BOSTON – Three years after the first wind turbine went up at Falmouth’s wastewater treatment facility, town residents had a message Tuesday for state legislators: A thorough, scientific study of how the devices affect the human body is long overdue.
More than two dozen people brought that sentiment to Beacon Hill at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Public Health, which had a full day of testimony on scores of bills relating to environmental health hazards. Four of the bills before the committee, including one by state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, call for an investigation and study into the health effects from wind turbines.
Fairhaven resident Louise Barteau said she testified that she experienced health problems – pressure in her head, dizziness and nausea – when she rented an art studio on Arsene Street last year. Barteau said she no longer rents that property.
“What I experienced was very small in comparison to the people who live there,” she said, adding there are 701 Fairhaven homes within 3,000 feet of the turbines.
For Barry Funfar, the investigation can’t come soon enough. A Falmouth resident and neighbor of one of the town’s two turbines, Funfar said the local and state government’s inaction on what he believes are the turbines’ harmful effects is negligence. “Our government is knowingly hurting people,” he said, calling the area around the turbines “a toxic zone.”
Funfar said he is a Vietnam veteran and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home from the conflict. After struggling to regain a sense of normalcy, the turbine issue has taken much of that away from him, he said.
“I spent 10 years in therapy to get my life back, only to have it taken away by these turbines,” Funfar said.
Peake said her bill was spurred, in part, by the May 21 defeat of a Falmouth ballot measure that would have authorized spending millions of dollars to remove the town’s two turbines, dubbed Wind 1 and Wind 2. Without funding to dismantle the 1.65-megawatt devices, selectmen and other town leaders are going back to the drawing board to determine how to balance residents’ health concerns with the town’s multimillion-dollar financial investment.
“They are betwixt and between in what to do,” Peake said Tuesday.
Many people described devastating health effects caused by the turbines. Frequent complaints from those who live near wind turbines include physical effects from the noise, flickering shadows of the turbine operation and changes in air pressure. Headaches, persistent trouble sleeping and anxiety were among the physical effects reported by the residents who testified Tuesday.
Lilli-Ann Green, a Wellfleet resident who has researched turbine operations all over the world, said the Massachusetts residents claiming ill effects aren’t alone. Even in allegedly wind-friendly countries in Europe, the same effects have been noted, she said.
“There are clusters of people all over the world who are living too close to wind turbines and getting sick,” she said.
A state-commissioned report, released in early 2012, found no link between turbine operation and the health effects reported by residents. But Green and others faulted the report for only reviewing other published works and for conducting no on-site reconnaissance of homes near Massachusetts turbines.
“We need to have actual scientific work done, not another literature review,” said Virginia Irvine with Wind Wise Massachusetts, a statewide wind turbine advocacy group.
Although the legislators on the joint committee offered no indication of when, or if, the turbine bills would move out of committee, they seemed to be a receptive audience. Malcolm Donald, a turbine abutter and critic, said he hopes this latest push to get action from the commonwealth will be a success.
“I was impressed. … Sometimes you testify at these things and they look like they’re going to fall asleep,” he said. “I think they were moved by what they heard. They realized it’s a real issue and something needs to be done.”
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