MOH targets ill effects of turbines

wind energy: Hazel Lynn of Grey and Bruce counties lays the groundwork for a study of the link between wind turbines and ill health

Last Updated: December 12, 2010 6:20pm

In recent years, the burgeoning wind energy industry has been able to count as an ally public health officials in Ontario — but that may soon change.

Dr. Hazel Lynn, the chief medical officer of health in Grey and Bruce counties, is laying the groundwork for what would be the first Ontario-based study to examine the link between wind turbines and ill health.

Lynn was asked by her health board to come up with a way and will present options for a study when the board next meets in January.

She comes to the task with a mindset startlingly different from the public health hierarchy in Ontario — she believes the absence of proof is the start of the debate and not the end.

Turbines emit low-pitched sounds, some so low they’re sensed only as vibration. Some turbine opponents argue those vibrations disrupt the body’s normal rhythms and cause a long list of ailments. An American doctor, Nina Pierpont, reported complaints of headaches, ringing in the ears, dizziness, nausea, rapid heart rate, irritability and problems with concentration and memory.

“It’s really difficult to show causality from environmental exposure,” Lynn said, citing the decades it took to prove cigarettes caused cancer.

A family doctor, whose work took her from British Columbia to Nigeria before becoming a medical officer of health a decade ago, Lynn has seen how people suffer after wind turbines go up, especially in and around the village of Ripley in Bruce County, where she estimates 15% of the population reports ill effects from turbines such as difficulty sleeping and headaches.

“I know there are communities affected,” she said.

But a look at community effects was cut out off the final draft of a report written this year by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Arlene King.

King found no evidence turbines caused illness and no reason to believe such a link was possible.

At the time of that report, Lynn said she suspected King had removed a section on community impact because it would have looked bad politically for her to criticize other Ontario ministries.

It’s not just King whose findings are frequently cited by the wind industry.

The top public health official in Chatham-Kent, Dr. David Colby, one of a dozen or so professionals asked by that industry to review prior medical studies on wind turbines — Colby and his team decided the so-called health link was more science fiction than science.

But Lynn respectfully disagrees, arguing Colby’s review is dated and examined the wrong thing — audible sound measured in decibels, rather than sub-audible frequencies that can be felt rather than heard.

She’s also certain about this: The distress caused by turbines has been made worse by a couple of things that could have easily be done differently:

Queen’s Park used Ontario’s Green Energy Act to take away decision-making power from towns and cities.

Lease deals with wind energy companies only benefit a select few landowners, rather than entire communities.

In Italy, a small community agreed to wind turbines and solar power too with revenue going to the entire community.

“That could have happened in Ontario,” Lynn said.

She also object to the minimum setbacks for wind turbines in Ontario — 550 metres — and says Germany and France are now considering buffers more than twice that distance.

“If you don’t mind 10 to 15% of people being distressed, put the turbines within 550 metres,” she said.