Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Gideon Forman, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment made a presentation at the monthly meeting of the Bruce Peninsula Environment Group (BPEG). The topic was the impact of wind turbines on human health. It made for a lively evening.

The meeting was well attended, with most of the regular July attendees present. There were BPEG members – cottagers and permanent residents – as well as some members of the wider community, including a handful of the local anti wind folk. BPEG meetings are always open to all. BPEG meetings are usually a very respectful affair. Indeed, past presenters at the meetings, even with controversial topics, have commented on how polite the audience is, and how intelligent and well thought out the questions. It was not to be.

A contingent of the anti wind crowd showed up from down south, and began their filibusters virtually from the start. Like they have done at other meetings, they really don’t want to hear another point of view. All they want to do is drown it out, challenge it, and do their utmost to disrupt the meeting. Gideon handled things as well as he could, but on several occasions, he asked the kibitzers to let him finish, and then he would welcome questions. Tony, the Chair of BPEG, and just about the nicest person on the planet, had to intervene a few times to keep order. There is no doubt the anti wind crowd lost a few points with BPEG members with their rudeness.

Gideon’s presentation, when not interrupted, was clear. Coal generated electricity is a clear and present danger. Studies CAPE has reviewed indicate that the burning of coal in Ontario’s power plants result in 100,000 sicknesses per year, and 250 deaths. That is a pretty high cost. Further, CAPE has determined that the health effects of nuclear are also significant. In particular, they are concerned with leukemia in children who live nearby nuclear plants. Also, they are concerned with the fossil emissions from nuclear power – the whole supply chain from mining, to processing, to transporting of fuel in addition to the fossil fuels required to build the plants, operate them, and store the waste, is not a small number. They point out that far from being a low emission source of electricity, nuclear power is actually quite high in emissions, albeit, much lower than coal.

So CAPE considers the reports of sickness caused by wind turbines in the context of the alternative sources of power. Physicians are of course sensitive to any reports of sickness in people. They do not dismiss the concerns that have been reported by some people who live around wind farms. But they are aware that all of the studies on sickness of people around wind turbines are antecdotal in nature, rather than scientific. And they are aware that the symptoms described – insomnia, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), stress etc. are problems that exist in the general population, whether or not they live near wind farms. From what was presented, CAPE considers the dangers of both coal and nuclear to human health, to far exceed the health effects from wind turbines.

As the presentation was underway, with the constant challenges from the anti wind people, I was wondering if Gideon would talk about the antidote to wind turbine syndrome. It is called money. Because virtually none of the people who report sickness from wind turbine earn an income from them. And those who do, including some of my landowners, report being healthy, and happy. Physicians could not contemplate that. But I can.

When the presentation was done, and the questions arrived, it became really interesting. The anti wind crowd wanted to dominate, leaving little time for the more polite BPEG members. They asked about studies, and credentials. One of them wanted to claim that that the deaths, and health effects of coal were just a “theory”, as if that would discredit it. Especially telling was the comment by one of the visitors that he had worked in coal generation for 15 year, and nuclear for 30, and he didn’t have any problems. Exactly who is it in the anti wind community? I think it is becoming clear.

There was a question by a BPEG member, who serves on the Source Water Protection committee, about tritium releases from Candu reactors into Lake Huron, the source of water for many of those in our area. Gideon acknowleged that this is an issue, and said they had reviewed some literature on this. A BPEG member asked about the role of conservation, and was told it was critical.

But the question of the night came from Megan. She suggested to the meeting that she was probably the youngest there (she was right on that) – she just completed the first year of university. And she said that it was her generation that would have to deal with the problems created by us, and that wind appeared to be one of the best of the alternatives. She received sustained applause.

At the social gathering after the meeting, I had conversations with many people, especially BPEG members. I am a bit of a lightning rod on wind in our area, so I think I drew people in. I had many positive comments about the presentation from members. Some members are concerned with a large project on the Peninsula, due to aesthetics. Others are in favour. Now at least that is the issue – we can have that conversation. The other issues raised by the anti wind crowd whether health, birds, earthworms, or noise are simply non issues. Some members have a clearer idea of the tactics and makeup of the anti wind crowd – a lot of them seem to be from the incumbent sources of power like nuclear and fossil. But the issue of human health has clearly been addressed – you need to look at wind in a wider context.

It isn’t wind or nothing. It is wind or something else. Coal. Nuclear. Wind. You pick it. I think BPEG members left the meeting with a better sense of that.

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