Report on May 21st ERT Hearing on Human Health Appeal
The Environmental Review Tribunal announced its ruling on medical records and heard the full testimony APPEC witness Douglas Desmond and the initial testimony of APPEC witness Stephana Johnston.
Decision on Medical Records
Co-chair Robert Wright said there is no statutory bar to medical records in the Statutory Procedures Act. The ERT will admit the records as evidence but not for the truth of their contents under the Evidence Act. Therefore, if parties wish to rely on the medical opinions expressed, they should call the appropriate experts.
Examination of Douglas Desmond
Douglas Desmond occupies Receptor No. 369 near the Talbot wind project in Chatham-Kent. He has lived in the house since 1978 on a farm owned by the Desmond family since 1795. Wind turbines surround the house, making it always downwind regardless of the wind’s direction. The closest turbine is at 1066 m, and ten others are within 1500 m.
Shadow flicker was Mr. Desmond’s initial health concern. But the house is shaded by large trees, and shrubs have been left to grow and block the view from the windows. When the turbines started operation in late October 2010, Mr. Desmond was surprised to feel immediately the effect of sleep disruption. Later, he began to suffer migraines. He has also experienced shortness of breath, chest pain, and arrhythmia.
Mr. Desmond, a sixty-three-year old lawyer, has no recent, relevant pre-existing medical conditions. He had a serious motor accident forty years ago, had migraines until his 30s, and has been treated for skin cancer during the last 20 years. The recent chest pain was initially diagnosed as due to reflux but has now led to a thyroid investigation.
The family doctor prescribed drugs for sleep and migraines, but these have not been helpful and, in fact, caused disabling dizziness. Common non-prescription drugs have not worked either. Mr. Desmond has not seen a sleep specialist. His symptoms disappear when he is away from home for a few days or when the turbine blades are turning slowly or stopped.
Mr. Desmond reported the noise problem numerous times to the Ministry of Environment (MOE) but received no effective response.
Cross-Examination of Mr. Desmond
Gilead lawyer Bryn Gray asked Mr. Desmond about his concerns regarding property values. Mr. Desmond said he is concerned about all the economic impacts on Chatham-Kent, such as the industrialization of rural areas, reduction of agricultural land, and limitations on residential development. He had planned to sever part of his farm for new house construction but discontinued the process when wind development rendered the property unbuildable. He also said that wind turbines, irrespective of their appearance, are obstructions in a view and, like other obstructions, therefore affect the value and salability of properties with viewscapes.
Though Mr. Desmond had challenged the Talbot project at the Ontario Municipal Board, it went ahead under the new regulations of the Green Energy Act.
Mr. Desmond had also requested the MOE to conduct a full environmental assessment of Chatham-Kent before approving wind projects. He was concerned about the effect on waterfowl after speaking with Dr. Scott Petrie of Bird Studies Canada. Tundra swans formerly used Lake Erie and fields near his house for staging in spring and fall; now they avoid the area.
In 2011 Mr. Desmond provided the Chatham-Kent Wind Action Group with a legal trust account for funds. He also spoke at a conference where he was self-identified as a “vocal opponent of large-scale industrial wind projects.”
MOE lawyer Sylvia Davis inquired further into Mr. Desmond’s medical records, noting diagnoses of osteoarthritis and bursitis for back and hip-and-thigh pain, respectively. Mr. Desmond said he accepted such pains as related to aging. The noise from turbines, however, is disturbing because of its variability, and he said his sleep disruption might be caused by low-frequency sound because the use of white noise does not bring any relief.
Examination of Stephana Johnston
Stephana Johnston, an eighty-two-year-old former health educator, lives in her retirement home, Receptor No. 254 of the Clear Creek, Cultus-Frogmore wind projects in Norfolk County.
Her symptoms started upon operation of the wind turbines in December 2008. She has felt pressure in her ears and head, sleep deprivation, fatigue in the morning, trembling in her abdomen, and dizziness that led to an injurious fall.
Ms. Johnston’s pre-existing medical conditions have a long history. She was diagnosed with hypo-thyroid in 1980, diabetes in 1984, and intermittent high blood pressure in 2000.
For the recent symptoms Ms. Johnston has received medical attention from her family doctor, an audiologist, and two neurologists, one of whom suggested she leave her home. She has declined to use sleep medication because of side effects. She has obtained periodic relief by sleeping in an apartment 40 km away and in a trailer on her son’s property, also distant from wind turbines.
Her numerous complaints to the MOE have been without results. An agent did promise to measure turbine sound levels for compliance, but there has been no follow-up.
The wind developer and two levels of government have been similarly unresponsive. Ms. Johnson explained the problems directly to Mike Crawley, then president of AIM PowerGen, but had no further contact. She presented a petition signed by 70 project residents to Norfolk council and had the local MPP table the same petition in the Ontario legislature.
Ms. Johnston has tried to sell her house but has had no one come to view it. Recently, she filed a lawsuit against the owner of the wind project.