West Lincoln residents say it’s too late to study pre-turbine health levels in their community.
That was the message delivered to Professor Phil Bigelow of the University of Waterloo, who is currently leading a study looking at community health both before and after industrial wind turbines are erected. Bigelow plans to distribute surveys in town as well as conduct sleep tests and collect hair samples from people living within a five-kilometre range of the proposed wind turbines.
Bigelow said what separates his study from others done within the province is he will be using the same test group both before and after. The study will look at how noise exposure from wind turbines affect sleep quality and the overall health and wellbeing of people living near these storey-high towers.
“It’s a unique opportunity to look at the community before and after,” Bigelow told members of the Planning and Development Committee and about 50 residents, mostly wearing red, anti-turbine shirts. “This is one of the strongest study designs in epidemiology.”
Residents, however, feel it’s too late for researchers to get an accurate, pre-turbine portrait of their health and stress levels.
“You’re not starting in the right place,” resident Debbie Hughes told Bigelow, during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting. “We are already affected by the turbines. Our stress is already high.”
A dozen residents, all opposing wind turbines, shared similar messages.
“It’s too late, two years too late,” said Helen Kzan, wearing an NRWC receptor 2418 bib. “I’ve been to the doctor. They told me to move.
“My stress level has skyrocketed. My physician told me my stress will kill me before the wind turbines.”
Ald. Lou DiLeonardo was equally concerned how the study would take into account the fact the turbines have already affected people’s health even before they have arrived.
“Will your pre-study involve the last one to two years?” DiLeonardo asked. “These people have gone through a lot and that alone is a cause of stress.
“The pre-stress level has existed for at least a year and a half.”
Bigelow said the design of the survey portion of the study has not been completed and public meetings in the future would involve discussions around which types of questions will be asked. He said the surveys would be designed to pick up on stress.
“That’s the hypothesis,” he said, “if they come, we expect stress to rise in everybody.”
He said they attempted to get a snapshot of rural Ontario communities through the Canadian Community Health Survey but there weren’t enough people in the rural sample to gather statistics on stress levels five years ago, when wind turbines were not on anyone’s horizons.
The turbines proposed for West Lincoln by Niagara Region Wind Corp. are the largest to be built in North America. The units measure 180 metres in height, about the height of the Skylon Tower, and produce three megawatts of power. Some residents will have up to 12 turbines within two kilometres from their rural homes.
While the majority of that project will be in the Wellandport and St. Anns areas, Caistor Centre residents will have five, 95-metre turbines built in their community by IPC Energy.
Niagara’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Valerie Jaeger introduced Bigelow to council. She was introduced to his study while taking a class of his at the university. She said her office regularly receives calls from residents of West Lincoln regarding how the turbines will affect their health.
Information on how wind turbines affect health varies from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Arlene King, stating there “isn’t any direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects” to the Grey-Bruce Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Hazel Lynn, stating no existing study concludes that wind turbines do not affect human health. Bigelow hopes his study will conclude once and for all if the turbines do in fact impact health.
Jaeger, noting public health has a responsibility to collaborate and co-operate with research that might affect resident health, said she is hopeful residents in the area will participate in the study.
While public health does not have the expertise or the tools, the university does, said Jaeger, noting the study has not been commissioned by anyone. She believes residents need the maximum amount of information to make the best possible decision, which is why studies like the one proposed by Dr. Bigelow are important.
“I do know there are area residents who are in favour,” Jaeger told The News. “I do know that jobs are important, the economy is important and people may have different thoughts for the money they received whether it’s to send their kids to school or to make some improvement on the farm. These are also important considerations.
“I am definitely not pro or against, but I am in favour of better information.”
Bigelow said he would need a good response rate from the community to get an accurate snapshot of pre-turbine health levels. He said the study would likely be within a five-kilometre radius of wind turbines and would take up to six months to complete. Participation in the sleep study would only need to involve about 30 people to get an accurate depiction.
The same surveys and tests will be distributed after the turbines are erected, said Bigelow.
Council had no say on whether or not West Lincoln will be a part of the study. It is up to the residents, said Bigelow, whether they want to participate. He told The News he was not surprised by the skeptical response from the community.
“This is a very emotional issue,” acknowledged Bigelow. “I hope that we will find a little more support.”
Bigelow will continue to work with the local public health unit to determine if the community will be involved in the study. Base funding for the study comes from the Council of Ontario Universities, he said. That funding will cover the pilot work, while the rest of the funding, he said, has not yet been identified.
One resident said using residents as guinea pigs was bull.
“The attitude of destroy our health first … and analyze later is total, ludicrous horse pucky,” said the St. Anns woman who identified herself only as Miss Sherman.
“Do not make West Lincoln the next love canal,” she said. “Other municipalities have already been destroyed by the wind turbines. That’s where the study needs to be.”
Bigelow said by using the same test group both before and after would provide more concrete evidence to decide once and for all if the turbines do impact health.