Wind Turbines and Health Issues? VIDEO: http://youtu.be/pXsvH4auCh8


Overview

Health Canada, in collaboration with Statistics Canada, launched a multi-year study in July 2012 to explore the relationship between exposure to sound levels produced from wind turbines and the extent of health effects reported by, and objectively measured in, those living near wind turbines (the “Study”).

The Electricity Markets Group at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP has been extensively involved in the development, financing and approval process (Renewable Energy Approval or “REA”) related to wind power projects throughout Ontario and Canada. The results of the Study will be significant to all interested in the wind power industry and appear to be in keeping with the Environmental Review Tribunal’s consistent past rulings that have not found evidence of a causal link between wind turbine noise (operating in accordance with the restrictions set out in the REA) and serious harm to human health. The findings of the Study are summarized below.

The Study

This Study is being described as the largest and most comprehensive study in the world conducted on the topic of wind turbine noise and human health effects. The Study examined over 1,200 households residing within 600 m of wind turbines as well as randomly selected homes between 600 m and 10 km throughout Ontario and PEI. The Study utilized self-reported questionnaires, objective sound measurements and over 4,000 hours of objective measured health tests which tested hair cortisol samples, blood tests, heart rate monitors and sleep monitors of the Study’s participants.

It should be noted that there has been some criticism of the publication of the study results as they have not yet been subjected to peer review and publication in academic journal(s). It is anticipated that peer review and publication will occur in the near future.

Key Findings

Consistency with Past Studies — The Study’s findings were consistent with those already published in the scientific and medical literature to date on this topic. Generally, the Study found that the weight of evidence suggests that when sited properly and operating in accordance with regulations, wind turbines are not related to adverse health.

Illness and chronic disease — The Study found no evidence to support a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and any of: (i) the self-reported illnesses such dizziness, migraines or tinnitus; and (ii) chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.

Stress The Study found no association between exposure to wind turbine noise and multiple measures of stress: hair cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate and self-reported stress.

Sleep The results of the Study do not support an association between wind turbine noise and negative effects on self-reported or measured sleep quality.

Note: Although some people reported some of the health conditions above (illness and chronic disease, stress and sleep issues), the existence of them did not change in relation to exposure to wind turbine noise.

The Study did find an association between increasing levels of wind turbine noise and reports from individuals of being very or extremely annoyed. However, utilizing the World Health Organization’s Quality of Life Scale, the Study found no association with any significant changes in reported quality of life, overall quality of life or satisfaction with health.

The Study measured more than 4,000 hours of wind turbine noise. These measurements supported the calculations of A-weighted wind turbine noise levels at all 1,238 participant homes captured in the Study and found noise levels to be below levels that would be expected to negatively affect health (World Health Organization — Community Noise Guidelines [1999]).

No additional benefit was observed in assessing low frequency noise because C- (high noise levels) and A-weighted (low noise levels) levels were so highly correlated (r=0.94) that they essentially provided the same information. The relationship between annoyance and wind turbine noise levels was predicted with equal strength using dBC or dBA and there was no association found between dBC levels and any of the self-reported illnesses or chronic health conditions assessed (e.g., migraines, tinnitus, high blood pressure, etc.).

Long-term measurements of infrasound from wind turbines were conducted over a 1 year period. The Study found: (i) infrasound levels were often below background infrasound levels; (ii) infrasound levels decreased with increasing distance from wind turbines downwind from a wind turbine; (iii) the levels found at the base of the turbine were around the threshold of audibility that was reported by 1% of people that had the most sensitive hearing. Data from the infrasound tests is still being examined and additional results will be released in 2015.

The study’s summarized results can be found at the link below:

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/noise-bruit/turbine-eoliennes/summary-resume-eng.php

Author

Adam Chamberlain 
AChamberlain@blg.com
416.367.6172

Expertise

Energy
Environmental
Environmental Law