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Wind power is topic of UB public health class

A group of University at Buffalo graduate students are studying the human health effects of industrial wind turbines to learn how to apply public health concepts to the issue.

The one-credit class, part of UB’s Master of Public Health programs, includes three topics from which students may choose: wind energy, electronic cigarettes and veteran’s health issues.

Students who selected the first topic will acquaint themselves with existing research on the human health impacts of wind energy, and use what they learn to develop a mock focus group questionnaire.

Kimberly Krytus, director of the University at Buffalo’s Master of Public Health initiatives, said students in the program must take the course three or four times in order to become better acquainted with contemporary public health issues and learn how to apply course concepts to those issues.

Krytus noted wind energy is especially relevant to UB students now, as a Charlottesville, Va.-based company, Apex Clean Energy, is planning to propose a wind energy project that would include 39, 591-foot-tall turbines in Somerset and another nine turbines in Yates.

“The fact it’s happening so close to our campus, and happening right now, definitely makes it a contemporary issue,” Krytus said.

Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton will serve as a topic adviser. While the Niagara County Legislature has doled out funds to help foot Somerset’s legal fees in its ongoing fight with Apex, Stapleton said the health department is not against the project – as long as it’s preceded by rigorous studies.

“Our board of health’s position has been that before a project is approved, there should be environmental health impact studies done to make sure it is safe,” Stapleton said.

Project opponents point to research suggesting background noise and light flicker from turbines hurts the health of nearby residents, while supporters argue those claims are overblown and not supported by the bulk of the research.

Krytus said there’s too little research on turbines’ human health impacts to draw any definitive conclusions. That’s part of what makes it a strong topic for the public health course.

“There’s not a lot of research that’s been done,” Krytus said. “There’s not a consensus of the scientific community.”

Students will not conduct their mock survey, as the course is too short and is not designed for research, Krytus added.

However, Niagara County may opt to conduct the survey itself, and make revisions as officials wish. Krytus said she and Stapleton have discussed the possibility of having a UB school of public health student intern with the county to administer the survey.

“As the county revises it as they need to, it becomes theirs to work with,” Krytus said.