Saturday, November 8, 2014

Health Canada Wind and Health study unhelpful

It's been a tough week for some fighting Ontario's wind whimsy: part two

On Thursday Health Canada released Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study: Summary of Results. Media headlines in reporting on the release were largely along the lines of CBC's ignorant Wind turbine noise not linked to health problems, Health Canada finds, with some exceptions, including the Toronto Star's No definitive link between wind turbines and poor health, says Health Canada study, It seems to me the discussion now will be whether it is industrial wind turbines making people unwell, or people like me arguing that's possible that harms people.

The Star's introductory paragraphs do, I think, introduce the topic well:
Living near towering wind turbines can be extremely annoying but there is no connection between exposure to the wind turbine noise and health effects, says a new comprehensive Health Canada study.

Noise from wind turbines did not have any measurable effect on illness and chronic disease, stress and quality of sleep, the study found. But the louder the noise from the turbines, the more people got annoyed by different aspects — from the noise to the aircraft warning lights atop the turbines to the way they caused shadows to flicker.

But Health Canada said the study on its own cannot provide definitive answers and more research may be needed. It also pointed out that annoyance isn’t trivial — those who were annoyed were more likely to report other health issues.
From Health Canada's release:
Annoyance is defined as a long-term response (approximately 12 months) of being "very or extremely annoyed" as determined by means of surveys. Reference to the last year or so is intended to distinguish a long term response from one's annoyance on any given day. The relationship between noise and community annoyance is stronger than any other self-reported measure, including complaints and reported sleep disturbance.
  • WTN [wind turbine noise] annoyance was found to be statistically related to several self-reported health effects including, but not limited to, blood pressure, migraines, tinnitus, dizziness, scores on the PSQI, and perceived stress.
  • WTN annoyance was found to be statistically related to measured hair cortisol, systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
There's pieces of other interesting things in the study, but nothing new and nothing particularly informative - certainly nothing that would incent me to change what I recently wrote on the issue:
Figure 4: Exposure-response relationship
 for annoyance indoors
...I ran a blog for Wind Concerns Ontario for 18 months or so, and tried to avoid making reports of negative health impacts as fear mongering.

The graphic shown here I displayed in the post, Belgium’s Supreme Council of Health: A thoughtful development on wind energy. At the end of that post I noted pro and anti industrial wind arguments frequently cite the very same studies. In my opinion, which is far more informed than most, there is little doubt there are impacts of living in proximity to industrial wind turbines which are seen in a dose-response relationship, but the impacts are far from universal. Put in simpler terms, the closer one resides to turbines the more likely one is to be impacted negatively by them, but the majority of people won’t report negative impacts.
Health Canada's study provides an opportunity for wind's Charlatans to blame me for people being unwell:
  • Community annoyance was observed to drop at distances between 1-2km in ON, compared to PEI where almost all of the participants who were highly annoyed by WTN lived within 550m of a wind turbine. Investigating the reasons for provincial differences is outside the scope of the current study...
  • Annoyance was significantly lower among the 110 participants who received personal benefit, which could include rent, payments or other indirect benefits of having wind turbines in the area e.g., community improvements....

The Star article felt that point worthy of its concluding paragraph:
A study on wind turbines and health effects in Australia in March 2013 said that “wind turbine sickness” is far more prevalent in communities where the anti-wind farm activists have been active and appears to be a psychological phenomenon caused by the suggestion that turbines make people sick.
Being primarily a data guy, and not a particularly empathic one, health impact has not been a focus of mine and I've had limited interest in expanding my knowledge of the topic. However, imagine my wind week including this in an e-mail:
...met an old friend and was told she and her husband are both dealing with tinitus and sleeplessness since the ... project around them started... They were never part of the opposition prior to start-up. [developer] has been dismissive. Now they feel like moving...
I didn't cause that - except maybe through not arguing my side firmly enough to prevent the industrial wind turbines from becoming reality.

The Health Canada piece states:
  • At the highest WTN levels (≥ 40 dBA in both provinces), the following percentages of respondents were highly annoyed by wind turbine noise: ON-16.5%; PEI-6.3%...
  • "A statistically significant increase in annoyance was found when WTN levels exceeded 35 dBA." (WTN being wind turbine noise).
This, along with a recent article on settlements in a civil law case in Michigan, reminded me of a paper by John Harrison on the home since vacated by David Libby. From Michigan:
In April 2013, five months after the 56 turbines began operating, 17 neighbors filed suit, claiming that wind farm noise, vibrations and flickering lights were adversely affecting their health. A few months later, after commissioning an independent sound study, the Mason County Planning Commission formally declared the wind farm out of compliance and demanded a mitigation plan; the developer, Consumers Energy, disputed the findings yet lost two appeals, one at the Zoning Board of Appeals and one in Circuit Court. During that series of challenges, Consumers developed a plan to modify turbine operations for 7 turbines closest to the four sites where they were found to be marginally too loud.
Marginal is indeed the word: the sound study found 4 locations where the sound level peaked at 0.3 to 1.2 decibels over the 45dBA noise limit (it takes 3dB for a difference between two sounds to be audible); when using 10-minute averages, there were no violations.
It appears to me at least 1 in 20 can have health impacts at noise levels Ontario is disinterested in. They will have no recourse but to move (which reportedly would have prevented their participation in this study).

For what blame it's worth, that's my opinion.

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