An effort by the Canadian government to study the impact of wind turbine noise on human health has gotten off to a rocky beginning, as some suggest the study's scope and cost have grown beyond the its original parameters.
In July, Health Canada announced that it would focus on an initial target sample size of 2,000 dwellings, selected from eight to 12 wind turbine facilities in Canada.
In addition to taking physical measurements - such as blood pressure - from participants, investigators will conduct face-to-face interviews and take noise measurements both inside and outside of homes in order to validate sound modeling. The results of the study are expected to be released in 2014.
However, according to a source attending last week's Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) Conference & Exhibition in Toronto, the cost of the study has grown far beyond the C$1.8 million in funding the agency allocated to it.
"By the time everyone's feedback is taken into account, the study is going to run well beyond the funding that Health Canada has set aside," says the source, who requested not to be named. "I wouldn't be surprised if the study dies quietly on the vine."
However, Health Canada spokesperson Stephane Shank disagrees.
"Until a full review of all comments is completed, it would be premature and inappropriate to form such a basis of opinion,” he says.
He adds that Health Canada is currently reviewing more than 1,800 pages of feedback - plus attachments - following the public comment period that ended Sept. 7.
The feedback has been sent to a committee of experts overseeing the study. Responses to the feedback will be posted on Health Canada’s website and will include responses to comments relating to the study’s scope. However, Shank did not offer a timetable for when that would happen.
Just the same, parties on both sides of the debate have lobbied Health Canada to ensure the study addresses their respective concerns.
In its response to Health Canada’s study, CanWEA noted that Health Canada is proposing to launch an extensive sound-modeling program to derive a “dose-response relationship” between wind turbine sound and adverse health impacts, as well as undertake an undisclosed number of sound-measurement programs intended to validate the model’s results.
"This introduces a significant level of uncertainty into the study and has the potential to undermine the credibility of the study," CanWEA said.
Additionally, CanWEA noted that scientific evidence to date demonstrates that wind turbines do not have an impact on human health - a finding that has been confirmed by numerous independent reviews of scientific literature.
The results are also backed by a growing body of work, including reports by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, the National Public Health Institute in Quebec and an expert panel convened by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
The concerns about the study's methodology and direction underscore the growing challenges faced by the Canadian wind energy industry - particularly in Ontario, where a vocal minority continues to oppose wind project development.
Sherry Lange - CEO of the North American Platform Against Windpower, an opposition group that filed more than 25 comments in response to the Health Canada study - is urging Health Canada to expedite the processing of responses and calling for a moratorium on wind energy, pending the results of the Health Canada study.
"We applaud Health Canada's effort," she says, "but if the agency is going to take two to three years and devote $1.8 million in funding, [Canada] should not put up any more wind turbines."