OWEN SOUND – Friday’s board of health report on wind turbines divulged nothing new for those who insist they’ve suffered ill health effects for years, but they say it bolsters their fight for a moratorium on new turbine projects as well as larger setbacks.
“I was very heartened to hear that they agree with so many of us that the setbacks are too small, that we’ve got to increase the separation distance between humans and wind turbines,” said Rachel Thompson, spokeswoman for Central Bruce Grey Wind Concerns. She was glad, she said, “that they’ve gone out and found the same sort of evidence that we have.”
Thompson was among 80 to 100 people at Friday’s monthly Grey Bruce Board of Health meeting to hear a report from medical officer of health Dr. Hazel Lynn and research assistant Dr. Ian Arra.
The public health board was asked in September by area turbine neighbours to do something to help them.
Lynn and Arra looked at the most available and credible studies on wind turbines and their effects related to noise. They focused on 18 peer reviewed studies, all of which revealed an association between wind turbines and distress among some people who live near them.
“There is no one (study) that didn’t find an effect of distress,” Arra said, which surprised him. “When I started the research, I had no conclusion at all, so yes, I was basically expecting both sides.”
Three of the studies showed dose response, which means they looked at the link between ill effects and the distance to turbines, “and they actually showed that the closer the person (to the turbine), the more distress there is,” Arra said.
But he cautioned that associating wind turbines to distress is not the same as hard evidence of cause and effect.
Lynn said the distress can be mitigated even without defining cause. “We know if you move further away from wind turbines, there is less distress.”
She and Arra said setbacks greater than the current 550 metres would help. Engineering advances should also lead to quieter turbines some day, they said.
In the meantime, they urged more studies be done, and more studies at a higher evidence-based level than what currently exists.
Lynn and Arra plan to have their study peer reviewed and hope to have it published in a medical journal.
“It’d be great to see this study published,” said Thompson. “There are people right across the province right now who would like to see copies of Dr. Lynn’s literature review. I’d really like to see Dr. Arlene King have a good go over it, and it would be fantastic to hear her response, because so many people cite her report and there’s a lot more great evidence out there now. Hope she reads it.”
Thompson was referring to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, who in 2010 released a report that said there was no evidence to suggest that wind turbines were causing the symptoms people living near them reported, such as dizziness, headaches and sleep disturbance.
Norma Schmidt, who has vacated her Underwood home because the turbines there were making her sick with migraines, dizziness and nausea, said Friday’s report is proof that King did a poor job.
“It proves that Dr. Arlene King did not do her job, and she really should step down, because wind turbine companies keep holding their hat on no ill health effects on her review,” Schmidt said.
She’d also like to see a provincial inquiry into turbines, and wants all operating turbines and planned turbine projects halted.
“People should not be guinea pigs,” Schmidt said. “People should not be suffering. People in Ontario have the right not to suffer ill health effects.”
Friday’s report didn’t go far enough for Virginia Stewart Love, who lives near Maxwell’s Plateau Wind Project. She said she suffers health effects from living 1,400 metres from a turbine and may have to leave her home.
“I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go further. I understand they don’t have the levels of research they say they need to actually do something. But the problem is that even if there’s a hint of causing harm, if it was a drug for instance, that drug would be taken off the market until more research was conclusive one way or another. They’re not doing that with this.”
Stewart Love said she wants the turbines shutdown until more studies are done.
“These turbines have been imposed on us. We didn’t choose to live next to them,” she said. “We’re sick, we’re not just distressed.”
Lynn said she was pleased by the number of people who turned up to hear the report.
“I was amazed at the number of people here. To have the whole room full was quite impressive. I can certainly feel for some of their distress, they want more action, and I get requests probably daily to write orders to stop these turbines,” she said.
Current public health legislation gives her power to deal with infectious diseases but not with environmental issues to the same degree.
“It’s easy to write an order if someone is spreading disease. It’s a little more difficult with an unproven environmental exposure. So there’s no way I would survive an appeal process if I wrote an order to stop turbines.”
The Ministry of Health has asked to see Friday’s report, and board member Arlene Wright said she’ll bring it to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s attention next week at the Ontario Good Roads Association and the Rural Ontario Municipal Association combined conference.