5/15/09 Can I get some Research? Why wind farm residents are complaining and doctors in Maine are calling for a closer look at what is happening to people living near wind turbines. AND more testimony from the 5/12/09 hearing on Wind turbine siting reform
Click on the image below to watch residents of Mars Hill speak about life in a wind farm.
Turbines' effect on health is underestimated
This column appeared in the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine.
Dr. Michael Nissenbaum is a radiologist at Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent. Dr. Albert Aniel is an internist at Rumford Hospital.
May 10, 2009
Our work has shown that people in Mars Hill living within 3,500 feet of turbines there are truly suffering, in a real medical sense. Clearly, any regulation that results in placement of turbines, anywhere in Maine, at less than a 3,500-foot setback is courting a bad human outcome, regardless of sound modeling used by the industry to show there will be no ill effects in that range. As clearly demonstrated by post-construction measurements at Mars Hill, the model used by the wind industry for that project was seriously flawed.
May 10, 2009 by Michael Nissenbaum, M.D. in Sun Journal
The state should not permit new wind farms until studies of their harmful effects are complete.
As physicians and clinicians, it is our foremost duty to do no harm. Therefore, we think it's reasonable to adopt the best practices of jurisdictions with decades of experience with wind power, and slow the permitting of such projects in Maine until health regulations are in place.
France enacted regulations in 2006 that stipulated a level of 25 decibels should not be exceeded in the home; the World Health Organization recommends no industry should increase ambient daytime noise by five decibels and nighttime noise by three decibels. The WHO also recommends bedroom noise levels never exceed 30 decibels.
Our work has shown that people in Mars Hill living within 3,500 feet of turbines there are truly suffering, in a real medical sense. Clearly, any regulation that results in placement of turbines, anywhere in Maine, at less than a 3,500-foot setback is courting a bad human outcome, regardless of sound modeling used by the industry to show there will be no ill effects in that range.
As clearly demonstrated by post-construction measurements at Mars Hill, the model used by the wind industry for that project was seriously flawed. Among other things, it seems to have disregarded the effects of multiple turbines in a linear arrangement perpendicular to residential neighborhoods.
It also ignores low frequency noise, even though low frequencies travel much longer distances and correlate with turbine-related health effects, particularly sleep disturbance, and all the negatives that flow from that fundamental ill effect.
We reasonably conclude the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health and Human Services are currently unprepared and largely unaware of noise and health issues related to wind factories. We should all agree on the need to ensure that additional citizens shouldn't suffer the results as those Mars Hill residents who live within 3,500 feet of the turbines.
Also, in this regard, we note there is no research about effects on residents living between 3,500 feet and 1.25 miles or so from turbines. As such, we cannot state what distance ill effects might abate, if they do within that range. Sound regulations in European jurisdictions therefore effectively result in setbacks of between one to 1.5 miles, depending upon the topography.
We state with some confidence that ill effects are likely when homes are placed within 3,500 feet of a ridgeline arrangement of turbines. Ridgeline placements seem to be the prevalent pattern of turbine placement the industry would like to impose upon Maine.
It is logical for us to expect the state regulatory agencies to familiarize themselves as soon as possible with the relevant physics and physiology, and put appropriate setback regulations in effect before additional turbines are placed.
We note the DEP, in its variance regarding Mars Hill, described the allowance to 50 decibels as creating noise "similar to songbirds." This speaks to the lack of understanding of the nature of sound and a failure to appreciate that a decibel level alone is just one component of a sound's makeup.
One can no more describe sound by decibel level than describe a Van Gogh painting by saying "it is blue."
If poor outcomes such as Mars Hill are to be avoided, it is necessary to stop the "gold rush" mentality that relies on faulty wind modeling currently endorsed by projects, which have been rubberstamped by the DEP and the Land Use Regulatory Commission.
Furthermore, the state must have means to not only check for compliance, but also enforce compliance with credible threats to ensure it, including orders to stop turbine rotation and remove noncompliant turbines where and when necessary. We're concerned DEP is not up to this task, given recent statements about being overburdened.
There are many issues that need to be worked out. A moratorium is logical, unless we quickly move to adopt more stringent European and Australian standards.
Otherwise, the state's failure to act responsibly on this issue is the equivalent of abandoning its responsibility to protect public health, which would leave the people with few options other than seeking remedy and redress through the courts.
Does Wind Turbine Noise Affect Your Sleep or Health?
Families who live on a portion of East Ridge Road and Mountain Road on the backside of Mars Hill say, at times over the past two and a half years, they've lived with unbearable noise. They feel their complaints have been ignored. Read and watch their story as reported by WLBZ Channel 2 in Maine. May 14, 2009 by Beth Alteri in WLBZ Channel 2
Watch the two-part newscast:
MARS HILL -- Families who live on a portion of East Ridge Road and Mountain Road on the backside of Mars Hill say, at times over the past two and a half years, they've lived with unbearable noise. They feel their complaints have been ignored.
Wendy Todd returned to Mars Hill in 2005 with her husband and three children. They started to build their dream house on her family land. But that dream house remains unfinished, because the Todds say their dream has become a nightmare.
"After about three or four hours of heavy blade thump your body starts to get uneasy. It's kind of like kids playing rap music, you know you can handle it for a while, but then it starts to wear on your nerves and then if it interferes with your sleep and it goes on for days, it's sort of like a form of torture," Todd said.
Lorraine and Arnold Tardy built their retirement home in Mars Hill. Lorraine Tardy has been on medication for migraines for most of her adult life, but she feels that since the turbines started spinning, the headaches have become worse, and the medication is less effective.
"It's just that if you could go to sleep when you get them and you can't when you hear this thump thump thump and your head is pounding pounding its like they work together."
Bernard Stikney and Diane Glidden also started building their new home before the turbines went online. They have taken videos of the shadow flicker from the blades and have recorded noise levels.
"We don't enjoy our weekends like we used to we used to enjoy having barbeques on our deck or to have friends over and we do what we can to try to get away on the weekends"
Glidden says that since the turbines started up, she has been prescribed medication for sleep disturbance, depression, and headaches.
"I am in fact affected with depression, my doctor says its because of the stress, the lack of sleep, alot of the anger I have inside of me because of the windmills."
Some of the residents of East Ridge Road, and Mountain Road live less than a half mile from the turbines. During our day long visit we couldn't hear much turbine noise outside their homes and none at all inside the homes. Outisde Wendy Todds back door, we could hear the rain more than the turbines. Todd and the other residents told us we were there on a day when the noise was not nearly as bad as it gets.
"We've had times where the dishwashers running, the washer and dryer are running, and the kids are all doing their thing and you can still hear the turbines over all of that. So it's a noise that penetrates and it tends to be repeitive in nature," Todd stated.
All the families insist that the repetitive pulsing of the turbines doesn't compare to any other noise. Which adds to their frustration.
"You'll hear things from people in town like 'Oh you'll get used to it' or 'Oh you should try living next to a railroad or you should try living on Route 1' , and most of us have done that. Most of us have lived in places like that and its not like that this is different," Todd Expained.
Roger shaw is the superintendent of schools for SAD 42. His home and office are both about a mile and a half from the nearest turbine. Shaw doesn't doubt the complaints of people who live closer, but he says he can't hear the turbines from the school district office or his home.
"It has not disrupted my sleep or my families. It has not been an annoyance to me," Shaw said.
But residents who live closer say any doubters should spend a week in their homes.
"People come out here on a good day and they drive by and stop. Well we dont hear nothing you're not here. If you lived out here and you knew what it was before these were up here you'd hear something, because theres always something going on. Before you could hear a pin drop out there," Stickney said.
State health officials say they have no definitive medical evidence that the wind turbines are making residents sick, but a radiologist from Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent believes he has found some alarming evidence in Mars Hill that deserves more attention.
Dr. Michael Nissenbaum decided to research the Mars Hill Project after the a wind developer set its sights on his community. He created a questionaire and interviewed 15 people from 11 families, including the Todds, Tardys, Glidden, and Stikney.
"These people are suffering they are truly suffering. And no one is listening to them and no one really seems to be doing anything about it," Nissenbaum said.
Nissenbaum says 14 of the 15 residents reported difficulty sleeping, and 15 new prescription drugs are being taken by those residents for conditions including migraines, depression, and sleep disturbance.
"The frequencies for some of the disturbances particulary sleep disturbance and headaches is so high to any reasonable physician looking at the data its enough for him to say wait a minute theres something here."
Nissenbaum also believes Maine Department of Environmental Protection noise regulations were not adequate in Mars Hill because the state granted developers a variance to produce sound levels 5 decibels above the 45 decibel nightime limit, which is the maximum sound level that should be recorded at the projects property lines. He also believes the method used to measure sound did not sufficiently factor in the low frequency repetive sound produced by turbines.
"It's like an airplane that never takes off or like a locomotive that never arrives or never leaves."
Nissenbaum admits his survey is preliminary and lacks scientific controls, but he and the medical staff at Northern Maine Medical Center feel there's enough evidence to enact a moratorium on wind projects until a more in depth health study is done.
First Wind, the developer of the Mars Hill Project, does not believe a moratorium is needed. Matt Kearns, First Winds Vice President of Development for the Northeast says the company went through a very thorough permitting process through the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
"DEP standards are very aggressive. The studies that are done, They are extraordinarily rigorous. We do the studies, they then have a third party review the study results and then DEP decides whether they issue a permit."
Dr Dora Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control also does not believe Maine should put the brakes on wind power.
"I do not believe there is any reason for a moratorium on wind turbines in Maine in fact I think its just the opposite. We need to go full fledged and build more wind turbines because of the fact that they impact our health in a very positive way. They make us less dependent on foreign oil and coal and we know that our high dependency on foreign oil and coal right now leads to people in Maine dying prematurely of asthma and heart disease and other ill affects." Mills said.
While the state has no plans to do an in depth health study in Mars Hill, Mills says she has written a letter of support for a Yale professor seeking a research grant to do such a study. She also says Maine DEP has learned a lot since Mars Hill and has enacted stricter regulations to ensure no residents are adversely affected by any future projects.
Kearns says First Wind will continue to listen to the concerns of Mars Hill residents, and continue to address concerns of residents in other communities where it plans to build.
"I think it's really important that we study these projects very carefully and we do through the rigorous permitting process that the state of Maine has," Kearns said.
But that offers no comfort to the residents of Mars Hill who live closest to the turbines.
"I grew up in a bubble thinking that people are basically good and there are things put in place to protect people that are failsafe and they're just not. They're not," Todd said.
Dr. Nissenbaum presented his survey to the Maine Medical Associations public health committee in late March in hopes that it will endorse his call for a moratrorium.
The Public Health Committee is expected to discuss the survey at its May 20th meeting.
Former Governor Angus King, who is involved with another wind developer told NEWS CENTER that he has no doubt that some people in Mars Hill live too close to the turbines and are bothered by the noise, and stressed that as long as people live an appropriate distance from the turbines, there will be no adverse impacts.