Report on May 28th ERT Hearing on Human Health Appeal
The Environmental Review Tribunal heard examination testimony of APPEC witness Dr. Robert McMurtry and the full testimony of APPEC witness Dr. Robert Thorne via video conference from New Zealand.
Qualifying of Dr. McMurtry (cont’d)
Dr. McMurtry was qualified by the ERT Tribunal as a physician and surgeon with experience in healthcare delivery, health care policies and health policy. In their finding of expert qualifications the Tribunal noted Dr. McMurtry’s distinguished record of public service, as well as APPEC’s argument that he has discussed adverse health effects of industrial wind turbines with more victims than anyone else in Canada.
Examination of Dr. McMurtry
Dr. McMurtry said his peer-reviewed article “Toward a Case Definition of Adverse Health Effects in the Environs of Industrial Wind Turbines: Facilitating a Clinical Diagnosis” represents a logical culmination of 35 years’ experience, stimulated by a symposium held in Prince Edward County in October 2010. The intent of the article is to assist primary health care practitioners in making diagnosis of probable adverse health effects in individuals in the environs of industrial wind turbine projects.
Dr. McMurtry discussed three orders of criteria in finding probable adverse health effects, in the sequence they should be used:
First order criteria: (a) living within 5 km of turbines, (b) altered health status following the start-up of turbines, (c) amelioration of symptoms when more than 5 km from turbines, and (d) recurrence of symptoms upon return to within 5 km of turbines. Dr. McMurtry noted that all four conditions must be present.
Second order criteria: (a) compromised quality of life, (b) continuing sleep disruption, (c) increased stress, including psychological distress, and (d) preference to leave residence temporarily or permanently.
Third order criteria: otological, cardiovascular, psychological, regulatory disorders, etc. Criteria either occur or worsen following the start-up of the wind project. Dr. McMurtry clarified that the line between second and third order criteria is not hard and fast: Second order criteria (compromised quality of life, or sleep disruption, or stress) usually lead to some elaboration.
Dr. McMurtry related the three orders of criteria to three post-turbine witnesses that have testified at the hearing: Douglas Desmond (May 21), Stephana Johnston (May 22), and Janet White (May 24). Dr. McMurtry noted the importance of “cross over,” the difference in how people feel when near turbines and upon leaving the environment. Ms. White did not report improvement when away from the turbines, and Dr. McMurtry understands that she has never left the environment. It follows that the first order criteria is not satisfied.
However, Dr. McMurtry considers that, more probably than not, Mr. Desmond and Ms. Johnston suffer serious harm. Both witnesses reside within 2 km of wind turbine projects. Nothing distinguishes Ostrander Point from those projects. Based on two persons per receptor/per residence, Dr. McMurtry believes that 16 individuals will more probably than not suffer serious harm when the Ostrander Point wind project operates as approved.
Dr. McMurtry said that the medical profession has not been kept informed. Individuals who report adverse health effects have been greeted with indifference and ridicule, and at times have been threatened with exposure of their full medical history. Dr. McMurtry noted the importance of the reference to the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Erickson ERT decision (2011).
Dr. McMurtry’s further testimony was postponed till Wednesday so a scheduled video conference with Dr. Thorne could proceed.
Examination of Dr. Robert Thorne
Dr. Thorne researches the human perception of noise, or variations in sound. His report “Wind Farm Noise and Human Perception: A Review” (2013) addresses the potential for serious to moderate adverse health effects in individuals living near large turbines.
Dr. Thorne noted sleep disturbance, anxiety, and stress. Since noise from wind turbines never stops, individuals are unable to escape the noise other than through leaving their environment. They are able to get used to environmental noises such as road traffic and planes but are unable to get used to turbine noise. Dr. Thorne considers that the fluctuating characteristic of sound from turbines poses a nuisance; amplitude modulation always applies and is one of the core characteristics of wind turbines.
Dr. Thorne views the sound of turbines as unique. He described it as swishing or a steady rumble with swishes, whines, and “rumble thumps.” Sound varies as blades turn with wind direction and when blades interact with disturbed air from other turbines. The swishing sound, as well as special audible effects such as “rumble thumps,” awakens people and keeps them from getting to sleep again.
Cross -examination of Dr. Robert Thorne
Sylvia Davis, lawyer for the Ministry of the Environment, asked Dr. Thorne whether his monitoring equipment was activated by people when they were annoyed by noise. Dr. Thorne replied that his study, according to New Zealand standards, required monitoring equipment to be set up five metres from a residence and inside a residence, with sound recorded continuously. The equipment is encased and cannot be interfered with.
Ms. Davis suggested to Dr. Thorne that someone could have anxiety or annoyance but these wouldn’t cause serious harm. Dr. Thorne replied that in his experience when people reach the point of being anxious, annoyed or agitated, they’ve got serious harm. Dr. Thorne noted his study only suggests the need for more research, the same research that used to be done for roads and railways.
Ms. Davis pointed out that the WHO night-time noise guideline is not more than 40 dB(A) outside homes versus the 32 dB(A) found in Dr. Thorne’s study to cause serious health harm.
Dr. Thorne agreed with Darrell Cruz, lawyer for Gilead Power, that he did not have access to all the medical records for all 23 people involved in his study. He noted that complaints related to people being awakened at night, over months and months of wind turbine noise, and their reports of anxiety and sleep disturbance.
Re-examination of Dr. Thorne
APPEC lawyer Eric Gillespie asked Dr. Thorne about the discrepancy between the WHO guideline and his study. Dr. Thorne said the WHO health effects and sound criteria relate to noise generated by roads, traffic and the environment. Those guidelines are not meant for fluctuating sounds that are constantly on, 365 days a year in rural environments.
Mr. Gillespie asked Dr. Thorne about Mr. Cruz’s comment on not reviewing the medical records. Dr. Thorne noted the government’s Privacy Law, but he had analyzed, nonetheless, some historical health records feely provided by participants.
ERT Panel Questions
Mr. Wright asked about the turning of the turbines and the different sounds they make in different wind directions. Dr. Thorne replied that the wind usually changes direction incrementally but a small change (10% or so) causes a rumble-thump that sounds “like an old boot in a dryer.” It is quite different from the normal operating “swishing” sound. Sounds are also different when there are clusters of turbines or multiple turbines.