Despite disclaimers by the national wind energy association, a Guelph-area researcher stands by the results of a 2010 study which he co-authored – one of the first to link industrial wind turbines and poor health.
Jeff Aramini, a Fergus, Ont. epidemiologist, is the co-author of the 2010 study, Effects of Industrial Wind Turbines Noise on Sleep and Health, which found the closer people were to the turbines, the more susceptible they were to health problems such as sleeplessness, head aches and problems around mental health.
The study compared sleep and general health outcomes between 81 participants living close to industrial wind turbines, between 375 and 1,400 metres, and further away, between 3.3 and 6.6 kilometres, in two Maine communities – Mars Hill and Vinalhaven. Validated questionnaires were used to collect information on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness and general health, together with psychiatric disorders, attitude and demographics.
“The bottom line is that people that were closer experienced more of these health effects,” said Aramini, CEO of Intelligent Health Solutions and a former manager with the Public Health Agency of Canada. “We didn’t find any association with physical health … but a strong association with impaired mental health to the point where the people living closer experienced significantly higher chance of being at risk for clinical depression.”
The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) and its American counterparts, the American Wind Energy Association, jointly commissioned Intrinsik Environmental Sciences to critique the study.
The consultant identified “concerns related to study design, methodology, sample size and administration of questionnaires to participants.”
The critique noted there was no new sound data obtained for the study and the information garnered from other reports “is not scientifically defensible and should not have been used to draw conclusions about the findings of the questionnaires with distance from turbine locations.” The review states that much of the information contained in the study was previously reviewed and considered by experts at the first Environmental Review Tribunal hearing on wind energy in Ontario, Erikson v. MOE 2011, and in the Queen’s Bench of Saskatchewan case McKinnon v. Martin. Both courts, as well as the Massachusetts independent expert panel, found no justification for halting wind energy development as a result of the information presented in the paper.
“Wind farms have been in operation around the world for more than 20 years,” said Robert Hornung, CanWEA president. “Hundreds of thousands of people around the world live and work near wind turbines. Every country is seeking to continue to grow wind production. As a matter of fact, wind has been recognized as one of the safest and most environmentally friendly forms of electricity generation.”
Hornung said existing research sides with the wind industry.
“We feel we can say, with a high degree of confidence, that based on scientific evidence and experience, wind turbines are not harmful to humans,” said Hornung, noting CanWEA regularly monitors any new information on the issue.
Aramini, however, stands by his study’s findings.
“It is clear, based on our study and how consistent it is with more and more studies coming out, people are getting sick,” said Aramini. “It’s not made up.”
Aramini said the government’s persistence to move ahead with these projects when details on health impacts are unclear is baffling.
“For me, I have trouble understanding why [the government] is taking such a risk,” said Aramini. “For the most part, government is really risk adverse. I worked at Health Canada, if there was any chance that something may cause harm they usually take a cautionary approach. Here, it’s the opposite.
“We’re going to stick them in until you prove to us they are causing harm.”
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