Wind turbine opponents are questioning the results of a federal study on wind turbine noise and health impacts that concludes there is no evidence of a link between exposure to turbines and a wide range of adverse health effects.
The two-year, $2-million Health Canada study, released on Nov. 6, concludes there is no evidence to link wind turbine noise to self-reported illnesses such as dizziness, tinnitus and migraines, or chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. Likewise, no association was found between exposure to turbine noise and measures of stress such as blood pressure and heart rate.
Health Canada states the results also show no indication of a connection between turbine noise and self-reported or measured sleep quality.
“While some people reported some of the health conditions above, their existence was not found to change in relation to exposure to wind turbine noise,” states a summary of the study posted on the Health Canada website.
The study did find an association between increasing levels of wind turbine noise and “individuals reporting to be very or extremely annoyed.” The study also found wind turbine annoyance to be “statistically related” to some health effects, including “perceived stress.”
However, no association was found with any significant changes in overall quality of life and satisfaction with health, as assessed using the World Health Organization’s “Quality of Life Scale.”
Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) president Jane Wilson said her organization is not surprised by the study results.
“They always said from the beginning that it was just going to be a view of what was going on in Canada and they had hoped to, and I think they say that, add to the global pool of information on wind turbine noise. So they did that, and they did find some health effects,” Wilson said in a telephone interview on Nov. 7.
“The disappointment for us is they haven’t said explicitly … that they’re going to continue to monitor the situation and they have not said that they are going to be doing more research.
“We would have thought, given the level of concern in Ontario in particular, and the fact they did find over 16 per cent of people with problems, that they would have pledged to kind of keep going on this.”
Wilson said the study results conflict with the information her organization is receiving.
“We’re hearing weekly, if not daily, of people having to leave their homes and people having health problems … You look at this paper and those two things don’t necessarily coalesce as two realities.”
Wilson said wind power is costing Ontarians in other ways, some of which can lead to health impacts. She said it’s costing billions of dollars to produce “surplus” power utilizing wind turbines and that’s impacting people’s wallets.
“As electricity bills are going higher and higher, people are feeling poorer and there are actually some people we know who are saying ‘I have to make a choice between paying the heating bill and buying the amount of food that I’d like to.’ So we’re looking at that as a very serious economic impact of wind power in particular,” said Wilson, adding the link between poverty and health is obvious.
“Clearly if you are not able to pay for certain things, then that’s going to affect your health.”
She said WCO has already convened an expert panel to review “this study and whatever else we get from Health Canada,” and will be delivering comments back to the government agency within a few weeks.
David Hurlburt, vice-president of Oppose Belwood Wind Farm, says members of his group “weren’t too surprised” by the study findings.
“You know the political implications of all this is quite significant,” said Hurlburt. “We can’t understand how they arrive at these conclusions from the findings they got.
“We’re disappointed with their conclusions obviously, but we are encouraged by the findings around this whole thing of annoyance,” said Hurlburt, noting 16.5% of survey subjects in the Ontario portion of the study reported they were “highly annoyed” by wind turbines.
“To the common person I guess that doesn’t sound significant, but the high level of annoyance is actually recognized by the World Health Organization as an adverse health effect,” Hurlburt continued.
“The bottom line to all of this, especially in Ontario … They’re just putting these turbines too close to homes, it’s as simple as that, and that’s borne out in the study,” he said, explaining the study indicates the further the turbines are from homes, “the less the annoyance and less the implications.”
Hurlburt said linking annoyance, health effects and proximity to turbines in the study is advantageous to his group’s aims.
“Our message from our group and other groups in Ontario has got to be that if you’re going to build these turbines, place them further away from people’s homes. Our recommendation is two kilometres, but this report really supports at least one kilometre and currently Ontario’s got 550 metres as their setback, which is not enough.”
The Canadian Wind Energy Association welcomed the new research.
“Based on the summary, the Health Canada study is an important new addition to scientific research on wind turbines and human health. We look forward to reviewing the results of the Health Canada study in more detail and will continue to monitor the scientific literature in this area,” CanWEA president Robert Hornung said in a press release.
“The balance of scientific evidence to date continues to show that properly-sited wind turbines are not harmful to human health and that wind energy remains one of the safest and environmentally friendly forms of electricity generation.”
Health Canada, in partnership with Statistics Canada, conducted the study involving communities in southern Ontario and Prince Edward Island.
A total of 1,238 households participated, out of a possible 1,570.
The study had three parts:
– an in-person questionnaire given to randomly-selected participants living at various distances from the wind turbines;
– a collection of physical health measures that assessed stress levels using hair cortisol, blood pressure and resting heart rate, as well as measures of sleep quality; and
– more than 4,000 hours of wind turbine noise measurements conducted by Health Canada to support calculations of wind turbine noise levels at all homes in the study.