Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dear Health Canada

News yesterday that Health Canada has decided to do some research: "Health Canada to probe possible health effects of wind turbines." This study is going to be very carefully watched.

Early indications from its rollout are not good on the impartiality front, what with Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre immediately using the announcement to wield it against the McGuinty government to seek a halt to a wind project in the Ottawa area. Further, there was the phone call from the PMO to Wind Concerns, a leading opponent of wind energy who were very active politically during the Ontario election and who sought to defeat Liberal MPPs:
Wind power opponents were celebrating Tuesday after Health Canada announced it will conduct peer-reviewed research, in collaboration with Statistics Canada, into the effect of wind turbine noise on human health.

Jane Wilson, president of the anti-wind group Wind Concerns Ontario, learned of the study in a phone call Tuesday morning from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office.

"Wow, I said, is it Christmas? It's July!" she said in an interview. "This is exactly what we've been saying all along, that there really wasn't the science there to base policy on."

Wilson is confident the study will confirm the link between wind turbines and human health. "The symptoms that are being reported by people in Ontario are the same as those being reported around the world," she said. "So there really is something there."
Wilson may be confident but others quoted in the report are more measured about what we should expect from this study. To date a link has not been established between turbines and human health impacts. It's fine for Health Canada to do research but it definitely shouldn't be tailored to anyone's political agenda and will need to pass scientific rigour. (The irony is not lost about this announcement being made yesterday while scientists were on Parliament Hill's steps protesting this government's research cuts.)

Anyway, here's some material for Health Canada to help them out with their research. They're going to do field work but this kind of material would also be something they'd surely want to consider in an impartial study: "A disease in search of a cause: a study of self-citation and press release pronouncement in the factoid of wind farms causing “vibroacoustic disease”."

In recent years, claims have proliferated that wind turbines cause a large variety of diseases. Two of these, “Wind Turbine Syndrome” (WTS) and “Vibroacoustic disease” (VAD) are frequently mentioned. Seventeen reviews of the evidence for wind turbines causing harm have concluded the evidence to be poor yet some regulatory authorities are now referencing health concerns as part of the rationale for set-back guidelines from residences, greatly reducing siting opportunities.

Methods and Findings

Google returns 158,000 hits for WTS and 298,000 for VAD. We conducted a search for all papers and citations on WTS or VAD, and searched for evidence for any association between wind turbine exposure and VAD. No papers on WTS were found in indexed journals. Thirty five papers on VAD were found, none reporting on an association between VAD and wind turbines. Of the 35 papers on VAD, 34 had a first author from a single Portuguese research group. Seventy four per cent of citations to these papers were self-citations by the group. Median self-citation rates in science are around 7%. Two unpublished case reports presented at conferences were found alleging that VAD was “irrefutably demonstrated” to be caused by wind turbines.


VAD has received virtually no scientific recognition beyond the group who invented the term. The claim that wind turbines cause VAD is a factoid that has gone “viral” in cyberspace and may be contributing to nocebo effects among those living near turbines.
Hope that helps to get our friends at Health Canada off on the right foot.

(h/t DH for study)