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Huron County Health Unit will not proceed with request for IWT health study

The Huron County Health Unit will not be proceeding with a study that looks at the health effects of industrial wind turbines, unless a lower tier is prepared to foot the bill.

But the bill, according to Erica Clark, epidemiologist for the Health Unit, could be upwards of $400,000. The decision was prompted by a request from the municipality of Bluewater to undertake the study.

During a presentation to the Health Unit’s Board on May 9, Clark outlined four different types of research studies the Health Unit could undertake, including a literature review, a primary research study, surveillance and knowledge translation. A literature review would be similar to the study undertaken by the Grey Bruce Health unit and Ontario Public Health, explained Clark.

“Public Health Ontario has already done an extensive review of literature and has examined what noise levels did affect sleep resulting in health affects…The Grey Bruce review asked a narrower question. Was there an association? Yes or no?” she explained.

With all that information already available, Clark wasn’t in favour of the board choosing this option.

“If we were to try a literature review, it’s unlikely that it would add anything to the existing reports because we would be looking at the same research studies that Public Health Ontario has already. Grey Bruce has done it but on a much smaller scale, and their answers were consistent with Public Health Ontario,” she said, adding the review would require one additional staff member.

A primary research study would require collecting their own data, which is quite expensive, she said estimating it could be around $400,000.

“In order for that study to have any kind of impact and be considered good research, we would actually have to be taking noise measurement levels and doing assessments of health. We wouldn’t be able to rely on self-reported health. That’s considered a weak source of information,” she said.

“Those types of studies are really beyond what our budget would be looking at and it would also involve having to hire additional research staff,” said Clark.

She said the option of surveillance is also problematic because it works best when the information can be compared province wide.

“It’s usefulness is quite limited because one Health Unit might ask a question by telephone and find 50 per cent of people are affected by something, but we still don’t know what the province thinks. We only know about our population of 59,000. We would need to coordinate provincially,” she said.

The option wouldn’t provide strong data in a lawsuit or in a municipality’s assessment of what should be done with legislation, she said and it would also cost about $100,000 per year.

The last option seemed to be the most likely to be of some help to municipal councils. Clark explained that councils could seek to have an expert come in to transfer their knowledge on the current studies and literature to best inform council.

“I do see it as something feasible for us to bring in individuals who have a lot of expertise and knowledge in existing literature and have some skill in communicating that literature to politicians. [They can present] how that information could be used in council meetings in developing bylaws,” she said, adding the studies, several hundred of them, also refer to how noise from airports, roads and other industries affect sleep and health.

“It’s something that you can use and it’s something that’s available.”

The Health Canada Study, to be completed in 2014, is of the same scope as a primary research study. Following the presentation, Dave Jewitt (Central Huron) wondered if a study of Huron County would offer any more new information and Bernie MacLellan (Huron East) said the Health Unit has nothing to gain by undertaking the study except a large bill.

“This topic has the population polarized…So the unfortunate part is, and I truly do believe, if we come back with a study one of the groups is never going to accept the information we bring, so we are better off waiting until the federal government finishes theirs,” he said.

Huron County Warden (South Huron) George Robertson agreed.

“I’ve read a lot of literature about this and it’s getting to be the same thing over, and over, and over. So we won’t solve anything by doing something further,” he said.

The board did agree, however, to let lower tier councils know about the option for knowledge transfer. Then, it will be in the municipalities’ hands to decide.

While Dr. Nancy Cameron advised the sessions could be valuable to councils, she suggested that councils not allow for a back and forth between the public and the expert during the session. She also said if the municipality did wish to proceed with the health study, it would need to be funded by the municipality and would not come from the Ministry’s funding.

That issue of funding, MacLellan felt, would put the idea of the study to bed.

“I don’t want to just say no we’re not going to help you at all. I think we need to give them the option that we would take care of it for you, but it’s an outrageous price. I do not think they have any intention of spending those dollars…I think it would go away at that point,” said MacLellan.