IPPSO FACTO (Magazine of the Association of Power Producers of Ontario)
November 2011, Volume 25, Number 5
Turbines and health
By Dr. W. David Colby
When I became the acting medical officer of health for Chatham-Kent, little did I
know that I would be swept headlong into controversy about harnessing the wind
right here in our backyard. Three years ago, I was asked to help make sense of the
conflicting information the local council was receiving about the effects of wind
turbines on human health.
I researched the topic extensively and found no scientifically credible evidence
that wind turbines eroded human health. I was then asked to produce a more
extensive report that was issued by the Chatham-Kent Health Unit. Since then I
have been asked to speak on a number of occasions about wind turbines and health,
and I have collaborated on an international panel review on the topic with some
of the biggest names in audiology and occupational health.
It is admittedly a complicated topic that has been made more complicated by
the huge amount of misinformation that has been circulated. Wind turbines do not
produce unique sounds in terms of intensity or characteristics. The sound intensity
is virtually the same as what is found in normal urban environments. There is also
no convincing scientific evidence of an epidemiologic link between wind turbine
sound exposure and health problems. However, a very small number of
people believe otherwise; they've attributed illnesses of all kinds to wind
turbines. There is no doubt that some people find the low level swishswish
sound of wind turbines annoying. And these people claim that annoyance itself
is a health effect, since annoyance can lead to stress and too much stress is
bad. However, by such criteria, living anywhere in a town or city is a threat to
Wind power opponents continue to make claims about sickness caused by turbines,
which they call "industrial" wind turbines, as that sounds more threatening.
However, 10 reviews, including reviews by Ontario's chief medical health officer, the
Australian government, the Sierra Club and McMaster University have confirmed
that there is no evidence of direct adverse health effects from wind turbines when
sited to comply with Ontario's noise regulations. Furthermore, all the power generation
alternatives except solar energy are clearly worse than wind turbines in terms
of health and environmenral effects. That's especially true of coal-fired generating stations. According to a study prepared for the Ontario government, coal plants cause
nearly 250 deaths and more than 120,000 illnesses (such as asthma attacks) each year
in the province.
So while I am sympathetic to concerns raised by local residents and agree
that any projects must be sited in a way that minimizes impact on local residents,
when it comes to energy choices for healthy communities, I am confident that
we shouldn't be tilting at windmills.
Dr. W David Colby is acting medical
officer of health in Chatham-Kent, and associate
professor at the University of Western Ontario's
Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.