Of hundreds of credible studies around the world on wind energy, none conclude there is no association between the towering turbines and adverse health effects.
That’s what Grey-Bruce medical officer of health Dr. Hazel Lynn and her researcher, Dr. Ian Arra, will present to the public health board Friday.
The report follows plaintive calls last fall from local residents who live near wind turbines for the health unit to investigate potential ill health effects.
Lynn has been asked repeatedly over the years by municipalities and residents to conduct a study on how turbines might be affecting people’s health, which they say include migraines, insomnia, heart palpitations and other symptoms. She has rejected the requests because of the time and cost involved and because the health unit is not a research institute.
But last September, after an emotional delegation appeared before the health board, Lynn agreed to do a comprehensive search of the most current and credible studies available.
“(The conclusions are) not new, but it’s further confirmation that these are not NIMBYs, these are people affected by these things,” Lynn said Tuesday in an interview. “All of the studies rejected the null hypothesis that there was no association. Every one of them found that there was an association.”
Arra is a medical doctor interested in public health who also has a master’s degree in clinical epidemiology. He offered to help Lynn with the study and did most of the literature search, “which is hugely time consuming and he did an awesome job,” she said.
Proving causality from environmental exposures has always been tricky, Lynn said, and the research is only now beginning to catch up to the wind turbine industry.
“It’s difficult to get all of these things with good evidence,” she said. “Smoking took us 50 years to prove it was causing heart disease, lung disease and all that kind of stuff. And we knew it did long before that.”
Lynn and Arra’s report considered various types of studies from around the world related to noise exposure from the turbines and from infrasound exposure. They ranged from cohort and randomized studies, cases studies and series and even anecdotes and opinions. They came from medical, environmental and acoustic publications, all peer reviewed.
The objective was to search the literature investigating the presence and absence of association of wind-turbine induced noise in human distress. The hypothesis was that there would be no association between wind turbine noise and human distress.
Lynn said that in looking at what’s been done so far, more studies need to be done. Three of the studies showed a very distinct dose response, meaning a link between the degree of exposure to a turbine and ill health effects.
“Anything that shows a dose response and has this much association really strongly warrants further research. More studies, multiple different designs, looking at different areas,” Lynn said.
She said turbines are not going away, but that their effects can be mitigated.
“We’re going to have them and we’re going to have lots of them. There’s no reason why we can’t live with them, it’s just that they have to be farther away, the huge ones particularly.”
New engineering technology could also help, she said, by making the turbines quieter.
Friday’s meeting takes place at 10 a.m. in a classroom on the health unit’s main floor. Lynn expects wind turbine opposition groups to be in attendance, although they have not asked to make a presentation to the board.
She’s unsure where the report will go from here, although Arra wants to try to get it published, she said. Lynn said she may forward it onto Health Canada, which is about to conduct a study on wind turbines.
“Politically, hopefully the new premier is listening that rural people aren’t happy being distressed like this,” Lynn said.
There is little else the health unit can do, Lynn added.
“I feel for the people and I think rural people have been impacted unfairly (by turbines). But again, most people here die of heart disease, related to lifestyle mostly – lack of activity, too much drinking, smoking and obesity.”