by Dianne Saxe
Health Canada’s wind turbine health study is doomed to irrelevance, because it is largely based on asking people whether they are annoyed about wind turbines. With this methodology, Health Canada could “prove” that people are annoyed and distressed about any number of things: extreme summer heat and drought; traffic congestion; electricity rates; taxes; gun crime, etc. And I expect they could prove annoyance and sleep disturbance among people near a wide range of noise sources, including highways, airports, gun clubs, racetracks, Toronto’s entertainment district, motorcycles, outdoor bars and the Indy.
Among other things, Health Canada’s plan lacks one critical feature of a good study: it will not isolate the alleged noise impact from the subjects’ preconceived opinions about turbines. Compare the much better study of 725 Dutch residents done by the University of Groningen, where wind turbines are widespread: WINDFARM perception.
Van den Berg et al. (2008) evaluated factors associated with wind turbine annoyance, how residents perceived the wind farm, and self-reported health. Strengths of the study included the large number of participants (725) who were randomly selected from 50,375 residences, and placing people in one of four increasing noise exposure groups ranging from 25 to 45 decibels.
Study masking: a major strength
A major strength of the study was the “masking” of the study, so subjects did not know the focus was on wind turbines. The study also included an analysis of people who declined to participate.
A main study result was that health effects — chronic disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, migraines, psychological distress, stress and difficulty falling asleep — were not associated with wind turbine sound levels. The results did indicate that both sleep interruption and “annoyance” were associated with increasing total noise levels.
As in previous studies, one of the strongest factors affecting annoyance, and sleep interruption, is whether the person was receiving financial benefits from the operation of the wind turbines.
The study group was selected from all residents in the Netherlands within 2.5 km from a wind turbine. As the study aimed to study modern wind farms, wind turbines were selected with an electric capacity of 500 kW or more and one or more turbines within 500 m from the first. Excluded were wind turbines that were erected or replaced in the year preceding the survey. Residents lived in the countryside with or without a busy road close to the turbine(s), or in built-up areas (villages, towns). Excluded were residents in mixed and industrial areas.
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