Doctors support turbines, criticize fossil, nuclear options
The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) is describing Health Canada’s study of health impacts from wind turbines as “superfluous (and) a waste of time and a waste of public funds.”
“It’s curious Health Canada has taken an interest in studying the health impacts of something as benign as wind energy when for years health and environment experts have been cautioning about the negative impacts of fossil fuels on human health,” Farrah Khan of CAPE says.
CAPE says a 2010 Ontario study “reviewed 40 years of scientific research on wind turbines and human health.”
It noted that the report by Chief Medical Officer Arlene King report concluded that “the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.”
“She also found that ‘community engagement at the outset of planning for wind turbines is important and may alleviate health concerns about wind farms.’ This puts any physiological impact from the very ordinary sound of a windmill into serious doubt.”
Community involvement was at the heart of the plan for what has become Dufferin Wind Power, originally totally owned by a group of Melancthon farmers and 401 Energy of Markham but now owned largely by a Chinese company.
Much of the criticism levelled by opponents of that development centres on foreign ownership, but the alleged health impacts haven’t been forgotten. Persons affected say they are genuinely ill since the advent of other wind farms in the area.
A question asked at a recent information meeting was, in effect, “If the turbines didn’t cause the illness, why did we become ill after they went into operation?”
A multi-disciplinary study commissioned by the Canadian and American wind energy associations recently found that the most serious effect on nearby residents was “annoyance.” And the degree of annoyance was related to how the person felt about turbines prior to development.
On the other hand, according to CAPE, “Canada’s health community is shocked at the growing evidence of illness connected to the fossil fuels industry. In 2009, the Alberta Cancer Board reported cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan, downstream from the tar sands, were 30 per cent higher than expected.”
CAPE quotes the Ontario Clean Air Alliance as saying that in 2009, coal plants in the province “were connected to 246 deaths, 342 hospital admissions, 406 costly emergency room visits and almost 123,000 illnesses such as asthma attacks.”
While turbine health impacts continue to be debated, CAPE says the health impacts of coal are a certainty.
It is also critical of the health risks posed by nuclear radioactive waste. “Spent fuel remains highly toxic and radioactive for thousands of years. But nuclear reactors, even in their normal day-to-day operations, emit radiation. A 2008 German government study found an elevated risk of leukemia for children living within five kilometres of the country’s 16 nuclear plants.”
Although preferring wind energy, CAPE acknowledges that any form of energy production inevitably has some negative impact on the plane, noting that wind turbines are not perfect, generate some sound and their appearance is not pleasing to everyone.
“But coal-fired generating stations, nuclear power plants and the tar sands all contribute to serious illness.
“We’re comparing a minor annoyance from the sound of blowing wind to the severity of cancer, asthma and brain damage. Our energy choices do impact our health and renewables like wind are our safest bets,” CAPE concludes.