Thursday, 19 January 2012

Design of Health Study for Wind Turbines

This is a cross-post from Glen Estill's Wind Blog

The opponents of wind energy claim that wind turbines make people sick. There are a few signs around that say “Health studies before wind turbines.” And of course this sounds very reasonable – it sounds “reasonableish”. This word is patterned on “truthiness”, which wikipedia defines as “a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.”
But lets suppose we were to design a health study about wind turbines? What would it have to look like, in order to have meaningful results?
There would of course be a number of scientific standards that would need to be applied. Ideally you would use blind researchers, who ask questions and gather data without knowing what they are studying. This reduces bias in the answers. You of course need a control group. If 10% of the subjects in a test wind area have tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and this is the same as outside of the wind area, then it would seem unlikely that wind turbines are the cause. All of the medical conditions – tinnitus, insomnia, headaches, nosebleeds etc. – claimed by people living near wind turbines are conditions found elsewhere in the general population. It is only if the condition is significantly more prevalent near wind turbines that it would be significant. It is important that the study’s control group be similar to the study group in age, sex, rural location, ethnicity etc., to make the control group more comparable.
The symptoms of wind turbine syndrome claimed by the opponents of wind are all self reported. This poses a problem, since it means the attitude toward wind affects the person’s viewpoint, and the survey’s outcome. A self reported problem is something like insomnia, or a headache. A doctor can’t prove or disprove either of these – he has to rely on the the patient’s statements. It would be desirable to gather some objective health data, such as blood work, urine analysis, blood pressure etc. These are well known tools in diagnosing health issues.
The most important information that the study needs to gather is information on whether or not the subject’s family receives compensation from having wind turbines nearby. The anecdotal evidence from those in the industry, who have landowners who live among turbines, is that those who earn income from wind turbines don’t get sick. The antidote for wind turbine syndrome is money – which of course calls into question the medical validity of the syndrome. The anecdotal evidence is at least as strong as the anecdotal evidence presented by the opponents of wind. After all, there are hundreds of people who lease their land to wind projects in Ontario who don’t get sick, and hundreds of thousands around the world. A study that does not account for the money issue would lack credibility to the point of irrelevancy.
A study should of course refer to the health impact studies of other sources of generation. Many studies have demonstrated the negative health impact of burning coal, for example, and we still have uncertain consequences from fracking for natural gas, and 3 out of just over 100 nuclear plants operating in the world have had meltdowns. No source of power is without health issues. It is not wind or nothing. It is wind or something else.
Wind Concerns Ontario, the umbrella group for the anti winders, has asked their members not to participate in a health study. Yet they have asked for a health study to be done before any more wind is built. This of course reveals both their fears, and their true agenda. They fear the result of a health study, because they know that the health issue is tenuous at best, exaggerated in the extreme, if not made up altogether. And their true agenda is not to have a health study, but to stop wind turbines from being built at all.

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