker to respond was the lobby group for the wind industry, the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
“The balance of scientific, medical and human experience to date clearly demonstrates that sound from wind turbines does not adversely impact human health,” spokesperson Chris Forrest said.
The comment was dismissed as self-interest by the head of a consortium of community groups opposed to industrial wind farms.
“We’ve been waiting for this study for a long time – it’s just amazing,” said Jane Wilson of Wind Concerns Ontario.
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