Report on June 4th ERT Hearing on Human Health Appeal
The Ministry of the Environment’s (MOE) case continued with the Environmental Review Tribunal hearing the full testimony of Dr. Cornelia Baines. Gilead Power witness Dr. Werner Richarz was qualified to give testimony.
Qualifying of Dr. Baines
Dr. Baines is Professor Emeritus at the Epidemiology Division of the Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto. For the past thirty years Dr. Baines has researched the efficiency of breast cancer screening.
Dr. Baines confirmed that she is not an expert in wind turbines, in acoustics, or in sleep disturbances, tinnitus, ear pressure, headaches or any other medical symptoms that form the central case for the appellant. Dr. Baines has done no epidemiological study of health effects related to wind turbines. Dr. Baines has not been a practicing physician since the early 1980s.
APPEC lawyer Eric Gillespie submitted evidence relating to Dr. Baines’ testimony at the Chatham-Kent ERT, including a presentation to the Executive Committee of the City of Toronto in April 2010 and a letter to the Guelph Mercury, also in April 2010, where Dr. Baines asserts there is no evidence of adverse effect on health. Dr. Baines said that her view has not changed.
Dr. Baines was qualified as a physician epidemiologist with expertise in the design, measurement and evaluation of research studies.
Examination of Dr. Baines
Dr. Baines gave various reasons why there is no evidence of a causal effect between wind turbines and exposed populations:
• Symptoms preceding wind turbines, either because of suggestion or worry.
• Constancy, where only 1 in well over 200 people have complained.
• Biological plausibility: unlikely such a wide range of symptoms caused by a single source.
• Reversibility in effects reported. Suggestibility comes into play: If you believe wind turbines are making you ill and you leave, there will be psychogenetic benefit to counteract psychogenic harm.
• Small sample sizes in Dr. Nissenbaum’s study and others. These render it difficult to produce compelling conclusions.
Dr. Baines considers that the association of symptoms with wind turbines is not strong based on the prevalence of the same symptoms in the general population. According to a New Yorker article, more than 50% of people aged 13-64 experience sleep problems. A U.S. study found that 1 out of 3 people over age 51 complain of fatigue. In Canada, 6.4 million people over the age of 15 report a lot of stress in their lives.
Dr. Baines believes that age may contribute to symptoms, such as aching bones, tinnitus, and heart palpitations, experienced by people bothered by wind turbines. Dr. Baines noted that in the questionnaires provided to the MOE people over 40 reported 80% of the symptoms.
Dr. Baines considers that Dr. Robert McMurtry’s study is very preliminary, the methodology is unsound, and the manner in which the case study was developed does not meet appropriate standards. She identified two problems with Dr. Robert Thorne’s study: the overall small sample size and the diverse sample composition.
Dr. Baines concludes that no evidence shows wind turbines cause harm to health.
Cross-examination of Dr. Baines
Mr. Gillespie asked Dr. Baines whether it was fair to say that virtually all the symptoms she looked at were irrelevant in terms of APPEC’s case and whether she was aware that neither Dr. McMurtry nor Dr. Thorne referred in their testimony to “wind turbine syndrome”. Dr. Baines considers that the 200+ symptoms identified by Simon Chapman are part of a working knowledge of wind turbine syndrome and that use of this term is prevalent.
Mr. Gillespie noted Dr. Baines’ reliance on such diverse sources as the New Yorker and the Toronto Star, on the British Medical Journal, and a summary on Simon Chapman’s website. Dr. Baines said she was informed by newspaper reports but depends on journal articles. Dr. Baines denied she is an advocate.
Given the prevalence of symptoms such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, stress, headaches and heart palpitations, Mr. Gillespie asked Dr. Baines if people presenting in hospital with any one of these symptoms would be told: “why everybody gets these, so go home”. Dr. Baines said that the important issue isn’t what happens when people go to a doctor, it’s how many people do not go.
Dr. Baines did not agree that a doctor would look into the cause of disturbed sleep. She said that as a physician she had many patients complaining of disturbed sleep. There were probably multiple causes and they would be difficult to identify.
ERT Co-chair Robert Wright asked Dr. Baines whether this answer would be the same for each of the other effects listed. Dr. Baines replied that some effects cry out for investigation and some call for reassurance.
Mr. Gillespie asked Dr. Baines if a doctor would look into the causes of any of the conditions. Dr. Baines agreed that the issue is causation, that a doctor would look into the possibilities for vertigo, ear pressure or heart palpitations, and that one of the possibilities is noise annoyance. Dr. Baines agreed that Dr. Levanthall presents a biological mechanism, but she argued that the missing variable is the level of noise required to create those symptoms.
Re-examination of Dr. Baines
Dr. Baines said that she has reviewed the transcript on the internet of three witnesses and they are all clearly unhappy and afflicted.
ERT Panel Questions
Co-chair Heather Gibbs asked Dr. Baines to clarify the distinction between association and causation. Dr. Baines gave the example of silicone breast implants. When women became concerned that breast implants were causing autoimmune disease, they attributed to the implants everything that happened, from tooth extractions to divorce. For them, it was a causal effect.
Mr. Gillespie noted that some effects were associated with breast implants and some were not. Dr. Baines agreed.
Mr. Wright asked about psychogenic illness. Could it be demonstrated by epidemiological study? Dr. Baines said it would require subjecting individuals to sham and real infrasound for varying lengths of time. If they endured this over a month, it might be possible to say they were not just having psychogenetic symptoms. The problem, however, is that no experiment which could cause harm to people is ethically acceptable. Dr. Baines added that there was no reason to be concerned with noiseless infrasound in real life.
Qualifying of Dr. Richarz
Dr. Richarz has worked in the field of acoustics for many years. He has published 24 peer-reviewed papers in this area. In 2003 he began working on wind projects and has assessed 14 in all. Dr. Richarz currently serves on the committee for Health Canada’s Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study.
Gilead lawyer Bryn Gray sought to quality Dr. Richarz as an expert in acoustics and in the assessment of wind turbine noise. There were no questions or objections.
The ERT panel qualified Dr. Richarz as proposed.