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Queen’s University professor disputes wind turbine report

One of the key experts backing opposition to a wind energy development on Amherst Island said a recent Health Canada study is more politics than science.

John Harrison, a Queen’s University professor emeritus in physics and a member of the Association to Protect Amherst Island, said the report contradicts itself and was not peer reviewed.

In a report released last week, Health Canada said there is no link between noise from wind turbines and adverse health effects.

Health Canada scientists looked at communities that host wind farms. Two dozen government, academic and industry experts contributed to the study.

Researchers examined 1,200 participants living within 2 km of wind turbines in Ontario and P.E.I.

Scientists found that while some residents living near wind turbines noted some indicators of stress – sleep disruption, headaches – there was nothing to indicate those stressors were the result of the wind turbines.

“It’s the conclusion the Ontario government wants to hear. It’s the conclusion that the wind industry wants to hear,” Harrison said Wednesday.

Harrison pointed out that the report later states that annoyance caused by the noise from wind turbines is linked to sleep problems, illness, stress and quality of life.

“I can’t help, as a scientist, to link those together and say annoyance increases with the noise, health effects increase with the annoyance, so health effects must increase with the noise.”

Harrison also criticized the report, which is a summary of conclusions reached by a larger study, for not including the scientific data the study collected.

Harrison said he originally supported Health Canada’s plan to survey the effect wind turbines have on people living nearby.

But with the release of last week’s report, something Harrison called “premature,” the lack of scientific data makes it impossible to have it reviewed by other scientists, he said.

“This is partly, in my view, partly scientific and partly political,” he said.

“This is political. This is political because the provinces want to build turbines. This is political because the provinces want the wind energy companies to build them and use their own money.”

Harrison also took exception to statements in the report that he says are either not supported or attributed to any scientific research or too general to mean anything.

“Something as fuzzy as parts of this summary would never make it through the peer review for a reputable journal,” he said.

APAI board member Denise Wolfe also did an analysis of the report. She has concerns about the quality of the data the report was based.

“I’m just really concerned the data is flawed from the get go,” said Wolfe, whose background is in conducting audits of clinical trials for new drugs.

Wolfe said the type of survey Health Canada conducted was not in depth enough to reach any conclusions about the health impact of wind turbines.

“I was a little surprised that (the report) was not as rigorous as I would have wanted.”

Of particular concern was a note that states that 434 dwellings – more than 20% – of the more than 2,000 dwellings included in the study are deemed not valid and excluded.

“If 20% of those people had headaches. Wow! That throws it out the window, doesn’t it,” she said.

“Complete lack of data for 20% of a sample population doesn’t compromise the validity of the study. It completely destroys it. It blows it up, right there. Boom!”

Those included residences that were demolished, under construction, vacant, unoccupied or occupied by residents outside the eligible age range.

Wolfe argued that for many people living near wind turbines, getting away from their homes is the only source of relief from the health effects.

Wolfe also said the study looked at the health impacts on people living up to 10 km from a turbine. But she added that only about 20% of the residents lived close to a turbine and presumably endured worse effects, and she suggested their voices may have been lost in the larger sample.