Neighbors of the three largest wind turbines in Falmouth have reported a variety of health complaints since Wind 1 started turning in March 2010, followed by the Notus Clean Energy turbine in June 2010 and Wind 2 in February 2012.
But whether turbines are hazardous to human health remains a controversial topic, not only in Falmouth but around the world. In a literature review of wind turbine health effect studies published last year, Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Protection found insufficient evidence of direct health effects from wind turbines. At the same time, the report found that there is limited evidence from epidemiologic studies that wind turbines can cause sleep disruption, and sleep disruption, in general, can adversely affect mood, cognitive functioning and overall sense of health and well-being.
The Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process, which included all stakeholders in the wind turbine debate and met 24 times last year, called health effects “the heart of the matter,” but chose not to examine the relationship between the health complaints and the turbines. Instead, the group “agreed to treat these concerns as reality for the purposes of this process, and seek solutions to address them.”
Neil P. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road said he had no serious health problems before Wind 1 started turning. “At the time, I was 57 years old but I was feeling like I was 45,” said Mr. Andersen who lives 1,320 feet south of Wind 1. “I was just full of life. Full of energy. No problems. Health was good.” Then after two months of living near the wind turbine, Mr. Andersen said, he experienced ringing in his ears and felt a pressure in his head. “I was feeling like there was water in my ears, but there wasn’t,” he said.
“I was having a difficult time sleeping,” he said. “It was invading my vestibular system,” which contributes to balance and spatial orientation. He experienced headaches and felt dizzy, which sometimes led to accidents at work.
He also began grinding his teeth, which he said he does now constantly, and has also developed an extreme sensitivity to loud noises. Mr. Andersen also lost 15 pounds, which he gained back when Wind 1 was shut down between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. Since Wind 1 and Wind 2 were turned off from 7 PM to 7 AM each day, Mr. Andersen said that has relieved some of his stress. “It allowed us to stay in our home,” he said, but he still dreads the turbines turning on at 7 AM each morning.
John J. Ford, also of Blacksmith Shop Road, lives 2,300 feet south of the Notus Clean Energy turbine, 3,400 feet from Wind 1, and 4,700 feet from Wind 2. Before the turbines were installed he was in excellent health, but since he has become depressed, fatigued and has high blood pressure, he said. He has also felt labored breathing, a pounding chest, and vertigo. He does not experience the symptoms away from the turbines, he said. Other symptoms include piercing headaches, earaches, anxiety, stress and anger, he said. “There’s definitely a health problem here,” Mr. Ford said.
Diane C. Funfar of Ridgeview Drive, on the west side of Route 28, 1,558 feet west of Wind 2 and 1,662 feet from Wind 1, described headaches and eye problems as her primary health concerns. “I had worn gas permeable contacts for 42 years,” Ms. Funfar said. “After the wind turbines had been on for a while I had both eye discharge and dry eye.” The symptoms are so bad that she can no longer wear contacts, and must use expensive eye drops, she said. When she and her husband go away on a trip, the eye problems and headaches disappear, she said.
At a hearing of the Falmouth Board of Health last year on wind turbine health impacts, 47 people reported negative health impacts caused by the wind turbines. Of those 40 people reported sleep deprivation and fatigue, 25 reported stress, 21 reported mental health problems, 15 reported hearing problems, 12 reported cognitive difficulty, 11 reported headaches, 10 had systemic problems such as high blood pressure, six reported difficulty with spatial relationships, three people had eye problems, two people reported thoughts of or attempted suicide, and two people reported difficulty with interpersonal relationships. Six people said they had symptoms but did not want to disclose them publicly.
Falmouth Board of Health member Jared V. Goldstone said even with all that testimony there was not enough scientific evidence that the turbines are causing health problems to legally shut them down.
“Whenever we make any sort of decision we have to have some findings,” Dr. Goldstone said. “There has to be some basis for your decision. We quite reasonably anticipate that if we were to say that we have findings that say wind turbines have health effects, that would be challenged in court by the town or the state.”
The members of the Falmouth Board of Health are scientists, engineers and health professionals, but cannot make their decision based on self-reported symptoms, Dr. Goldstone said. “There’s just not enough scientific evidence.”
To gather more evidence, the board of health planned to launch a study of the health impacts of the wind turbines. But after the Massachusetts Department of Public Health declined to participate in the survey, the board decided in March to table that survey until the turbines were operating at night or there is new scientific evidence that wind turbines cause health effects.
Turbine neighbors said there are studies that back up their claims. One is Dr. Michael Nissenbaum’s wind turbine study published in the September-October 2012 edition of “Noise & Health,” a bimonthly inter-disciplinary international journal. Dr. Nissenbaum found that 38 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 41 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 that stand 262-feet-high at the hub. The closest homes are about a quarter mile from the turbines, or .4 kilometer.
Dr. Goldstone said the problem with the Nissenbaum survey is the very small sample size and the fact that it is self-reported data, which can be unreliable. Sleep deprivation is common for many reasons, he said. “Sleep is a tricky, tricky thing and many, many things affect it,” he said.
A group of five physicians from Falmouth have publicly stated that they do not believe the wind turbines are causing health impacts in neighbors. “There’s no evidence anywhere that wind turbines can cause this panoply of symptoms,” said Dr. Thomas Sbarra of Elm Road, Falmouth. “You have to have a rational connection between the symptoms and the alleged cause.” Dr. John M. Tudor of Coonamessett Circle, Hatchville, said, “They are blaming it on health and it is not health.” Dr. Tudor said he believes the neighbors’ health complaints are a result of psychogenic nocebo effects. “This is very common in groups,” Dr. Tudor said. “It is an emotional response; it is not a medical problem.”
A study of 2,000 residents living near wind turbines currently underway by Health Canada has the potential to shed new light on turbine health effects, Dr. Goldstone said, but the results are not expected until 2014. Canadian residents who live near turbines have reported nausea, vertigo, heart palpitations, stress, blood pressure spikes, sleep disturbance and annoyance resulting from the noise that wind turbines produce, said Sara Lauer of Health Canada. But the data from that survey will likely not be conclusive, she said. “It is important to note that this research is being conducted to provide additional insight into an emerging issue; however, the results will not provide a definitive answer on their own.”