Falmouth Board of Health will go forward with a confidential health survey of residents living in the households surrounding the three largest wind turbines in Falmouth, but will exclude people who work in the area. The survey could be significant because if the Falmouth Board of Health determines that the wind turbines in Falmouth are negatively affecting people’s health, the board has the power to shut the turbines down or alter operations by passing a health regulation at a regular board meeting.
The Falmouth Board of Health has heard complaints about the health impacts of wind turbines for nearly two and a half years, beginning in July 2010, a few months after the first large turbine in Falmouth started turning. Since the initial complaints the board created an online survey for residents to report the impacts of the wind turbines, and in May the board held a public hearing where residents reported health complaints. The board has also made requests to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Department of Environmental Protection to help study the turbines.
The board of health is conducting its survey at the same time the Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process group is completing its report about problems with the town owned turbines. The turbine options group will report next month to the Falmouth Board of Selectmen about possible solutions to the problems with the town owned turbines.
Three members of the board of health met Thursday afternoon to narrow the scope and questions for the new confidential survey, which has been discussed since August. The board had considered including employees at Falmouth Technology Park, who work near the Notus Clean Energy Turbine owned by Daniel H. Webb. But because the majority of complaints have been about sleep disturbances related to the turbines, the survey will only include households around the Notus turbine and the two town owned turbines at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment facility.
Exactly how many households will be included in the survey is still uncertain. The goal is to have enough households that there is a large enough sample to be statistically valid, said chairman of the Falmouth Board of Health, Gail H. Harkness. That could be as many as 600 households, said board member Jared V. Goldstone. The board will use the Falmouth Geographic Information Systems maps to identify parameters of the study.
The board decided that the survey will be primarily based on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, a standard health questionnaire that scores people’s sleep quality which was created by the University of Pittsburgh in 1989. It includes four pages of questions like, “During the past month, how many hours of actual sleep did you get at night?”
The answers will be scored and compared to national averages, said board member John B. Waterbury. The board will also add questions about general stress and quality of life. Each household within the selected radius will be sent a letter with two codes, which can be used to access and fill out the form online.
Linda H. Ohkagawa of West Falmouth Highway asked if the survey would include effects experienced by children. Parents will be able to report about health effects on their children, said Dr. Goldstone but the children themselves may not fill out the survey.
The study will be made complicated by the changes to the operations of town-owned wind turbines over time. Since Wind 1 first started turning in April 2010 neighbors complained about disturbances to their sleep. But this past May, Falmouth Board of Selectmen voted to turn off the wind turbines from 7 PM to 7 AM. Now the survey will include questions about people’s sleep patterns when the turbines were running at all hours of the day and the current operational schedule. Dr. Waterbury said they have to find a way to study when the town-owned turbine was running at full-speed.
The survey will be based in part on Dr. Michael Nissenbaum’s peer-reviewed wind turbine study published in the September-October edition of “Noise & Health,” a bimonthly inter-disciplinary international journal. Dr. Nissenbaum found that people living within 1.5 kilometers, or 4,921 feet, of two different wind turbine developments in Mars Hill and Vinalhaven, Maine, had problems sleeping, were sleepier during the day, and had worse mental cognition scores than a control group of people living farther away. The Mars Hill development includes 28 1.5-megawatt General Electric wind turbines on a ridge line. The Vinalhaven site is a cluster of three turbines on a low-lying, tree-covered island. The three large wind turbines in Falmouth are all 1.65-megawatt Vestas V82 models. The closest homes are about a quarter mile from the turbines, or .4 kilometers.
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