By John Miner
CLINTON — After years of receiving health complaints, Huron County’s health unit has launched its own study into the impact on residents of noise, vibration and light from industrial wind turbines.
The one-year research project, to be conducted in collaboration with the University of Waterloo and the University of Guelph, will rely on the observations of people living within 10 kilometres of a wind farm.
In Huron County, that could potentially include thousands of residents, covering a large swath of the farming community and the towns of Goderich and Exeter.
Participants who volunteer for the study are being asked to keep a regular diary detailing times and rating how severely, if at all, they were bothered or annoyed by noise, light and vibration.
Lead investigator Dr. Erica Clark, the health unit’s epidemiologist, said the primary goal of the study will be to determine how many people are bothered by wind turbines in Huron County and whether there are environmental conditions that make the sensations from wind turbines worse.
Clark told a public meeting she would like to see more than 1,000 people participate in the study. There is no limit on how many can sign up.
But she cautioned people considering participating that the health unit is asking them to do a lot of work with recording observations for at least one week each month.
Clark also warned that people could be angry and disappointed with the final findings of the study. “You could spend 12 months writing the diary and be unhappy with the results of the study,” she said.
Home to more than 300 industrial wind turbines, Huron County’s health unit has received complaints from some residents who blame the wind farms for a range of health issues including headaches, nosebleeds, nausea, dizziness and sleep disturbance.
A 2014 Health Canada study that looked at communities in Southwestern Ontario and Prince Edward Island found a possible link between wind turbine noise and annoyance, but did not discover any association between the turbines and illness, chronic diseases, stress and quality of sleep.
In releasing the findings, Health Canada said it was important to note the results did not provide definitive answers on their own and should be considered along with other research.
The Huron County Health Unit had planned to launch its own study more than a year ago, but the county’s board of health put the brakes on the project, citing possible duplication of other work.
The study the health unit is now moving ahead with was reviewed and given the green light by the University of Waterloo’s ethics committee.
The committee stipulated that the health unit makes it clear to participants that it doesn’t have the power to curtail wind farm activity.
Acting medical officer of health Dr. Maarten Bokhout told the public meeting he doesn’t have the authority to shut down a wind farm even if the study finds the wind farm is causing health problems. “I don’t have the jurisdiction to write an order,” he said.
But Bokhout emphasized the results of the study will be published and people will be able to raise the results with their provincial politicians.
Several people attending the public meeting on Oct. 28 in Clinton expressed dismay that the study will not include people who have already moved out of their homes because of health problems.
Clark replied that other studies might include those individuals, but a single study is limited in scope.
Another limitation is the study will not investigate other possible sources of noise such as a grain elevator.
“No sound or vibration measurements will be made in this study,” an information letter from the health unit advises.