9/12/10 Same stories, different locations: Why are people complaining about living near wind turbines? AND How a documentary about rural town facing wind developers is opening eyes
Wind Turbine Sounds Spur Health Complaints, Force Residents to Move
The spread of wind turbines into quiet rural areas is leading to increasing complaints that they make more noise than residents were led to believe.
While simple annoyance and sleep disturbance are the most common effects, in some cases, nearby residents are reporting health problems that they associate with the presence of the turbines, leading some to move from their homes.
Not long after wind turbines began to spin in March near Gerry Meyer’s home in Wisconsin, his son Robert, 13, and wife, Cheryl, complained of headaches.
Cheryl also sometimes feels a fluttering in her chest, while Gerry is sometimes nauseated and hears crackling.
The nearest turbine is 1,560 feet from Meyer’s house. His dismay over an energy source he once thought was benign has made the retired mailman, 59, an activist. He travels the state warning communities considering wind farms to be wary.
“I don’t think anyone should have to put up with this,” says Meyer, who compares the sound to a helicopter or a jet taking off.
In Canada, Helen and Bill Fraser initially supported the nearby wind farm in Melancthon, Ont. One turbine sat close to the Fraser’s kitchen window. “We thought, more green energy, this is great,” Helen told CTV News. However, Helen says she developed headaches, body aches and she had trouble sleeping. The dog began wetting the floor at night.
“There were nights I was lying in bed and my heart would beat to the pulse of the turbine. It was an uneasy feeling,” Helen said.
Ernie Marshall at first supported the wind farm that was placed near his home near Goderich, Ont. However, he also says that once the turbines got rolling, his health began to suffer.
“I had problems with my heart, with my eyes, my digestive system,” Marshall told CTV News. “It traumatizes your whole body.”
Some affected residents can only sell their homes and move away. The Frasers left their home of 32 years and moved to nearby Shelburne, Ont. They say their symptoms have, for the most part, vanished.
Ernie Marshall moved to the town of Seaforth, Ont., which is several kilometers away from the turbines near his former home. “I had to get out or I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you,” Marshall said.
Dr. Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician in upstate New York, has interviewed dozens of people who live near windmills in Canada, the United States and Europe. Her [recently] released book, Wind Turbine Syndrome, documents the litany of health problems experienced by some people who have wind farms near their homes.
Some early findings suggest that wind turbines create a high intensity, low frequency sound that may have an effect on the body. Not only can the sound potentially cause debilitating illness.
Some researchers believe that the vibrations the sound causes in the inner ear may lead to vibro-acoustic disease, which can cause dizziness, nausea and sleep disturbances. However, officials with the Canadian Wind Energy Association point to a handful of studies they say prove that windmills lead to few, if any, adverse health effects.
“We know there have been complaints about health impacts of wind turbines,” Sean Whittaker of the Canadian Wind Energy Association told CTV News. “On the other hand, we know there are some 10,000 turbines installed across North America and complaints have been relatively few.”
The issue has not just put experts at odds. Communities across North America are divided between residents who say local windmills have made them sick and their neighbors who don’t believe them.
“Everyone was calling me a liar,” Ernie Marshall said. “It don’t matter who you talk to. You bring ‘em out here and they’ll say that noise don’t bother us. Sit there for a week under that and listen to it and see what it does to your body.”
The inconsistencies in the early research, coupled with the fact that some residents who live near wind turbines complain of such a wide array of symptoms, are evidence that further study is needed to determine if Wind Turbine Syndrome is a problem, how big of one and what should be done, experts say.
“Depending on your distance you’ll have 30, 40, 50 per cent of people who are troubled, but not 100 per cent,” Dr. Robert McMurtry of the University of Western Ontario told CTV News. “That’s why it’s important to do these studies to see just how many are troubled and how real it is.”
“Then I started to meet some people from Meredith. A lot of them—artists, writers—go up there to be alone. This topic pulled them out of their shells to work together.”
So began Israel’s foray into directing, Windfall, an excellent documentary–a real discovery in Toronto–which is as much a study of a small rural community torn asunder as it is of the pros and cons of the massive turbines which energy salesmen were pitching to the locals.
For a price, the residents could agree to let them build the massive structures on their land. In a town with no zoning, the reps from an energy outfit in Ireland anticipated huge profits.
Even though Delaware County is one of the five poorest in New York State, other towns were not as easily seduced as some of the homeowners in Meredith, who signed contracts for a relative pittance.
Most of those who agreed had been born there, former dairy farmers hard it by the economy and changes in agrarian commerce. Most of the opposition was comprised of former or current residents of New York City, whom the lifetimers, according to Israel, call “flatlanders.”
The feud became bitter, culminating in a new slate of candidates vying in a coming municipal election for the offices long held by lifers. The lines were drawn; the debate became more and more bitter.
“I don’t think it was like that before the subject came up,” says Israel. “There are no chi-chi boutiques there; it’s not that kind of town. It seemed like everyone got along. This subject pushed people into corners.” The lead-up to the election gives the film rhythmic, suspenseful momentum.
Israel interviews her subjects outdoors, capturing a natural, unforced bucolic backdrop enriched by a plucky, country-tinged score.
Most of them have interesting back stories that provide digressive texture. Stop-motion animator Dean Modino brings alive maps, photographs, and, building up over the course of the film’s running time, the wind turbines themselves, already cinematic by design.
As one relative newcomer to Meredith says, “These are not the 50’ windmills of Don Quixote. These are 400’ high.” Each blade is 130’ long, weighs seven tons, and moves at 150 miles per hour. The whishing noise is non-stop, and much worse when it rains.
The well-informed interviewees who stood against the turbines articulate their positions, as do several environmentalists and energy experts.
When erected too near peoples’ homes, the turbines wreak emotional and psychological havoc on the residents. Tug Hill, in Lowville, New York, is one place where 400 of them were built, and the townspeople have found them oppressive.
One subject says that to be built and maintained, they require fossil fuels, and it is questionable if the amount that they put back into the grid is worth the effort. Green and wind energy may be mutually exclusive terms.
Israel is the first to say she does not offer definitive answers. “I’m just asking people to look into it more. I know there’s a lot going on in Europe, even in Denmark. People there are asking if there really is that much power coming from the wind turbines.
“We want desperately to have easy answers. Then all you have to do is send in some money and someone else can take care of it.”