Recently a majority of the town of Windham Select Board and the chair and members of our Planning Commission sent a letter to Iberdrola responding to that corporation’s determination that some 3,000 acres central to our town are a spot “well-suited for a wind project.” We cite a number of reasons for disagreeing with Iberdrola’s conclusion, including the fact that “over 200 Windham homes lie within 1.5 miles of at least one turbine,” and we state our unwillingness “to subject any of our town’s property owners to the unknown short- and long-term effects of exposure to turbine noise, vibration, infrasound, and shadow flicker.”
In doing so, we are identifying as a public health issue the proposed exposure of our townspeople to mammoth wind turbines. The mission of public health is to protect populations from health threats. To carry out this mission, public health authorities promote population-based research and develop evidence-based protective policies when necessary. Many public health threats and their associated policies are familiar; all were derived from population-based research, including such measures as immunization, protection of the public from second-hand smoke, childhood lead poisoning prevention, protection from contaminated food and water, and injury prevention measures such as requiring seatbelt use.
But unfortunately for us, there hasn’t been enough population-based research to reveal the scope of the threat posed by exposure to nearby industrial wind turbines. Possibly this is because such research, like that into dioxin, tobacco, lead, or high-impact sports, is often quashed for decades by those who want to protect the status quo. Nonetheless, there is a wealth of consistent anecdotes from all over the world citing health effects associated with proximity to turbines. These include sleep disturbances, headache, ringing or buzzing in the ears, ear pressure, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, visual blurring, anxiety, irritability, problems with concentration and memory, panic episodes associated with sensation of internal pulsations, and rapid heart rate.
Preserving the well-being of Windham’s population is a responsibility of Windham’s leadership, and we believe that a part of this responsibility is protecting our townspeople’s health. Were Iberdrola’s proposed turbine installation to be built, a large proportion of our town’s population would be exposed to extremely close wind turbines of a magnitude that has not been used onshore in the Northeast, in a terrain that has not been well studied. A majority of Windham’s leadership is unwilling to expose our population to health risks that, while presently unknown, are not unlikely.
In addition, populations in our region would be at risk for increased flooding. This threat is well documented, on the basis of topographical, historical, and meteorological observation and research.
From a public health perspective, the prudent course of action is to protect Windham’s population from potential harm until more is known about the extent and severity of health risks posed by close proximity to industrial wind installations. Our voters will vote on this project in November, and Iberdrola has vowed to respect this vote. Nonetheless, we ask Iberdrola and Meadowsend to respect our request that they desist from their project of placing an industrial-scale wind installation in Windham and Grafton.
Frank Seawright is chairman of the Windham Select Board. He was trained in public health during his 30-year career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.