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Falmouth official gives curious lesson in ethics

In a recent article by Ariel Wittenberg (“Fairhaven, Falmouth deal with similar wind debate,” July 10) Falmouth Board of Health official Jared Goldstone was quoted as saying, “We feel that all of our decisions need to be based on some finding in fact that is scientifically and legally defensible,” and then “There certainly is no evidence that the turbines are causing problems or the other way around.”

Here is a statement from a real scientist, an expert on the acoustic emissions of industrial wind turbines:

“The modern wind turbine radiates its peak sound power (energy) in the very low frequency range, typically between 1 and 10 Hz.”

Since Goldstone is a scientist, I don’t need to explain to him that energy in this frequency is called infrasound, or that it is inaudible. The author of this study, N.D. Kelley, goes on to say this:

“The pair of turbine-generated impulses “¦ produce a strongly resonant pressure field in the house of 14 Hz lasting about 1.8 seconds. Thus the action of the house has been to stretch the initial impulse duration over 100 times “¦ raising the possibility of audible detection inside the home but not necessarily outside.” In simple terms, turbine noise is much more intense indoors.

Kelley goes on to conclude that “annoyance was the result of a coupling of the turbine’s impulsive low frequency acoustic energy into the structures of some of the surrounding homes.” Perhaps most interesting of all is that this study was funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce and published in 1987 – 20 years before the turbines went up in Falmouth.

Goldstone went on to say that 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.”

Goldstone’s statement is utterly false and misleading. Anyone who is actually familiar with the scientific method will tell you that a test conducted on a single night would prove nothing, because it is purely anecdotal.

Goldstone’s next comment would be laughable, if it weren’t so pathetic. He claimed that his proposed experiment “would be entirely unethical and we would never do that.” How strange that Goldstone’s conscience bothers him about turning the turbines on without warning people.

Yet he apparently has no ethical qualms whatever about bombarding neighborhoods in Falmouth with intense infrasound night and day for more than three years. Just as in Fairhaven, no one in Falmouth was told that turbines cause sleep deprivation; seasickness-like symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and vertigo; or cognitive impairment severe enough to prevent someone from doing everyday things like gardening, shopping or work.

Goldstone is ethically OK with all of that, despite the fact these symptoms were completely predictable based upon long-standing acoustic and medical research. I’m not sure where Goldstone learned his ethics from, but in my book this is a direct violation of the principle of “informed consent,” which is the basis for all of modern medical ethics since it was first codified in the Nuremburg Code in 1947.

Informed consent is a very simple idea. It means that it is not right to subject a person to something harmful without telling that person what the danger is first – and even then, only if they consent to it once they know the danger.

Another important ethical idea enshrined in the Nuremburg code is that if anyone discovers that something is harmful after it has begun, you have to stop it immediately. Regardless of scientific certainty, it’s unethical to continue once danger is discovered. This is sometimes referred to as the principle of precaution – which has been the foundation of medical ethics since the ancient Greek, Hippocrates. “First, do no harm.”

Of course, there is another school of thought that says all ethical bets are off is there is a buck in it for someone. That seems to be the one that Goldstone and the Friends of Fairhaven Wind subscribe to. Goldstone concedes that “there is most likely some effect on sleep,” but “we do not have sufficient scientific proof.” Actually, though, there is vast scientific evidence that turbines keep people awake due to the impact of infrasound on the vestibular system, to say nothing of the firsthand reports of Falmouth, Scituate and Fairhaven residents.

Stopping the turbines is the right thing to do if there is even a reasonable possibility of harm. Chronic sleep deprivation is known to lead to hypertension, heart failure, stroke, obesity, fetal growth retardation, cognitive impairment, accidental injury, depression and suicide. If Goldstone and the Friends are willing to turn a blind eye to these dangers, there must be a buck in it for somebody, eh?

Curt Devlin lives in Fairhaven.