Health Unit to take turbine research in new direction - Dec. 15, 2016
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Huron County Health Unit is taking its wind turbine study in a new direction next year in hopes of achieving superior and thorough results.
Huron County Medical Officer of Health Maarten Bokhout and Epidemiologist Erica Clark discussed the study’s new direction at a meeting held at the Huron County Health Unit headquarters in Clinton last week.
The circumstances surrounding the meeting were confusing for some due to road closures associated with a fatal collision near Vanastra. Some were turned away and told the meeting was cancelled until Clark was advised that Ontario Provincial Police were allowing those attending the meeting to circumvent barricades in order to access the Health Unit building.
The meeting, however, went ahead with approximately 60 interested residents in attendance.
Clark told those in attendance that the initial study, which began earlier this year, was not yielding any results. The survey system being used wasn’t collecting as much data as Clark would need, so she and Bokhout began to seek alternative means of collecting data.
Rather than having interested parties opt in to a study, Clark said in an interview with The Citizen, the study needs to look at all households in Huron County within 10 kilometres of at least one wind turbine. Then, she said, people would be asked seven basic questions about themselves, like their name, date of birth and address, as well as whether or not they’re receiving any monetary compensation for hosting wind turbines on a property they own.
Once those basic questions are answered, that person will be given an identification number. Then, any time a resident has a complaint they assess as being wind turbine-related, they are to call the Health Unit, state their identification number and the date and time of the complaint, and, if they are comfortable, detail the nature of the complaint.
If the incident occurred in the middle of the night, Clark says, the person should report the time they went to bed, the time they awoke and assess a value between one and five to how disturbed they were with one being the lowest and five being the highest. Details in these cases as well are also optional.
In order to ensure the results are as thorough as possible and that all of the responses are not complaints, creating an uneven scale, Clark said that she has a default setting for those she doesn’t hear from assuming that all is well in those households.
If homeowners work during the day, are barely home or do not respond, Clark says she can only assume that those in the home are not facing any challenges related to wind turbines.
She said that the Health Unit ensures privacy to those who participate and that no one other than her or Bokhout will see the names associated with identification numbers.
Now that the criteria and study parameters have been designed, Clark says it will be brought to the University of Waterloo’s Research Ethics and Integrity Advisory Committee to be approved. Once that approval is received, the Health Unit will be cleared to begin collecting information.
In order to transparent, Clark said that she hopes to begin publishing data as soon as possible, charting seasons and then posting the results online. Depending on how quickly the study moves through the approval process, results could be made available as early as spring, although it’s more likely that they will begin being published in the summer of 2017.
Clark hopes that if there are trends associated with potential adverse effects from wind turbines, the nature of the study will be able to identify them.
If the Health Unit receives reports of problems emanating from wind turbines, under the proposed research collection system, Clark says those involved will be able to map what’s going on and construct a cross-section of symptoms, finding similarities or local trends.
For example, if those facing the front of a turbine blade are experiencing the same symptoms, but those on either side aren’t, that will be a trend Clark can report.
As far as findings are concerned, Clark told those in attendance last week that she’s making no promises. There is no telling what she and the Health Unit may or may not uncover through the study, so if she is unable to find any trends associated with adverse health effects from wind turbines, that is simply the nature of the study.
She also said that the Health Unit is not prepared to issue any orders related to shutting down wind turbines in Huron County.
Even if the study yields results consistent with claims that wind turbines are causing adverse health effects, the Health Unit is not in a position to issue such an order. Clark is aware that the study’s findings wouldn’t provide enough evidence that would hold up in court, so the Health Unit has already decided that no matter the findings, an order won’t be issued.
If, however, the study finds trends associated with wind turbines, the Health Unit will be submitting the information on trends, as well as recommendations to both the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Health.
Once the study’s methods have been approved, Clark hopes to have further meetings on the study in the new year, inviting all those interested in the study or who hope to participate to attend.