November 1, 2009

Canadian wind industry's cynical dismissal of health concerns

Deconstructing CanWEA Health “Research”

On October 6, 2008, the industry trade group Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) posted a press release titled “Scientists conclude that there is no evidence that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health” in response to news coverage of Dr. Nina Pierpont's work describing and explaining "wind turbine syndrome", stating:
[T]he Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) has compiled a list of articles and publications on the subject from reputable sources in Europe and North America. ...

These findings clearly show that there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicating that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health.
In May, Wind Concerns Ontario reviewed the seven articles cited by CanWEA, asking the following questions:
  • Do they support the claim in the title of CanWEA’s press release?
  • Do they support the conclusion of CanWEA’s press release?
  • Do they refute Dr. Pierpont’s research?
None of the articles “conclude that there is no evidence that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health”.

None of the articles state that “there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicating that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health.”.

None of the articles review Pierpont’s research.

Only one article mentions Pierpont’s case studies, stating that “One cannot discount the information”.

Six of the articles identify wind turbine noise as a health concern which must be considered.

Only one of the articles discusses noise in the assessment of adverse health effects related to various forms of electricity generation.

None of the articles study patients or reports of patients describing adverse health effects when exposed to wind turbines.

None of the articles consider recent research in addition to Pierpont's regarding health effects related to wind turbines.

The seven articles are:
  1. Infrasound from wind turbines – fact, fiction or deception. Geoff Leventhall (noise and vibration consultant). Canadian Acoustics 2006;24(2):29-36.
  2. Wind turbine facilities noise issues. Ramani Ramakrishnan (acoustician); prepared for Ministry of the Environment of Ontario. Aiolos report no. 4071/2180/AR155Rev3 (Dec 2007).
  3. Wind turbine acoustic noise. Anthony Rogers (mechanical engineer), James Manwell (mechanical engineer), Sally Wright (mechanical engineer), Renewable Energy Research Laboratory, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Massachusetts at Amherst. June 2002, amended Jan. 2006.
  4. Research into aerodynamic modulation of wind turbine noise. Andy Moorhouse (acoustician), Malcolm Hayes (acoustics student), Sabine von Hünerbein (acoustician), Ben Piper, Mags Adams (social scientist), University of Salford; prepared for Dept. for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, contract no. NANR233. July 2007.
  5. Electricity generation and health. Anil Markandya (economist), Paul Wilkinson. Lancet 2007 (Sep. 15);370(9591):979-990.
  6. The health impact of wind turbines: a review of the current white, grey, and published literature. David Colby (MD), Acting Medical Officer of Health, Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit; prepared for Chatham-Kent Municipal Council. June 2008.
  7. Energy, sustainable development and health (background document, Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health). Anil Markandya (economist) et al. (no MDs). June 3, 2004.
Also posted at Wind Concerns Ontario is an assessment of CanWEA's press release by Wayne Gulden of Amherst Island Wind Information. (Gulden also analyzed the Chatham-Kent review, as did Dr. Robert McMurtry.)
CanWEA has included a quote from each of these sources that appears to support their contention. As any reader will quickly discover, however, these quotes generally have little to do with the gist of the article. It quickly becomes obvious that CanWEA has “cherry-picked” the articles for the most supportive sentence, completely out of context.

Anyone can play this game, and as an example I could take The Doctors’ position and use quotes out of the very same 7 references to support it. Such a statement might look something like:
There are numerous reports of health issues caused by wind turbines and we want to have an epidemiological study to determine the facts. We have compiled a list of articles and publications on the subject from reputable sources in Europe and North America.

1. Leventhall. “Attention should be focused on the audio frequency fluctuating swish, which some people may well find to be very disturbing and stressful, depending on its level.”

2. Ramakrishnan. “However, additional concerns still need to be addressed in the next round of revisions to their assessment process. These revisions may need to be addressed after the results from future research provide scientifically consistent data for effects such as meteorology, human response and turbine noise source character.”

3. Rogers. “Community noise standards are important to ensure livable communities. Wind turbines must be held to comply with these regulations.”

4. Salford. “The results showed that 27 of the 133 windfarm sites operational across the UK at the time of the survey had attracted noise complaints at some point.”

5. Lancet. “In varying degrees these [renewable] sources share four main drawbacks: ... and environmental effects, aesthetic effects, or both, that might in part off set the broader environmental and health gains derived from lower air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions.”

6. Colby. “Despite extensive searching of the current literature, limited information is available on health concerns relating to wind turbines.”

7. WHO. “[H]ealth effects from wind energy are negligible, however issues such as sleep disturbance, school absenteeism, eventually resulting from noise in vicinity, could not be evaluated.”
Why don’t they? Aside from the time constraints of not having their livelihoods supplied by the wind energy industry, they have a different set of priorities. CanWEA’s main interest, perhaps their only interest, is making money for their clients and themselves.

With that goal, the appearance of being truthful is far more important that actually being truthful. The Doctors, on the other hand, deal with real people having real health issues,and the real truth is the basis of how they deal. And the real truth being conveyed by these seven references – most of which are, as CanWEA says, respectable – has very little to do with health issues and epidemiological studies for people living in the shadow of wind turbines.

To use these otherwise useful references in this way is fundamentally dishonest, but it creates a “he said, she said” confusion that serves the interests of the industry.
wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, human rights