American and British researchers, including a radiologist from Fort Kent, have published what they claim is the first peer-reviewed study to conclude that people living near industrial wind sites could suffer significant sleep loss and other health problems.
Called “Effects of Industrial Wind Turbine Noise on Sleep and Health,” the study purports to show from data compiled via survey that people living 410 yards to 1,500 yards from the Mars Hill and Vinalhaven wind sites were sleepier during the day and had less sleep at night than people living 2.8 miles to slightly more than four miles away from the site.
“The levels of sleep disruption and the daytime consequences of increased sleepiness, together with the impairment of mental health … strongly suggest that the noise from IWTs [industrial wind turbines] results in similar health impacts as other causes of excessive environmental noise,” the study states. “The degree of effect on sleep and health from IWT noise seems to be greater than that of other sources of environmental noise, such as, road, rail and aircraft noise.”
Industrial wind advocates and entrepreneurs have held that a vast body of scientifically generated data show that wind sites produce no significant harm on people or nature, while those opposed to turbines have said low-level vibrations from them have caused a host of health problems.
Spokesmen for Fox Islands Wind LLC of Vinalhaven did not immediately return telephone and email messages seeking comment Tuesday. John Lamontagne, a spokesman for First Wind of Massachusetts, which owns the 28-turbine Mars Hill site, referred comment on the matter to a statement from the American Wind Energy Association.
A pro-wind group, the association called the peer-reviewed study “not scientifically defensible” and said it “recycles claims on wind energy and health already found inadequate” by courts, health agencies and an expert panel.
The British publication Noise & Health, which describes itself as a bimonthly interdisciplinary international journal, published the study paper earlier this month. The conclusions were drawn from data compiled through questionnaires answered by people living near both sites in 2009 and 2010, said Dr. Michael Nissenbaum, a radiologist at Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent who designed the study and wrote the paper with Jeffery J. Aramini and Christopher D. Hanning.
The three are directors or scientific advisers for the Society for Wind Vigilance, which describes itself as an international federation of physicians, engineers and professionals that advocates for the safe siting of wind turbine facilities based on human health research.
Nissenbaum, who has testified about the harm of wind sites before state government committees and at community forums in Maine and elsewhere, called the study’s publication “a milestone of sorts.”
The study and peer review employed a controlled cross-section of residents and was reviewed by medically designed, supervised and approved methods of measuring sleep loss, he said.
The fact that the study was peer-reviewed is especially satisfying to Nissenbaum, who said he absented himself from the data collection because he was known for being critical of wind sites such as Mars Hill and “wanted to remove any allegation of bias and keep things beyond reproach.”
“There have been industry white papers and literature reviews that have concluded there were no adverse health impacts,” Nissenbaum said Tuesday. “They [wind-energy advocates] made a fetish out of peer review, so now you have a peer-reviewed paper saying that there are some impacts.”
Twenty-three people living within 1,500 yards of the Mars Hill turbines and 15 living within that distance on Vinalhaven completed the questionnaires, while 25 living farther away from the Mars Hill site and 16 living farther from the Vinalhaven site participated, according to the survey report.
About 25 percent of those living closer to the turbines reported having been diagnosed with depression or anxiety since the turbines began spinning. No outer group members reported those problems, the study states.
About 25 percent of the respondents living closer to the turbines reported having been prescribed sleeping pills, compared with less than 10 percent of those living farther away, the study states.
Earlier work by Nissenbaum unearthed chronic irritability, nausea, vertigo and lapses in concentration, plus chronic sleep disturbance, depression and a host of other long-term, life-damaging effects as occurring in residents closest to wind turbines, he has said.
The American Wind Energy Association and its Canadian counterpart cited the first Environmental Review Tribunal hearing on wind energy in Ontario, a civil court case in Saskatchewan and an expert panel on wind turbines and human health commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Massachusetts Department of Public Health as having criticized or rejected the study’s conclusions.
A joint study of the paper commissioned by the American and Canadian associations noted that the study lacked new sound data and found that its use of limited information obtained from other reports “is not scientifically defensible and should not have been used to draw conclusions about the findings of the questionnaires.”
Nissenbaum said the effect of his work “is really hard to predict.”
“The Maine DEP, to their credit, have taken this seriously,” he said. “It would have been good if Maine Department of Health had done this work, but at least it got done.”
The British publication of Nissembaum’s co-authored study comes as wind power advocates ramp up their efforts to secure new wind-to-energy tax credits from the Obama administration.
The group Environment Maine will hold a news conference Wednesday to release a new report that it says quantifies the public health and environmental benefits of wind power in Maine, including global warming and air pollution avoided.
The group’s report will estimate these benefits through 2016 if wind development continues at a pace comparable to that in recent years, members said Monday.
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