When the Department of Environmental Protection found the Fairhaven wind turbines had violated state noise regulations, residents opposing them were quick to call for an overnight shutdown of the machines.
Looking to Falmouth, where selectmen shut down the turbines overnight last year, members of Windwise put pressure on the Fairhaven Board of Health to take similar measures.
It did in June, calling the turbines “a nuisance which is injurious to public health.”
But that’s a step the Falmouth Board of Health has been careful not to take, refusing to take a stand on whether wind turbines are detrimental to human health without peer-reviewed studies to support it.
In February, the Falmouth board indefinitely tabled discussion about the turbines, citing a lack of scientific evidence proving or disproving health effects caused by wind turbines.
“We feel that all of our decisions need to be based on some finding in fact that is scientifically and legally defensible,” Jared Goldstone, chairman of the Falmouth Board of Health, said. “There certainly is no evidence that the turbines are causing problems or the other way around.”
Goldstone said he and the four other board members are “extremely sympathetic” to residents who are complaining of sleep disruption from the turbines. He also said he personally feels that “there is most likely some effect on sleep” but, he said, “we do not have sufficient scientific proof.”
Goldstone said his board, which is made up of scientists and public health professionals, would like to see more studies of the health effects of turbines that have been through the peer-review process. Such studies are currently under way but will not be completed for a few years, he said.
Like in Fairhaven, the Falmouth Board of Health does take complaints from residents about health effects from the turbines, but Goldstone said this self-reporting is unreliable.
“There are too many factors and what we see is people living within the same distance from the turbines respond differently,” he said.
Members of the Fairhaven Board of Health said Tuesday they consider complaints from residents to be evidence of the turbines’ health effects.
“That evidence is coming in every day,” board member Barbara Acksen said.
Chairman Peter DeTerra agreed, saying “hearing from the people is important.”
Goldstone said a potentially conclusive study of the Falmouth turbines would involve turning them on “during the dark of the moon without warning and seeing if we have a sudden increase in complaints.” But, he said, “that would be entirely unethical and we would never do that” so the board must instead wait for other studies.
As owners of the town’s two turbines, Falmouth’s Board of Selectmen has turned them off overnight. But Goldstone said that’s not an action the Board of Health has supported or opposed because of lack of scientific evidence to guide it. He said this attention to data is not uncommon for his board, which looks for scientific backing even on routine septic decisions.
“Of course, that’s easier to do because we understand soil science and septic systems by orders of magnitude more than we understand the effects of turbines,” he said.
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