Falmouth Residents Dispute DEP Study Which Finds Wind Turbines Do Not Pose Health Risk
By: Michael C. Bailey
The science says wind turbines do not pose a provable health risk.
But residents living near the town-owned turbines on Blacksmith Shop Road believe science has little to do with the new state report, “Wind Turbine Health Impact Study: Report of Independent Expert Panel.”
“The Patrick administration has a very ambitious goal for renewable energy and needed this panel’s conclusions to support its program,” J. Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive stated in a statement to the media.
“The finding that there is no association between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects on people living nearby flys [sic] in the faces of Falmouth’s wind turbine neighbors who experience sleep deprivation, ear pressure, depression and tinnitus among other ailments,” Mr. Donald wrote.
Neil P. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road reiterated Mr. Donald’s implication that Governor Deval L. Patrick’s call to install 2,000 megawatts of wind-based energy in Massachusetts by 2020 is overriding the facts of the matter.
“How ignorant does the Patrick administration believe the public is?” Mr. Andersen said. “Common sense tells people if there were no health issues before the Falmouth turbines started and then people started feeling the onslaught of head pressure, depression, and tinnitus, et cetera, after the turbine started turning, then what can be concluded?
“The DEP/DPH report just makes the governor look foolish,” he added.
Other Studies Ignored
Mark J. Cool of Fire Tower Road said he has copies of many of the studies reviewed by the state panel “so I pretty much know what they reviewed,” and agreed that the evidence available seems definitive, “but there’s not enough evidence to date of health impacts…and if there’s not enough evidence, wouldn’t you deduce more evidence needs to be uncovered?”
Mr. Donald stated that the panel ignored “studies from all over the world” that support a contrary position. He provided to the Enterprise copies of five studies that he said present evidence of health risks.
WHAT RESIDENTS ARE SAYING
"The DEP/DPH report just makes the governor look foolish." - Neil Andersen
"We need more information from an epidemiological standpoint.” - Mark Cool
"We are living proof that [the state's] conclusions are just plain wrong." - Malcolm Donald
Mr. Donald also cited a local study that supports the theory of turbine-associated health risks: the so-called “McPherson Study”—“The Bruce McPherson Infrasound and Low Frequency Noise Study” conducted last year by Stephen E. Ambrose and Robert W. Rand, acoustical consultants from Windham, Maine.
That study—conducted on the turbine in Falmouth Technology Park at an abutter’s property—investigated infrasonic and low-frequency noise emissions from the turbine. Their findings suggested that infrasound above a 10 hertz (Hz) wavelength but below 20 Hz, the upper threshold for infrasound, could be amplified by a house to exacerbate the effects on occupants.
The two consultants also reported that, during their study, they experienced the same physical sensations reported by many Wind-1 abutters.
“The McPherson study recently conducted in Falmouth clearly documents the adverse effects of infrasound,” Mr. Donald said. “Citizens of Falmouth ask the governor to please review this ground-breaking study.”
Pierpoint study dismissed
The state panel did review studies presenting contrary perspectives, and soundly dismissed one study wind turbine critics regularly cite in their arguments: Dr. Nina Pierpont’s “Wind Turbine Syndrome - A Report on a Natural Experiment.”
“There is an impressive detailed description of the extent and severity of health symptoms” experienced by the people Dr. Pierpont interviewed, and the panel believed her findings “go beyond the most basic symptom descriptions and so warrant consideration as a study.”
However, it also determined that Dr. Pierpont cherry-picked her subjects and tailored her process to support her hypothesis.
“Limitations to the design employed make it impossible for this work to contribute any evidence to the question of whether there is a causal association between wind turbine exposure and health effects,” the panel wrote. “Given this, the very term ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’ is misleading as it implies a causal role for wind turbines in the described health symptoms.”
A number of residents went to the State House Wednesday hoping to meet with lawmakers to refute, in person, the panels’ findings.
“We are living proof that [the state’s] conclusions are just plain wrong,” Mr. Donald said this week in a brief interview. “The action taken by Falmouth selectmen (to shut down Wind-1) shows the direct correlation of wind turbine noise and adverse health effects. Neighbors did not suffer these effects prior to the startup of Wind-1. Adverse medical conditions developed during the operation and have gone away or lessened now that Wind-1 is idle. What better proof is that?”
Wind-1 was shut down in November, with the condition that its companion turbine, Wind-2, could operate periodically for the purpose of conducting further studies.
A call to action
Those residents are now also pushing the state to conduct a full-fledged epidemiological study rather than what Mr. Donald called “a literature review.” The group has already met with State Senator Steven M. Brewer (D-Barre), chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, and briefly with State Representative Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich), who sits on the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy; and hope to meet with Senate President Therese M. Murray (D-Plymouth) and State Representative David T. Vieira (R-Falmouth).
“It is no surprise to me that the committee came to its conclusions. The design of the committee was to review prior studies, not to perform a new epidemiological study, which I believe is necessary to understand the potential effects of living close to these turbines,” Rep. Hunt said.
“I think this panel basically reinforced that we need health professionals on the ground” to conduct an epidemiological study, Mr. Cool said. “This problem hasn’t been resolved by a literature review…we need more information from an epidemiological standpoint.”
Falmouth Board of Health last year requested an epidemiological study by the state DPH, but state officials held off to await the panel’s study. Mr. Cool said his concern is that town health officials will take the report as evidence that such a study is no longer necessary.
“Their decisions are only as good as the information they’re fed,” he said.
Meanwhile, Falmouth planning officials have been in a holding pattern on crafting local turbine siting bylaws as they awaited the release of the state report. An article has been submitted for the April Annual Town Meeting requesting a one-year extension on a townwide moratorium on new wind turbine development, which was originally put in place last spring to give planning officials time to craft its bylaw.