Questions and Answers: Health Canada Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study

1. Why is Health Canada conducting research into the possible health effects of wind turbine noise?

Health Canada is aware of health-related complaints from individuals living in close proximity to wind turbine establishments. Globally, wind energy development is an area of expansion, and research is underway to support a broader evidence base on which international jurisdictions can base decisions.

Health Canada has expertise in measuring noise and assessing the health impacts of noise because of its role in administering the Radiation Emitting Devices Act (REDA). As defined under REDA, noise is a form of radiation. This expertise can contribute to global efforts to increase knowledge related to wind turbine noise.

The objectives of the research are to:

  • Investigate the prevalence of health effects or health indicators among a sample of Canadians exposed to wind turbine noise using both self-reported and objective health measures.
  • Apply statistical modeling in order to derive exposure response relationships for wind turbine noise levels as well as self-reported and objective health measures.
  • Address the uncertainty that currently exists with respect to low frequency noise from wind turbines as a potential contributing factor to adverse community reaction.

2. Will the study investigate the possible impact of low frequency noise on health?

The research study aims to evaluate self-reported health impacts and symptoms of illness against objective health measures and the sound levels generated by wind turbines, including low frequency noise. This data will be correlated with calculated wind turbine noise so that any potential relationship to reported health symptoms can be reliably determined.

3. What control group is being used for this research?

This study aims to evaluate the dose response relationship between wind turbine noise exposure and reported health outcomes. These relationships will be evaluated using both self-reported and objectively measured outcomes. A dose response analysis would consider residences/individuals who live at distances from wind turbines where the exposure to wind turbine noise is at a control level (unexposed to noise from wind turbines).

4. For the purposes of the research study on wind turbine noise exposure, what health indicators will the study assess?

For the purposes of the Health Canada research study, responses to wind turbine noise will be assessed through both self-reported and objective measures of health, including sleep disturbance, cortisol levels (a biological stress marker) and blood pressure.

5. How is this study being peer-reviewed?

Peer review will be undertaken at various points during the study. The study is being designed by a multidisciplinary team of 26 experts in areas including noise, clinical medicine, health assessment and epidemiology. External advisors from other federal government departments, academia, and international jurisdictions with expertise in wind turbine noise have also been consulted. The methodology will be shared with the World Health Organization for review and comment, and presented at relevant international conferences for review. Finally, during July 2012, the methodology will be posted for a 30-day comment period on the Health Canada website and at the  Consulting Canadians website to obtain broad feedback from interested Canadians and stakeholders.

On completion of the research, the study's results will be reviewed by the research design committee and advisors. The results will also undergo peer review through the scientific journal publication process.

6. Will all comments be considered in the final research design?

Yes. All comments received during the consultation period will be reviewed by the research design committee and considered when finalising the design for the study. Responses will be compiled and feedback provided in the form of a summary posted on the Health Canada website.

7. Where will the study be conducted?

Specific details related to study location, timing, and survey components will be made available on the Health Canada website upon completion of the research. Premature disclosure could introduce bias in the research design.

8. Are provincial and territorial governments involved in this research?

The study is being funded by Health Canada. There is no direct provincial or territorial involvement although the study's results will be shared with provincial and territorial governments.

9. Who is on the panel of experts and how were they selected?

The list of experts who participated in designing the study is available on the Health Canada website. Members of the research design committee were selected for their expertise in a broad range of areas such as acoustics, noise, health assessment, clinical medicine, statistics and epidemiology. Experts have been selected from federal government departments, academia, and international jurisdictions with expertise in wind turbine noise.

10. When will the study results be released?

This study is expected to be complete in 2014. Results will be made available at the earliest opportunity.

11. How can I obtain results of the research?

Information related to Health Canada's research, with the exception of the raw data, which is protected under the Statistics Act, will be posted on the Department's website. In addition, upon completion, Health Canada will communicate outcomes through conference presentations and publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

12. How will the results of this study be used?

The results of this research will support decision makers by contributing to the evidence base of peer-reviewed scientific research that ultimately supports decisions, advice and policies regarding wind power development proposals, installations and operations. The data obtained will contribute to the global knowledge of the relationship between wind turbine noise and health. It is important to note that this research is being conducted to provide additional insight into an emerging issue; however, the results will not provide a definitive answer on their own.

13. What are the health effects of wind turbine noise?

There is currently insufficient scientific evidence to conclude whether there is a relationship between exposure to wind turbine noise and harm to human health. However, the most rigorous studies available to date do not show a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and harm to human health. Health Canada continues to review emerging scientific evidence. Should new evidence become available that supports a direct link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects, the Department will review the research and, if necessary, work with the responsible authorities to address these emerging concerns.

14. How are wind turbines regulated in Canada?

Provincial and territorial governments regulate noise and the location of wind power projects directly through legislation, guidelines, or municipal by-laws, which may apply broadly or only to specific project types or sectors.

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