OTTAWA – People who live near wind turbines in Ontario report having more insomnia and vertigo, says preliminary research from the University of Waterloo.
But the researchers also warn that the story is more complex than this bald statement. And they believe a campaign to block their research might have affected the results.
The research team isn’t yet finished its work. But when it reported progress at a recent symposium in Toronto, someone took a cellphone photo of the poster with its preliminary findings.
Suddenly, anti-wind groups were posting it online as evidence that wind turbines are a health hazard.
The crucial part of the poster has this to say:
“The relationship between ln(distance) (as a continuous variable) and mean Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index was found to be statistically significant … This relationship shows that as the distance increases (move further away from a wind turbine) PSQI increases (i.e. sleep improves)…”
In simple terms, those closest to a turbine had the poorest sleep, though the research doesn’t suggest it’s a big difference.
There was a similar finding that people living near a wind turbine have more vertigo than people a few kilometres away. There was some evidence that tinnitus was also affected, and this “approached statistical significance.”
The poster says more research on sleeplessness and inner ear problems is needed.
The evidence comes from 396 people who live near various Ontario wind turbines and who filled out a survey.
At Waterloo, epidemiologist Phil Bigelow stands behind the findings so far, but is clearly uneasy that his team’s work is being publicized at this stage.
“I’m like, oh my God, people took cellphone pictures of this thing at the meeting? OK, that’s weird,” he said in an interview.
He calls the sudden attention “not good.”
“Studying outcomes as complex as sleep, vertigo, tinnitus and their relationships with environmental exposures is challenging,” he said in an email. “Getting the full picture of the impacts of wind turbine noise on these outcomes will require many studies and this is only one.”
He notes it hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, a crucial step in evaluating all science research.
And he adds that the university team sent out 4,876 surveys, most of which weren’t returned. In the emotional, neighbour-against-neighbour climate of Ontario’s turbine regions, Bigelow says some residents opposed the study.
“We were very disappointed with our response rate for the study which I know was impacted by various groups that were against the research being conducted. The overall response rate of under 10 per cent is very problematic and we recognize the opportunity for bias that would invalidate the findings reported on the poster,” he wrote.
“It’s not enough for epidemiologic studies,” he added in the interview. “The sample size is a huge issue.”
One danger is that it’s possible that people with sleeping problems responded and those who sleep well mostly didn’t.
There’s much more to come in the study, including sleep lab measurements with EEGs and EKGs. “Those actually will be more definitive,” Bigelow said.
He noted that not everyone near a turbine has reported problems.
The Waterloo poster begins by saying: “A body of evidence now exists to suggest that wind turbine noise can impair health and contribute to annoyance and sleep disturbance. However, in Ontario, little is known about how wind turbines impact people living in their vicinity.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding