Cohocton Wind Watch: Wind farms: is there a hidden health hazard?
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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wind farms: is there a hidden health hazard?

MORROW COUNTY, Ore. - It's their slice of heaven.

"When you get out here, everything kind of drains away from you," Sherry Eaton says as surveys her 10-acre rural home. "It's quiet, peaceful."

At least, it was.

"It looks like something prehistoric, something in the movies," Sherry’s husband Mike Eaton says about the more than a dozen towering wind turbines that have appeared above a ridge near their home.

Wind energy is the latest rage in going green and in shifting the United States away from fossil-based energy supplies. And more wind turbines are coming to Oregon. It is even required by law.

But with giant wind turbines now looming nearby, the Eaton’s fear the rapid move to clean energy will come at the expense of their health.

The problem is something called "Wind Turbine Syndrome."

"I pulled in the driveway after they started putting the towers up and there they are, I was just flabbergasted," Sherry said about the turbines, which reach nearly 400 feet into the sky.

But the view is not the half of it.

"My health concern is because I have a motion disorder, the research we've been researching has a possibility linked to having problems with [the turbines]," said Mike Eaton, who was an artillery man in Vietnam and has inner ear damage from all the blasts. He suffers from debilitating vertigo, which is similar to being seasick. He walks with a limp and a cane for assistance.

"In other words, I don't know what [the turbines] will do to me," he says. "To be honest with you… I don't want to be the guinea pig to find out."

Certain noises set off his vertigo, and he wonders if the sounds made by the whirling blades and churning turbine motors will be constant triggers.

That's why a soon-to-be-published book has them so alarmed. It’s called "Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment."

It's the work of New York physician and ecologist, Dr. Nina Pierpont.

Among the problems associated with Wind Turbine Syndrome are "a debilitating, complex of symptoms" including sleep disturbance, headache, dizziness, vertigo, nausea and panic episodes "associated with sensations of internal pulsation or quivering which arise while awake or asleep."

Dr. Pierpont began seeing patients in her clinic suffering from many of those symptoms and found a common thread among them: all lived near a new wind farm.

Dr. Owen Black is one of the experts asked to critique the research in the book. He is an expert in disorders of the inner ear.

He's also the Director of Neurology Research for the Legacy Research and Technology Center in Portland.

"Judging from the studies done, particularly by the Navy on low frequency sound pressure levels and given the symptom patterns that are described here, I definitely think it needs to be investigated," Dr. Black told KATU News. "What the cause is, I have no idea."

Dr. Pierpont's hypothesis says wind turbines produce vibration, low frequency noise and their moving shadows create visual stimulation known as "flicker."

All of those things that can affect the body, especially if you're someone with a "pre-existing migraine disorder, motion sensitivity, and inner ear damage" like Mike Eaton.

KATU News attempted to talk to the company building the wind farm next to the Eaton’s home about their concerns, but Susan Dennison of Invenergy, LLC, told KATU News "there hasn't been any conclusive evidence that turbines cause health problems."

Near the Eaton’s home, another company was cutting the ribbon on a newly-built wind farm.

Arlo Corwin, director of development for the Northwest region for Horizon Wind Energy said "we have definitely heard of these theories and we do think they are theories and we've never seen any credible source cited that substantiates this or scientific study that says this happens."

Horizon just commenced operation of the large new wind farm near Arlington.

Dr. Black concedes that "this area is very difficult because very few people have expertise in the areas that need to be studied" when it comes to the health affects of wind turbines.

He said that proving Wind Turbine Syndrome would require a comprehensive and very expensive study.

Meanwhile, The Eaton’s keep on eye on the nearest wind turbines, which are within a half-mile of their home.

Dr. Pierpont’s book says there should be a buffer of at least a mile and a quarter - maybe more - to protect the public.

"It's sickening, the pit of your stomach, you're whole life is going to change, and you have no control over it," Sherry Eaton says as she looks toward the temporarily still turbines.

Health concerns have not been part of the permitting process for wind farms in the Northwest. In fact, the state of Oregon touts it has "adopted an expedited siting processes for wind farms".

To learn about more Wind Turbine Syndrome, click here and here.

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