Editorial

Health Canada Windpower Study: Playing Politics (Grubered up North)

The Canadian government is correct that there is a need to understand ‘the potential health impacts and community concerns that underscore public resistance’ to wind energy. But Canadians and others will not be Grubered by phony studies.

The Canadian government is trying to ‘Gruber’ [1] its residents on wind turbine noise. It will not work.

This story dates back two years ago when community resistance to industrial wind energy was impeding the expansion of projects in Canada’s rural areas, especially in Ontario. Turbine noise and the impact on human health were of primary concern for residents and for good reason. Documented cases of home abandonments to escape the ‘whoosh-thump’ of the blades were piling up (see here, here and here).

In 2012, the federal  government authorized Health Canada (HC) to investigate the validity of the complaints. “The continued success and viability of wind turbine energy in Canada, and around the world,” according to the feds, “will rely upon a thorough understanding of the potential health impacts and community concerns that underscore public resistance.” [2]

This month, Health Canada released the results of its $2.1 million (over-budget) “Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study.” The findings were, in a word, a sham.

The Study

What Health Canada Studied

Health Canada selected 1,238 households within 10 kilometers of operating wind facilities in Ontario and Prince Edward Island. All dwellings within 600 meters of a turbine were included; those outside that distance were randomly selected. One adult in each household was monitored for health effects and other health indicators that might result from exposure to wind turbine noise (WTN). The monitoring period was June-October 2013 (five months).

What Health Canada Found

Health Canada found  statistically significant increases in annoyance particularly at households less than 2 kilometers from the turbines. Reports of stress and health effects [3] were consistent with physical markers measured by HC researchers including  elevated hair cortisol levels (stress hormone), raised blood pressure and faster resting heart rates.

As turbine noise increased, so did reports of high annoyance. HC also found that community annoyance dropped off at homes further from the turbines. [4]

What Health Canada Concluded

Health Canada concluded that reported sleep disturbances, health effects and impacts on quality of life were not found to be associated with wind turbine noise.

Protocol Problems

In reading the confusing, and vague study results, which were 100% devoid of data, it’s difficult to see how HC researchers could make the leap from finding high levels of annoyance to concluding no association to turbine noise. They never explain their conclusion or offer any data to substantiate it.

Absent the data, we looked at Health Canada’s study protocols for clues and found several significant flaws. One flaw, in particular, stood out: Health Canada’s researchers relied on modeled (calculated) sound levels at homes, not actual noise measurements, when mapping annoyance complaints to wind turbine noise emissions. In other words, when study subjects reported health impacts, it appears that HC calculated the WTN levels at the home. It did not take actual measurements.

It is well documented that the ISO Standard for predicting sound propagation that Health Canada used is limited to noise sources that are close to the ground (under 30 meters) and wind speeds between 1-5  meters/second at ground level. Only when these constraints are met can the predicted noise levels be assumed to be accurate within a +/- 3 dB range.

Acousticians who work for the wind industry are well aware of the limitations of the ISO modeling. They also know that literature on turbine noise dating back nearly a decade has shown that these models can significantly underestimate wind turbine noise levels. Perhaps the acousticians working for Health Canada have implemented an advanced method of predicting wind turbine noise that’s consistently accurate across all meteorological conditions, but that’s doubtful. Such a program would be BIG news coming out of this study.

It is more likely that the modeled data produced levels under 40 dB(A) [5] on average at the time when study subjects were reporting stress, thereby allowing Health Canada to claim that WTN was not the problem.

It’s worth noting that a month before Health Canada released the results of its study, two acousticians at the University of Waterloo in Ontario published a paper showing a link between wind turbine sound and a host of adverse health conditions.  Apparently, Health Canada did not consult them.

What About Annoyance?

Health Canada, and the Canadian Federal Government can play fast and loose with how they determined WTN  levels at impacted homes, but the fact remains that a significant number of study participants residing close to turbines are experiencing high levels of annoyance. Annoyance in this context is not a lay term meaning a momentary bother. Rather, “it can mean a significant degradation in the quality of life.”

The  most Health Canada would admit in its report was this: “Although Health Canada has no way of knowing whether these conditions [health effects] may have either pre-dated, and/or are possibly exacerbated by, exposure to wind turbines, the findings support a potential link between long term high annoyance and health.”

Thank you Health Canada!

As “a partner in health for all Canadians” do you have any obligation to better understand the annoyance question raised in your study? Or is it enough to give your government and the wind industry the HC seal of approval to erect more turbines in more communities with the faith and assurance that any health effects will be independent of the spinning blades nearby.

Conclusion

The wind industry may get some mileage from this study but not for long. As more information is released, more detailed critiques will follow. The Canadian government is correct that there is a need to understand “the potential health impacts and community concerns that underscore public resistance” to wind energy, but Canadians and others will not be “Grubered” by phony studies.

—————–

[1] Definition of ‘Grubered’: “To be lied to by the Government because they know you will not do what they consider the “right thing” if they told you the truth or did not deceive you.

[2] http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/consult/_2012/wind_turbine-eoliennes/research_recherche-eng.php - section 2.4

[3] Health conditions included, but were not limited to chronic pain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, dizziness, migraines, ringing, buzzing or whistling sounds in the ear (i.e., tinnitus).

[4] Homes that were 1-2 kilometers from the turbines reported less annoyance.

[5] The World Health Organization identified an average annual outdoor nighttime sound level of 40 dBA as a recommended limit to protect public health from night noise, however, WHO averaged night time noise was based on traffic and does not include WTN that could be 24/7, at night etc.

NOV 21 2014
http://www.windaction.org/posts/41674-health-canada-windpower-study-playing-politics-grubered-up-north
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