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Anti-turbine group rejects Health Canada study

A municipal anti-turbine coalition is railing against a Health Canada study, saying the “premature marketing” of its findings that no link exists between turbine noise and negative health effects is an insult to the people who continue to suffer and a disservice to Canadians.

The Multi-municipal Wind Turbine Working Group, which includes representatives from about a dozen municipalities in southern Ontario, has written a three-page letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to express its dismay. [Click here to download the letter.]

It has asked for an explanation on how the federal agency reached its conclusion despite the “growing number” of people who have reported health-related problems from living near turbines.

“I have met people that they are making sick. And these are real people. They’re grandmas and grandpas and they’re sons and they’re daughters and they’re leaving their homes and they’re doing it with tears in their eyes. They’re not trying to put some show on here,” Arran-Elderslie Deputy-mayor Mark Davis, chairman of the working group, said Thursday in an interview.

He said the group offered to provide Health Canada with a list of people whose health has been negatively impacted by wind turbine noise. The findings may have been more accurate if the government had accepted the offer and studied those people, he said.

“If you had a barn full of cattle and a third of them were sick, you don’t really focus near as much time on the healthy ones and you do on the sick ones. That’s where this study went astray. It didn’t focus on the sick ones,” he said.

Health Canada says its study found no evidence “to support a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and any of the self-reported or measured health endpoints examined.”

It did, however, “demonstrate a relationship between increasing levels of wind turbine noise and annoyance towards several features (including noise, vibration, shadow flicker and the aircraft warning lights on top of the turbines) associated with wind turbines.”

For the study, Health Canada identified 2,004 potential households to assess. About 1,570 were found to be “valid dwellings.” The other 434 properties had homes that had been demolished, were vacant or were unoccupied seasonal dwellings or there was no house on the property at all.

In the end, 1,238 households participated in the study by filling out a questionnaire and allowing for health measurements, such as blood pressure, heart rate and hair samples, to be taken.

The households were between 600 metres and 10 kilometres from a turbine. The current setback in Ontario is 550 m from turbine to the nearest home.

Davis said including households 10 km away from turbines skewed the study. Health Canada also should have looked further, he said, into why so many homes closer to turbines were unoccupied.

“Of 2,000 homes they were supposed to look into, they found a lot of vacant ones. Did it ever strike their mind that maybe they’re vacant because that’s where the sick people were and they had to leave?” he said.

The Multi-municipal Wind Turbine Working Group – made up of council members from municipalities such as Arran-Elderslie, Grey Highlands, West Grey, Brockton, Chatsworth, Georgian Bluffs, Northern Bruce Peninsula and Huron-Kinloss as well as appointed citizens from southern Ontario – says living close to turbines can cause multiple health problems such as ringing and pressure in the ears, pounding vibrations in the head and chest, nausea, dizziness and an inability to sleep.

“We are dismayed that the recently released Health Canada Wind Turbine Noise & Health Study has ignored the distress of real people by hiding behind meaningless ‘estimated’ noise projections and predictive modeling rather than first making professional clinical observations based on the histories of actual sufferers,” the group’s letter says.

It points out that local medical officer of health Dr. Hazel Lynn has found 18 peer-reviewed studies that “provide reasonable evidence . . . that an association exists between wind turbines and distress in humans.”

It also says the issues of low-frequency noise, cyclical sound and amplitude modulation “were simply overlooked” in the Health Canada study.

“At the same time, the study contradicts itself. It found that wind turbine noise is ‘statistically related to several self-reported health effects including blood pressure, migraines, tinnitus, dizziness, and disturbed sleep.’ And yet the key findings which have been widely publicized claim that ‘no evidence was found to support a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and any of the self-reported illnesses,’ ” the letter says.

Davis said the group “won’t quit” its work, as it wants to help the people who have been made ill by turbines.

“Do they affect everybody? No. But do they affect probably 10-15%? Yes. And does society have a right to do that to people? Absolutely not,” he said.