May 29th at the ERT

Report on May 29th ERT Hearing on Human Health Appeal
by
Henri Garand

The Environmental Review Tribunal received an APPEC motion to extend the deadline for an ERT decision, and it heard the cross-examination of APPEC witness Dr. Robert McMurtry.

APPEC Motion for Adjournment

APPEC Lawyer Eric Gillespie made a motion to adjourn, or extend the ERT’s period for decision making, for one week, i.e., to July 10.  Gilead Power’s lawyer Darrel Cruz said Gilead did not consent to the motion but would not oppose it.  Ministry of Environment lawyer Sylvia Davis said that MOE consented to the motion.

The ERT panel granted the adjournment as “necessary to ensure a fair and just hearing.”

Gilead Cross-examination of Dr. Robert McMurtry

Darrel Cruz started to lead Dr. McMurtry through a witness-by-witness review of his assessment of the information each had provided.  Eric Gillespie objected to the attempt to turn the ERT into a series of “personal injury” cases.  ERT co-chair Robert Wright ruled that Mr. Cruz would be given a little time to establish his line of inquiry.

Mr. Cruz then focused on three witnesses and questioned Dr. McMurtry’s conclusions.  Dr. McMurtry explained how he applied the three orders, or categories, of criteria in “Towards a Case Definition of Adverse Health Effects in the Environs of Industrial Wind Turbines: Facilitating a Clinical Diagnosis.”   He said they were a guide for primary healthcare givers and were not intended to replace full diagnosis, which would involve direct questioning, examination, and medical tests.  However, they were a screening diagnosis such as used in orthopedics before surgery.  The case definition sets forth three categories that would lead to a possible, probable, or confirmed diagnosis of adverse health effects related to wind turbines.  None of the witnesses had a confirmed diagnosis because there was no testing.

Turning to the medical records for each of the witnesses, Mr. Cruz drew Dr. McMurtry’s attention to pre-existing conditions and the results of tests such as for blood pressure and blood sugar, and he asked Dr. McMurtry to consider alternative explanations.  Dr. McMurtry proceeded to give some lessons in medical practice and diagnosis, and he declined to agree with the simplistic interpretations Mr. Cruz repeatedly presented.

Dr. McMurtry went on to emphasize that the case definition serves medical rather than legal purposes, though he appreciated the rigorous scrutiny it was receiving.

Mr. Cruz asked about the importance of establishing a dose relationship in terms of sound levels and frequencies.  Dr. McMurtry agreed that it was valuable to have a patient’s history of exposure and subjective response to the intensity and frequency of turbine sounds.

Next, Mr. Cruz questioned the 5-km distance specified in the case definition.  Dr. McMurtry said it is not a proposed setback.  The distance was chosen as the environs of a wind turbine because adverse health effects spread farther as turbines increase in size and sound emissions.   Since health effects have already been reported as far as 10 km away, 5 km seemed a reasonable compromise.   Dr. McMurtry pointed out that the key variable is the turbine noise signal.  A setback is simply a proxy for the noise level.

MOE Cross-examination of Dr. McMurtry

Sylvia Davis inquired about the origin of the case definition.  Dr. McMurtry said it is based on self-reports on a questionnaire developed by Wind Voice and gathered from Ontarians living near wind projects.  There was no research on the prevalence of complaints; that would require an epidemiological study such as Health Canada is undertaking.  Dr. McMurtry pointed out that family physicians applying the case definition have not reported false positives, and some have contacted him with the “probable diagnosis” of adverse health effects related to wind turbines.

Ms. Davis asked whether some criteria could be side effects of prescribed drugs.  Dr. McMurtry said this could be true of third order criteria but not first or second.  Ms. Davis wondered about “common health complaints” related to circumstances like aging.  Dr. McMurtry said the case definition was not about statistics but diagnosis.

Ms. Davis asked about the “small number” of people affected.  Dr. McMurtry said the situation is the same as for diseases like lung cancer: Not everyone exposed to risk factors becomes ill.  Even within families some members have adverse effects from turbines while others do not.  Reports worldwide suggest that 5-40% of people experience adverse effects, the percentage varying with the distance from turbines.

APPEC Re-examination of Dr. McMurtry

Mr. Gillespie asked whether any of the day’s questioning had caused Dr. McMurtry to change his opinions.  He said that with more information he now felt it is “more likely than not witnesses are suffering from industrial wind turbines.”

ERT Panel Questions

Co-chair Heather Gibbs asked about the prevalence of adverse effects due to the Ostrander Point project.  Dr. McMurtry said it is not possible to establish prevalence until population studies are completed.

Testimony of Dr. Sarah Laurie

Dr. Laurie was scheduled to testify by video conference from Australia, but technical difficulties prevented it.

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