With the assistance of Mark Youden,
On November 6, 2014, Health Canada and Statistics Canada
released the highly anticipated preliminary findings from their
wind turbine noise and health study, the Community Noise and
Health Study. The study was launched in 2012 to understand if
there is a relationship between exposure to wind turbine noise and
the health effects for people living near wind turbines. The
results indicate that wind turbine exposure is associated with
annoyances but that there is no direct connection between exposure
to wind turbine noise and self-reported illnesses, chronic disease,
stress or quality of sleep.
The results will assist decision makers by strengthening the
peer-reviewed scientific evidence necessary to support decisions
regarding wind turbine proposals, approvals, installations and
operations. In particular, the study will provide evidence for
adjudicative bodies (such as the Ontario Environmental Review
Tribunal) to consider when determining whether wind turbine noise
will cause "serious harm to human health" on appeals of
Renewable Energy Approvals in Ontario.
The Study of Wind Turbine Noise
The Health Canada and Statistics Canada study examined 1,238
adults from Ontario and Prince Edward Island who lived varying
distances from wind turbines. The results came from self-reported
questionnaires, objectively measured responses and noise
measurements and calculations. The study monitored the
participants' heart rate, blood pressure and the level of the
stress hormone cortisol in hair samples. The study has received
criticism for neglecting to account for those people who lived near
wind turbines but moved prior to the study due to serious concerns
about health, environmental impacts and property values.
The study found no evidence to support a direct link between
exposure to wind turbine noise and any of the self-reported
illnesses and chronic diseases examined. Nor did the study indicate
that noise from wind turbines has any measurable effect on stress
and quality of sleep. However, the study did find
"statistically significant exposure-response relationships
between increasing wind turbine noise levels and the prevalence of
reporting high annoyance". Essentially, the louder the noise
the more the participants were bothered by other annoyances as
well, such as the blinking aircraft warning lights, associated
shadow flickers and vibrations.
Wind Turbines Noise and Serious Harm to Human Health
Ontario has a special approvals regime for renewable energy,
through the Green Energy Act,
2009.1 To generate wind power in
Ontario, proponents must obtain a Renewable Energy Approval under
the Environmental Protection Act from the Ministry of the
Environment and Climate Change. Any concerned Ontario resident may
appeal a Renewable Energy Approval. To succeed, concerned residents
must prove that, on a balance of probabilities, the wind project
will cause "serious harm to human health", or
"serious and irreversible harm to plant, life, animal life or
the natural environment".2
To date, concerned residents have not been able to overcome the
evidentiary burden of proving that the subject wind project will
cause "serious harm to human health." The threshold is
high and scientific evidence is uncertain. The study will likely
find its way into the evidence before the Environmental Review
Tribunal in future Renewable Energy Approval appeals. Those opposed
to wind turbine projects may choose to focus on the statistically
significant relationship between wind turbine noise and annoyance.
Proponents will likely focus on the lack of evidence to support a
link between wind turbine noise and self-reported illnesses,
chronic disease, stress or quality of sleep.
It will be interesting to see how the Environmental Review
Tribunal will interpret future parties' arguments related to
the "serious harm to human health" in light of these
preliminary results. The study is subject to a 60-day public
consultation and peer review process. The preliminary results can
be found on Health Canada's website.
1 SO 2009, c 12, Sch A, 2 See s. 145.2.1(2) of the Ontario Environmental Protection
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