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After turbine health “study,” state produces nothing but spin

by Virginia Irvine

Ken Kimmell seemed to jump the gun with his news conference on January 17, 2012. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner held the press conference to publicize the draft release the joint DEP/DPH (Department of Public Health) Wind Turbine Health Impact Study.

The press conference’s tone contrasted markedly with the nuanced findings expressed in the study language. Also, according to Alicia McDevitt, Assistant DEP Commissioner, as of February 1, 2012 the DEP had not finished its review of the Study. Three public hearings in February and an open comment period through mid-March attest to the draft status of the panel findings.

But Commissioner Kimmel counted on the press to trumpet the preliminary findings and the press complied:

  • “Report: Wind turbines do not cause health effects.” Boston Globe
  • “Study: Wind turbines pose no health issue; State report debunks ‘wind turbine syndrome.’” Commonwealth Magazine
  • “State finds no health effects for residents.” Newburyport News
  • “Mass. panel: No major health impacts from turbines.” Associated Press (in the Fall River Herald News)

These headlines missed the frequent refrain of the report, that the panel found “insufficient epidemiological studies” and “more studies needed.” The department better suited to discussing health effects has been relatively quiet on this. Instead, the only comment from the DPH was on the DEP web site. “We appreciate the thoroughness of the report made possible by the particular expertise of the panel members,” Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach said.

Members of citizen groups studying turbine siting plans in local communities were outraged by the DEP commissioner’s tactic and met with the press a day after the news conference. Those interviews prompted headlines that highlight the real health impacts that are being swept under the rug through the report’s findings.

Roll-out is rigged

The statewide alliance Wind Wise ~ Massachusetts lamented that the only chance citizens got to ask questions of DEP Report Panel members was at an event held by the Wind Working Group.  The Wind Working Group promotes wind energy, receiving funds from the federal Department of Energy and from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). This public meeting was the only opportunity to listen to or ask questions of the panel members. “Their work is done,” is the way panelist Wendy Heigler-Bernays put it to one attendee in a private conversation. So any citizen who goes to the hearings in Boston, Bourne, or Lee will miss out on the chance to question James Manwell, Sheryl Grace, or Heigler-Bernays, (or any of the other 4 panel members). Instead the panelists presented the findings of their literature review to a pro-wind agency gathering, further giving the impression of the manipulation of health concerns.

Findings gloss over concerns

Wind Wise ~ Massachusetts has long been calling for an epidemiological study of the people impacted by industrial wind turbines in Falmouth. According to the DEP, this was outside the panel’s purview. “The panel’s charge did not include investigating or addressing reported problems at any particular turbine installation, though the panel did receive extensive public comment, including from residents who live near wind turbines.” Instead,  “[T]he panel was tasked with reviewing extensive existing information within their areas of expertise to determine the potential for health effects.”

During the Wind Working Group event, study panel member James Manwell from the UMass Energy Center said that he was not a student of health effects. Mr. Manwell said that the Panel narrowed potential health effects from wind turbines down to three: 1. ice throw, 2. shadow flicker and 3. noise.

1. The study report states in section 3.4.c, “Avoidance of ice throw is critical.” In response to a question from the audience about a 480-foot turbine in Kingston being located 600 feet from a state highway, Mr. Manwell replied that they could shut the turbine down if icing occurred.

2. The study also states in section 3.4.b.ii, “In addition, there is limited evidence… that prolonged shadow flicker (more than 30 minutes) can result in transient stress-related effects on cognition (concentration, attention) and autonomic nervous system functioning (heart rate, blood pressure).”

3. Panel member Wendy Heigler-Bernays, Boston University, said you don’t need a PhD to determine that it is possible that noise can cause sleep disruption. The study itself equivocates in section 3.4.a.i, “Given the effects of sleep deprivation on health and well-being, including problems with mood and cognition, it is possible that cognitive and mood complaints and other medical or psychological issues associated with sleep loss can stem from living in immediate proximity to wind turbines, if the turbines disrupt sleep. Existing data, however, on the relationship between wind turbines and sleep are inadequate.”

Alicia McDevitt, of the DEP, made clear at the February 1, 2012 presentation that the DEP will be using the results of the study report to make environmental policy.

Wind Wise ~ Massachusetts notes that the Massachusettts DEP-DPH Report is not a research study and consists of nothing but a “literature review” on the health impacts from wind turbines with the panel member or the facilitator commenting on the relevance. Only four peer-reviewed epidemiological studies involving wind turbines were reviewed. Three of the reports were authored by the same researcher.

Wind Wise ~ Massachusetts questions how policy guidelines for the siting of wind turbines can be made when the DEP report indicates that there are insufficient numbers of studies related to wind turbine noise and that more research is needed.

Emerging Science

The study of wind turbine’s effects on humans is an emerging science.  For example, the groundbreaking work of the McPherson Study by Stephen Ambrose and Robert Rand in Falmouth and Dr. Alec Salt’s research at Washington University on the vestibular system were dismissed in the report with the following statement. “Finally, the measurements shown in the report [Ambrose and Rand, 2011] are atypical within the wind turbine measurement literature and the data analysis is not fully described. Also, the report offers no plausible coupling mechanism of the sound waves to the body beyond that proposed by Salt and Hullar (2011)[1]. “Because of this [the report states in section 3.6.a] the results are suggestive but require corroboration of the measurements and scientifically based mechanisms for human health impact.”

The panel did not review or discuss a more recent research paper by Salt and Kaltenbach where he concludes “Responses to infrasound reach the brain through pathways that do not involve conscious hearing but instead may produce sensations of fullness, pressure or tinnitus, or have no sensation. Activation of subconscious pathways by infrasound could disturb sleep. Based on our current knowledge of how the ear works, it is quite possible that low-frequency sounds at the levels generated by wind turbines could affect those living nearby.”[2]

Another example of continuing research in Europe is a more recent study from the Netherlands (Janssen and Vos, December 2011[3]). The Janssen and Vos study concludes that “…at relatively low exposure levels, wind turbine noise induces an annoyance response that is expected to occur only at much higher levels of transportation noise and other industrial noise sources.”

Wind Wise ~ Massachusetts questions why actual research was not done.

Wind Wise ~ Massachusetts calls for a moratorium on the siting of any more wind turbines until an epidemiological study is performed rather than a “literature review.”


[1] Salt, A. N., & Hullar, T.E. (2010). “Responses of the ear to low frequency sounds, infrasound and wind turbines.” Hearing Research 268: 12-21.

[2] Salt, Alec. N. and Kaltenbach, J.A. (2011). “Infrasound From Wind Turbines Could Affect Humans.” Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society 31(4): 296-302.

[3] Janssen, S.A. and Vos, H. “A comparison between exposure-response relationships for wind turbine annoyance and annoyance due to other noise sources.” Journal of Acoustical Society of American 130 (6), December 2011.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2012 3:14 pm

    my only comment is to clarify and correct the following:
    1. The study report states in section 3.4.c, “Avoidance of ice throw is critical.” In response to a question from the audience about a 480-foot turbine in Kingston being located 600 feet from a state highway, Mr. Manwell replied that they could shut the turbine down if icing occurred.

    Clarification – actual height remains a source of confusion…and the fact that the site is on a hill above the highway increases the safety setback equation as discussed by DR Manwell.

    #1 the height of the Independence turbine in Kingston has been the source of much confusion, most especially with the Kingston town officials themselves. Their town website as of today 2/12/12 still reads as follows:
    When 
completed ,
construction 
and 
installation 
of
 this 
262
foot
tall,
2 
Megawatt
(MW) 
wind 
turbine

    Their “green energy” chairperson was on video saying the total height would be 480ft,
    The FAA website states that is is 418ft
    The town manager told me less than 2 weeks ago it was 362ft
    Wicked local News reported at one point it was 462ft

    Correction…though the height remains a mystery of sorts… what IS NOT a mystery is the FACT that the Independence turbine is located 475ft to a state highway. This distance was provided to me by Kingston town officials as part of their response to my “official complaint” to state officials that the siting of this turbine is a public safety HAZARD. The FACT that we have a 400ft plus wind turbine within 475 feet of a state highway…and 600 feet to the nearest homes is INDEED A HAZARD…

    Mass Highway Safety responded to my “official complaint” by saying they did not have jurisdiction over this issue and suggested I get in touch with our state DEP, DOER, and Kingston officials. The following are their responses (or lack thereof)

    Ken Kimmel refuses to respond to my many communications…silence.

    Mark Sylvia responded once, and referred my to his “green communities” manager for a discussion of by-laws, and that any responsibility would fall solely to Kingston…I responded to his response, that what I was seeking was a safe community (safe state highway)! Mr Sylvia’s referral to the “green community” manager showed a total lack of understanding of what is a very simple public safety issue I was looking to have addressed. I asked him to be responsive to the reality that we have an unsafe siting of an industrial turbine and reminded him that public safety should be priority number 1 when siting industrial wind turbines…silence since. I also let him know I was forwarded a picture of him at the “groundbreaking ceremony” back in September of 2011, so he had to have know how close the highway was…475 feet, yikes!

    The Kingston town manager finally did respond to me…he is new to their town but assured me that the tower was only 262, I insisted he was mistaken that was likely just the tower height…he later corrected himself and said it was 362, and told me that Kingston had spent too much money to consider making any modifications or changes and that for Kingston the matter of my “official complaint” is closed. I have forwarded him 3 stories just in the last 2 weeks of malfunctions that would indeed create public safety hazards for example the Jan 29, 2012 wind turbine fire in upstate NY http://www.wptz.com/slideshow/news/30326675/detail.html

    Hope this helps clarify the post…we have a 418???? foot turbine that is sited upon a hill hovering at a distance of only 475 feet to a Massachusetts state highway…and 100 feet to the transfer station roadway used daily by town residents, and only 600 feet to the nearest homes.

    Even Dr. Manwell’s math of total turbine height X 2 = minimum safety setback so
    418? X 2 = 836 feet as a minimum safety setback which in my world means the turbine is a HAZARD…yet, no one seems to be responsive.
    What is it our state typically does if there is a HAZARD out there? Anybody?

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  1. Hearings and Votes around the State « Wind Wise ~ Massachusetts
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