Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study: Summary of Comments Received

Part 2 - Not Specific to Study Design

CIHR

A number of comments received called for the study to be placed in the hands of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). CIHR would then hold responsibility for leading a request for proposals process through leading universities and research institutes and this was felt to be the appropriate organization to undertake the study. Concerns included the regulatory nature of Health Canada (HC) and what is perceived to be limited research capacity. Comments suggesting a bias on the part of the federal government and HC, as supportive of industrial wind energy, were also conveyed.

Expert Committee Response

The 2011 Speech from the Throne emphasized Canada's support for "new clean energy projects of national or regional significance". With early indication of community concerns related to possible health impacts, HC seeks to investigate any potential related adverse effects on the health of Canadians. HC's role is to protect the health and safety of Canadians, which would include seeking a clearer understanding of any risks that may be posed to the health of Canadians by noise exposure from wind turbines.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is Canada's premier funding agency for peer-reviewed health research that spans the spectrum of academic disciplines and is undertaken at eligible Canadian institutions (i.e. universities, academic hospitals, health centres and community-based health organisations). CIHR does not conduct intramural research, nor does it commission research. Rather, CIHR administers funding for scientific research, the vast majority of which is 'investigator-initiated' through competitions open to all areas of research. This structure allows researchers themselves to propose topics for study according to knowledge gaps identified by scientific and clinical communities. Thus, while CIHR encourages applications to its open competitions on topics such as wind turbines, the organization is not itself in a position to undertake such research.

Efforts have been taken to ensure a thorough, transparent selection process of an expert committee with international representation, appropriate expertise and a declared lack of bias or conflict of interest. HC scientists conduct research, carry out assessments and provide advice in support of regulatory mandates in addition to participating in international standards setting and guidance development. These activities are carried out above and beyond publications. The scope of research and non-research activities carried out by regulatory scientists, and a declared lack of bias, are considered to position them well to carry out the proposed research.

Ethics

Some comments received focused on perceived ethical issues related to the study. In particular these respondents suggested an essential requirement for the Health Study would be the inclusion of a firm ethics statement. Some felt strongly that if the wind turbine health study confirms the evidence of adverse health effects, then the study must have the authority to demand the immediate cessation of operation of all wind turbines located at similar distances of receptors as it would be ethically unacceptable to continue to study health effects over a two-year period of time if known adverse impacts are recognized.

Expert Committee Response

The study will be submitted for a full ethics review from the HC Human Research Ethics Board. While the data obtained will contribute to global knowledge of the relationship between exposure to sound from wind turbines and health, the results will not provide a definitive answer on their own and no decisions should be made on the basis of one study.

Consultation

Numerous comments were received in relation to the consultation process, focussing on both the time period allotted for comment (initially 30 days and considered too short to allow for many of the stakeholders affected by this issue (i.e. Rural, Farmers) to participate as they would be engaged in harvesting etc.) and the overall process. With respect to the latter some individuals expressed a desire for HC to engage in additional consultations, public inquiries and/or Town Hall meetings on the design prior to the study's commencement.

Additional comments sought to ensure that results of the public consultation would be made public prior to the commencement of the study, including a description of how the Expert Committee reviewed, considered and/or incorporated the public's feedback into the research study design and methodology.

Expert Committee Response

Further to early feedback obtained, the consultation period was extended from an initial 30 day period to 60 days, ending September 7, 2012. All comments received were shared with the study's Expert Committee for review and response, with feedback triaged according to themes. The Committee met on October 4th, 2012 to discuss feedback and to develop responses to the various themes.

The extent of public consultation undertaken on the Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study is greater than most research undertaken by the Department. HC has provided the opportunity to the public to feed into the design to support openness, transparency and enhanced rigour of the scientific methodology. Such input has resulted in changes that are communicated both in the responses as well as in the more detailed methodology provided. The responses to the comments, in addition to the more detailed methodology paper, are considered to address the majority of stakeholder feedback.

Merit

Numerous comments were received expressing large scale support for HC's efforts. Additional comments were received from individuals both in support of wind energy and those against where, irrespective of the position stated, respondents questioned the appropriateness of the cost of the research and/or requests for a change in focus to concentrate on other sources of energy (fossil fuels, hydraulic fracturing, nuclear exposure, coal and tar sands). Some individuals felt strongly that sufficient research has been carried out internationally in the area of wind turbine noise and health to date that would support a literature review approach as the sole mechanism to reach conclusions.

Expert Committee Response

The wind turbine industry continues to expand in Canada. By 2015, it is anticipated that there will be 20 times more energy produced by wind than there was in 2000. Some communities and individuals are expressing concerns about possible health impacts of wind turbine noise on nearby residents and it is anticipated that wind turbines, and the noise they produce, will continue to receive attention as the number of wind-power projects increase in line with national and provincial clean-energy targets.

The Department's advice to Canadians on the health impacts of wind turbine noise must always be anchored in a strong science base. In the case of wind turbine noise, there is limited scientific research related to the character of wind turbine noise, in particular low frequency noise, and a lack of Canadian data on community complaints and self-reported health impacts from studies with rigorous methodological designs. To date, very few epidemiology studies have been published and there is no data on wind turbine noise impacts that has been derived from measured biological endpoints. As there is currently limited evidence to conclude whether or not there is a relationship between exposure to the noise from wind turbines and human health effects, HC is working with Statistics Canada and other external experts to design and conduct a research study to explore this relationship.

The results of this research will support decision makers by strengthening the peer-reviewed scientific evidence base that supports decisions, advice and policies regarding wind turbine development proposals, installations and operations in Canada. The data obtained will also contribute to the global knowledge of the relationship between wind turbine noise and health. However the results will not provide a definitive answer on their own.

Moratorium

Some comments received urged the federal government to uphold the "precautionary principle" and impose a moratorium on future wind power development until the adverse health issues have been studied and resolved, saying it is unethical to conduct research on subjects. Concerns were raised related to the length of the study and the potential for further exposure during the study's tenure as additional wind turbines continue to be erected.

Some individuals conveyed that refusal to enact a moratorium pending investigation and resultant report/evaluation period would indicate that the federal Government has already determined that no health impacts will be experienced by Canadians during the period of the investigation.

Expert Committee Response

The federal government does not make decisions on approvals, siting, or mitigation of noise from wind turbines, including moratoriums on further development. While the data obtained will contribute to global knowledge of the relationship between exposure to sound from wind turbines and health, the results will not provide a definitive answer on their own and no decisions should be made on the basis of one study. HC will share all results with other governments and jurisdictions so that they may use this to support informed decision-making within their own jurisdictions.

HC scientists consider all peer-reviewed scientific studies, on an ongoing basis, and employ a weight-of-evidence approach when evaluating possible health risks from exposure. This approach takes into account both the quantity of studies for a particular endpoint (whether adverse or not), but more importantly, the quality of those studies. Poorly conducted studies (e.g. inadequate exposure evaluation, lack of appropriate control samples, inadequate statistical analysis or insufficient disclosure of important design issues) receive relatively little weight, while properly conducted studies (e.g. all controls included, appropriate statistics, complete exposure evaluation) receive more weight.

At present there is limited scientific evidence on which to conclude whether or not there is a relationship between exposure to wind turbine noise and harm to human health.

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