Living near towering wind turbines can be extremely annoying but there is no connection between exposure to the wind turbine noise and health effects, says a new comprehensive Health Canada study.
Noise from wind turbines did not have any measurable effect on illness and chronic disease, stress and quality of sleep, the study found. But the louder the noise from the turbines, the more people got annoyed by different aspects – from the noise to the aircraft warning lights atop the turbines to the way they caused shadows to flicker.
But Health Canada said the study on its own cannot provide definitive answers and more research may be needed. It also pointed out that annoyance isn’t trivial – those who were annoyed were more likely to report other health issues.
The $2.1-million study – conducted by Health Canada and Statistics Canada in Ontario and Prince Edward Island – was launched in 2012 in response to anti-wind farm groups who said that the turbines were making people sick, creating stress and disrupting lives.
The study, released Thursday, involved 1,238 adults in the two provinces who lived at varying distances from wind turbines. Some lived as close as a few hundred metres, others were over 10 kilometres away. Each participant answered a questionnaire in person and some health indicators like heart rate, blood pressure, and the level of the stress hormone cortisol in hair samples were taken.
Some parties interpreted the results of the study differently.
Eric Gillespie, a Toronto lawyer who has represented numerous clients opposing wind farms, called the study a “real breakthrough. It confirms what appears to be serious adverse health effects. It’s coming from the national health regulator.”
Gillespie is representing the Municipality of Bluewater, on the Lake Huron shoreline south of Goderich. It is opposing two wind farms within its boundaries before an environmental review tribunal.
“It appears very clear our clients should be successful at the current hearings,” he said. “This appears to establish serious harm to human health.”
“It would be very difficult to argue that effects on blood pressure, migraines, ringing of the ears, dizziness, sleep and stress issues – that one or more of (these) is not a serious health impact. This study finds that those are statistically significantly related to wind turbine noise and annoyance.”
Gillespie said it could also have an impact on projects that are already up and running. It could even lead to applications to have existing projects shut down, he said.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association was also pleased with the study, but for different reasons.
In a press release, the association said the study says there was “no evidence to support a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and any of the self-reported illnesses and chronic conditions.”
“The balance of scientific evidence to date continues to show that properly sited wind turbines are not harmful to human health and that wind energy remains one of the safest and environmentally friendly forms of electricity generation,” said the association’s president Robert Hornung.
He said the study showed “a correlation, but not a causal relationship” between increasing levels of turbine noise and annoyance.
Jane Wilson, who heads the group Wind Concerns Ontario, disagreed.
She said the study showed that 16 per cent of the people surveyed said they have problems with turbine noise.
“Obviously not everybody who lives near a turbine is going to have a problem, but there are some people who do,” she said.
Wilson noted the study had surveyed residents of households near wind turbines, but some homes were empty. Some of those residences were once occupied by people who suffered so badly from turbines that they have already abandoned their homes, she said – so they didn’t show up in the survey.
Esther Wrightman, one of Ontario’s most vociferous anti-windfarm activist, recently sold her home in Adelaide Metcalfe, west of London, Ont., to move to New Brunswick.
She told BlackburnNews.com in April that she was doing it to protect the “family’s health after NextEra’s giant turbines started going up in their back yard.”
Wind farms tend to have a polarizing impact, especially in Ontario. Anti-wind farm activists say the turbines are bad for health, for the environment and even property prices.
Those on the other side say it depends on how effects are perceived.
For example, a study earlier this year by the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. said wind turbines do not have a significant effect on the sale prices of nearby homes.
A recent report by the Energy & Policy Institute looked at numbers and said Canada leads in wind turbine litigation among the English-speaking world. Cases filed between 2011 and 2014 were mostly in Ontario and almost all were decided in favour of the wind farms.
The Health Canada study isn’t unique even though it is most comprehensive to date.
A study on wind turbines and health effects in Australia in March 2013 said that “wind turbine sickness” is far more prevalent in communities where the anti-wind farm activists have been active and appears to be a psychological phenomenon caused by the suggestion that turbines make people sick.
1. The study found no link between wind turbine noise and migraines, dizziness, chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes.
2. The expert committee for the study included over two dozen government, academic and industry experts in various fields and four international advisers.
3. Children under the age of 18 were not considered for participation in the study because their sleep pattern is still developing.
4. The study was announced in July 2012 and it cost about $2.1 million.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding