Area-wide Concerned Residents of Huron County were granted time to make a presentation to the Huron County Board of Health at their March 3 meeting in Clinton. There had been enough chairs set up to accommodate an audience of 45, but it was soon evident that this was insufficient as many more chairs were added and yet there was standing room only by the beginning of the meeting. The Concerned Residents estimated there were over 80 people in attendance. This is significant as the public does not often attend Board meetings. The Board voted to allow the group an extended time to present, granting them 20 minutes instead of the usual 10 minutes allotted to delegations.
Jeanne Melady and Gerry Ryan gave the presentation. The Concerned Residents group cited that they were speaking on behalf of those affected by wind turbine developments in St. Columban, Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh and Grand Bend. Melady stressed that they were not speaking out as victims, but rather to protect the health of those who are affected by these developments. The goal is to share the experiences of those living here in the form of impact statements. She indicated that, “The residents who have been affected are no longer holding back from expressing the pain that they feel. They live with it daily.”
Melady informed the Board that Huron County has the third highest number of wind turbines in Ontario, following Bruce County which has the most and Chatham/Kent is second. These turbines are at a higher wattage than previous developments have been which is believed to be the issue which causes the health effects that are present. They faster spinning turbines cause a higher noise level, both in audible noise and in infrasound.
The presentation was put together to inform and to increase awareness of the health issues that residents close to these developments are living with. Melady pointed out that within the 26 impact statements provided by the Concerned Residents group to the Board of Health use the same descriptors. This indicates that the experiences are shared across many households exposed to the infrasound created by the high wattage turbines. The effects are widespread as there are six wind projects in Huron County with 270 turbines currently in operation with the total poised to reach 317 when the development at Grand Bend comes on line next month.
Melady drew attention to two of the impact statements as containing the most common complaints. Some of the descriptors which appear repeatedly in impact statements include: sleepless nights, ear aches, headaches, foggy brains and the inability to think clearly, short term memory loss and confusion, agitation, irritable, high blood pressure, nosebleeds, vibration on the chest and nausea. The sounds heard when the turbines are turning are described as whomping and whooshing sounds. In many cases it is cited that it is loud enough to not be able to get back to sleep if wakened in the night. It is reported that susceptible family members do not like to visit as they get headaches after a brief visit that go away shortly after they leave.
Melady revealed that and Environmental Review Tribunal and a Ministry of Environment tribunal were required to be held before the wind projects were allowed to be built. These tribunals were to determine if there would be harm to human health or the environment. Melady explained that the answer to this would depend upon the degree of harm. Most of the data given were based on lower wattage turbines. Another troubling fact is that the wind companies asked that studies be made only on the audible noise, not the full spectrum which includes infrasound. Melady gave examples of how it was evident in reports and statements that the wind companies were aware that infrasound did have the potential to negatively affect the health of people with sensitivities to it. It came to be apparent that these same effects are happening in every community that the wind projects are in. With this prior knowledge, Melady is concerned that in Huron County, there are fairly dense populations in the communities into which these turbines are dropped.
The Concerned Residents are asking that the Health Unit conduct a health hazard investigation. The impact statements submitted are not the only people who are affected. More are being gathered. The health impacts are severe and previous studies have not included children in the investigations even though children are in the households and are being affected. The residents who are experiencing the effects are concerned that there is no way to resolve the situation as they have no place to go to be heard. This is why they are asking the Health Unit to become involved.
The Board acknowledged that there had already been a meeting between staff and the Concerned Residents group prior to the March 3 meeting. In their comments, the Board asked for a report of that meeting be brought back to the Board and must also become available to the public for transparency. A motion was passed that the staff will submit a report of the prior meeting.
Since the meeting, the Area-wide Concerned Residents of Huron County released information on the prior meeting that was held on March 1.
The release states, “On March 1, 2016, the Huron County Health Unit (HCHU) stated it will investigate the concerns of residents regarding potential health effects of wind turbines, in keeping with their legislative duty to investigate potential population health hazards.” It goes on to state, “The HCHU made this decision as a result of correspondence from numerous residents of Huron County to the HCHU describing negative health impacts from living close to Insudustrial Wind Turbines (IWTs).”
It was explained that as the delegation for the Concerned Residents was requesting information to prepare for their presentation on March 3, and the HCHU had decided to proceed with the health investigation, that two meetings were scheduled for March 1. Dr. Clark and Carmen Krogh had been working together since they were introduced to each other by Safe Wind Energy for All Residents (SWEAR) in 2014. The first meeting on March 1 had HCHU meeting with Carmen Krogh to discuss the complaint tracking form that had been developed with Public Health Ontario in 2015.
The second meeting had representatives of the HCHU meeting with the Concerned Residents representatives. The representatives for HCHU were Dr. Janice Owen Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Erica Clark from epidemiology and Jean-Guy Albert from environmental health. Concerned Residents representatives were Jeanne Melady, Gerry Ryan, Carla and Mike Stachura. It was these representatives of Concerned Residents who submitted the information on these meetings. In this particular meeting, the HCHU outlined their plan to implement an investigation on health complaints from IWTs.
The investigation will be in two phases with the first being to gather information and the second being to analyze the results from phase one to determine next steps in the investigation.
Phase one has the HCHU developing a survey to track wind turbine complaints with the involvement of Carmen Krogh and Tanya Christidis of the University of Waterloo. A small pilot test of the survey will take place in April. The goal is to have the survey launched both electronically as well as a paper survey in May.
In order to participate in the survey, prior registration will be required with HCHU. This will involve answering an initial series of questions which will not be part of the wind turbine complaint tracking, but will provide a base of information to work from. Once registered, participants will each receive a personal code which will streamline the survey process by not requiring participants to fill in their personal information each time they access their survey. The survey would be completed each time a participant is experiencing negative impacts with each survey session requiring less than 10 minutes to complete. Residents who do not have internet will be supplied with paper surveys to have their information entered into the system later. The information will be gathered for each person for one year as negative health effects are often dependent on seasonal weather patterns.
The data will be analyzed seasonally to determine trends. For a transparent process, results will be made available to the public on a seasonal basis. Results will not include personal information, but be reported as a grouping of data.
The release stated, “This is the first county health unit investigation, in Ontario, regarding industrial wind turbines, where the affected resident’s health complaints will be tracked long term.”
Furthermore, “Dr. Owen stressed that this is not a research study. It is an investigation. It will not prove causality. The HCHU is required to do an investigation when there appears to be a community environmental health issue. Due to the number of complaints the HCHU is receiving from the community, they believe they must do an investigation. The Health Unit is not making a judgement on wind turbines with the survey. They are only investigating whether there is a potential population health hazard.”
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