Report on the ERT Hearing on the White Pines Wind Project – Dec. 8, 2015
By Henri Garand, APPEC
On Day 19 the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) of the White Pines wind project heard the testimony of Dr. Robert McCunney, an expert witness for developer WPD.
Robert McCunney, MD, has a Boston clinical practice and is a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Funded by the Canadian and American Wind Energy Associations, he headed teams in both 2009 and 2014 that produced status reports such as the recent “Wind Turbines and Health: A Critical Review of the Scientific Literature.” Though not licensed to practice medicine in Ontario, Dr. McCunney has testified on behalf of the wind industry at other ERT hearings.
The Tribunal qualified Dr. McCunney as “a medical doctor specializing in occupational and environmental medicine, with the particular implications of noise exposure.”
WPD counsel James Wilson asked Dr. McCunney to comment on wind turbine sounds. He said that noise is characterized by loudness and pitch, low frequency is associated with vibrations, and infrasound is inaudible below 107 db(A). The last feature also occurs in the natural environment (e.g., wind and waves) and in actions of the human body such as breathing. Turbine infrasound cannot be distinguished beyond 300m.
Dr. McCunney’s 2014 literature review, based on 162 published papers, concluded that “(1) infrasound sound near wind turbines does not exceed audibility thresholds, (2) epidemiological studies have shown associations between living near wind turbines and annoyance, (3) infrasound and low-frequency sound do not present unique health risks, and (4) annoyance seems more strongly related to individual characteristics than noise from turbines.” Nothing Dr. McCunney has read since publication changes his opinions.
In cross-examination, APPEC counsel Eric Gillespie established that Dr. McCunney has never treated anyone complaining of turbine-related symptoms or conducted any original field research. Though he lives near a wind turbine, his home is 1500m away.
Mr. Gillespie asked Dr. McCunney to confirm the findings in several studies cited in his literature review that turbine sounds annoyed 7-18 percent of nearby residents. But Dr. McCunney said this is similar to other environmental noise. Moreover, he does not accept the concept of “wind turbine syndrome,” in which a number of symptoms are associated with wind turbines and disappear in their absence.
Dr. McCunny was then asked to consider the 2015 Australian Senate inquiry, which received almost 500 worldwide submissions on wind turbine noise. He said he had not read it, but he was critical of its reliance on a range of unverified reports rather strictly published studies. He did accept, however, the finding that the “distinction between direct and indirect effects is not helpful.”
Finally, Mr. Gillespie asked at what distance from turbines complaints would cease. Dr. McCunney expressed confidence in Ontario’s 550m minimum setbacks.
In re-examination WPD’s Wilson asked about sleep anxiety and deprivation, which can lead to serious medical conditions. Dr. McCunney said no study shows a causal relation between these symptoms and wind turbines. His 2014 literature review identifies “longitudinal assessments of health pre- and post-installation” and “enhanced measurement techniques to evaluate annoyance”—but not sleep problems—among “further areas of Inquiry.”