The air is still except for the whir of giant, metal blades.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh is the sound they make as they slice through the air, creating electricity with every turn.
Some who live next to existing industrial wind turbines feel no effects. They carry out their daily routines as they did before the concrete structures were put in place, barely noticing their existence.
But for others, the story is much different. Headaches, dizziness, vertigo, loss of sleep, these are all symptoms being reported by the “non-participating receptors” of Ontario. They are the neighbours of people who choose to lease their land, at an often high profit, to these green energy giants.
Critics have credited their symptoms to fear. Sympathizers have demanded a halt to development until more is known about how these structures impact health. Many experts have weighed on the issue. All have come to the same two conclusions – either wind turbines do cause health problems, or they don’t.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Arlene King is of the opinion that wind turbines are safe when placed as close as 550 metres to people’s homes.
In May 2010, King, released a report concluding the available scientific evidence did not demonstrate “a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.”
According to a Ministry of Health spokesperson that conclusion has not changed.
Several health professionals in Ontario agree with King’s conclusion, however, several still feel more work needs to be done before any more turbines go up.
The key, according to a former dean of medicine at a top Ontario university, is in the wording.
“The point is that there are indirect effects,” said Dr. Bob McMurtry, who served as dean of the medical school at the University of Western Ontario from 1992-1999.
It is those same indirect health effects which led to warnings being placed on cigarette packages. It is indirect exposure that causes harm, claimed McMurtry.
McMurtry is a big believer that wind turbines, when placed too close to people, do make people sick. However, he wasn’t always of that opinion.
He bought property in 2007 and planned to put up wind turbines. Then McMurtry turned on the computer. Online, he found several credible articles claiming these seemingly green giants had negative implications on health.
“As I started to research, I became concerned,” said McMurtry, who is now facing the threat of a wind farm near his home in Prince Edward County.
“The requisite human health studies have not been done,” said McMurtry.
His concerns are with the low-frequency sound associated with wind turbines – sounds pitched so low they are sensed only as vibrations. Wind opponents have argued that those vibrations react with the body to create a host of ailments such as headaches, sleeplessness, ringing in the ears, dizziness and nausea.
McMurtry was one of the expert witnesses to testify at the July 2011 Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal hearing of the appeal launched by Katie Brenda Erickson against Suncor’s Kent Breeze Wind Farm. Erickson appealed the Ministry of Environment’s decision to allow Suncor to erect eight, 2.5 megawatt wind turbines in the Chatham-Kent area. She argued the turbines would cause serious harm to human health.
Also appearing as an expert witness in the hearing, was Dr. David Colby, Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health. Colby is in agreement with the findings of the tribunal which found the appellants “failed to show that Suncor’s Kent Breeze Project, as approved, would cause serious harm to human health.”
Colby, says the idea that wind turbines harm human health is “ludicrous.”
“The idea that there are direct health effects, that somehow [wind turbines] produce some type of energy that makes people sick is so ludicrous, it’s not even worth talking about,” said Colby, one of seven authors of Wind Turbines Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Panel Review, a report commissioned by the Canadian and American wind energy associations. “It’s just silly.”
The only thing wind turbines have caused in Ontario, said Colby, “is a whole lot of angry people.”
Wind turbines, like trains, planes, factories, cars and stereos, are a source of acoustical energy. They disturb the air pressure in wave forms which is what the human ear picks up as sound. This theory answers the age-old question, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?
“The answer is no, because it creates a pressure difference our ears convert to sound. Sound happens in our heads,” explained Colby.
That pressure goes down the further it is from the source. At 550 metres, the provincial minimum setback between an industrial wind turbine and a residence, “what wind turbines are capable of transferring to the human body isn’t a lot different than starlight at night,” said Colby.
Colby does however recognize that the constant “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” of a turbine, much like the drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet, can be annoying. And annoyance,” said Colby, “is a whole different phenomenon altogether.”
Colby said several studies show that annoyance from wind turbines has more to do with sight than sound, and that propaganda also plays a role. [See: http://wndfo.net/17revs]
“That’s the situation with wind turbines,” he said. “Any effects that are based on annoyance, to a large degree, are reflected by the attitudes of people dealing with them.”
Colby turned to studies from Australia and New Zealand to back up his point. [See: http://wndfo.net/nocebo]
Professor Simon Chapman’s study concludes that wind farms don’t make people sick, activists do. He concluded the majority of complaints of health impacts, 68 per cent, were far more prevalent at five of 49 Australian wind farms studied. Those five developments were also heavily targeted by anti-wind activists. His study also found that only 120 Australians had ever complained about wind-farm related health problems out of more than 30,000 people living near them. More than 80 of those complainants lived near the five targeted turbines.
The second study took two test groups and exposed each to blast of infrasound and sham infrasound. One group was subjected to anti-turbine propaganda, the others expert opinion that turbines were safe. The latter group experienced no impacts, however, the first group reported symptoms similar to those described in the messaging they were subjected to during both the actual blast and the sham blast.
“From the stand point of health, do they directly make people sick? No they don’t,” stated Colby with confidence. “But I am not saying that people who say they are sick are not sick. What I argue is the etiology of that … what I’m questioning is whether the etiology can be prescribed to exposure to wind turbine sound and the evidence indicates no.”