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wind-no-fullBy Tracey Richardson

Grey Bruce Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hazel Lynn has always believed people who complained that living near wind turbines made them sick.HazelLynn-regular

And she had her suspicions that it was sound--particularly the inaudible low frequency sound vibrations emitted by the turbines—that was responsible for the myriad of complaints that ranged from sleeplessness and dizziness to heart palpitations, migraines and nausea.

Now Lynn has proof that she was right, and that people made sick by living near the turbines "are not crazy and they're not NIMBYs, and they are actually sick," she said.

A study by the United Kingdom's Keele University sheds new light on low frequency sound vibrations from wind turbines, linking them to motion sickness in susceptible people.

The study found that even at low wind speeds, infrasound signals can be detected many kilometres away, and that the signals are in the range that can make people motion sick. It concludes that turbines should be placed at least 10 kilometres away from people.

"This is the first really good study I've seen on motion sickness and why people (get sick)," Lynn said, explaining that motion sickness and other adverse physical reactions are part of the human body's defence against a perceived threat.

"I think (the study) gives some credibility to those folks who say I just can't live here anymore (near turbines) and move away. And it starts adding to the information we have about wind turbines and how they affect people," Lynn said in an exclusive interview with The Owen Sound Hub.

healthunit-featureThe bulk of the study was conducted a few years ago at a seismic detection observatory in Scotland, but was only peer reviewed and publicly presented over the past year.

A copy of it was included in the Grey Bruce Public Board of Health's agenda package as information in its monthly meeting today. Lynn said there is little the board can do to affect change, because wind turbines in Ontario are a provincial matter governed by the Green Energy Act, which stipulates setbacks of 550 metres between turbines and peoples' homes.

For years, local residents and anti-turbine groups pleaded with Lynn for help. She told them that while she sympathized, the health unit didn't have the resources to conduct its own study.

However, she and researcher Dr. Ian Arra spent a few months over the fall and winter of 2012-2013 reviewing the most current and credible studies on turbines and their health impacts on people around the world.

They reviewed only studies that looked at the impact of noise on people who lived near turbines, and began with the hypothesis that there was no association between the turbines and distress in neighbouring residents. What they found was that wind turbines do cause distress in people who live near them, and Lynn and Arra concluded that more and better studies were needed to enact a policy shift that to make turbines safer.

The UK study is an important new addition to that arsenal of scientific evidence, and is one of only a few studies of the microseismic vibrations from wind farms that have been done anywhere.

"I think it's a piece of information that's very important to add to the growing assessment of wind turbines and their exposures," Lynn said. "I keep saying it took us 40 years to prove that smoking causes lung cancer. It's going to take more and more of this kind of evidence building up to realize we shouldn't be putting these things close to humans."

It's too late to move the thousands of turbines in Ontario placed at the 550-metre setbacks, but Lynn suggests their effects could be eased by shutting them down for brief periods.

"Limiting the hours, particularly at night so people can sleep, would be useful . . . there are ways to mitigate and still produce some wind power," she said.

The report says no vibration mitigation technologies are currently being used in the industry, but that the technology does exist to inhibit turbine vibrations, and that some day (and at extra cost), turbine manufacturers/developers will hopefully make use of these.

The study can be found at: http://www.keele.ac.uk/geophysics/appliedseismology/wind/Final_Report.pdf

Tracey Richardson is a local writer with an interest in health matters. She can be reached at trich7117@gmail.com


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