Ver­mont cabin be­comes lab to study wind tur­bine noise

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Once it was just another cabin on a Ver­mont hill­side. Now it’s an em­blem in the de­bate over noise from the grow­ing wind en­ergy in­dus­try. Stud­ies have re­peat­edly found no ev­i­dence con­nect­ing noise from wind power tur­bines to hu­man health prob­lems. But crit­ics ques­tion the sound­ness of those stud­ies. Among them are Steve and Luann Ther­rien, who say a wind farm near their home made their lives hell.

The case has cre­ated a fis­sure among en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in this lib­eral state with a rep­u­ta­tion for green think­ing, pit­ting those who see wind en­ergy as key to re­duc­ing reliance on pol­lu­tion-spew­ing fos­sil fu­els against those con­vinced au­di­ble noises and in­audi­ble “in­fra­sound” present health threats to those liv­ing nearby. And each side ques­tions the ob­jec­tiv­ity of the other’s re­search.

How it ef­fects peo­ple

The Ther­riens’ old cabin is up 5 miles of dirt road from town, but is just a quar­ter-mile from a ru­ral stretch of In­ter­state 91. The high­way noise largely didn’t bother them. But af­ter the 16 tur­bine tow­ers of the Sh­effield Wind Project went up on a nearby ridge­line in 2011 - the clos­est about three-quar­ters of a mile away and five within a mile - things changed, the Ther­riens say.

Deep in the night, when things were quiet on the high­way, a low hum came from the op­po­site di­rec­tion, punc­tu­ated oc­ca­sion­ally by louder noises, the Ther­riens say. Soon, they say, they and their two small chil­dren were plagued by sleep­less­ness, nau­sea and other prob­lems. “The ver­tigo was pretty much all the time, but if we had a lot of noise, the dry heaves would be more often,” Luann Ther­rien said. Steve Ther­rien gave up his job as a trash truck driver - too sleepy to drive, he said. They aban­doned their home in 2014 and have been un­able to sell it. A group op­posed to largescale wind projects, En­er­gize Ver­mont, is plan­ning to set up sound mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment at the Ther­riens’ for­mer home to try to doc­u­ment their con­cerns with data.

Ver­mont Gov. Peter Shum­lin and fel­low Democrats who con­trol the Leg­is­la­ture have pro­moted re­new­able en­ergy. Three big wind power projects - all of which have drawn com­plaints sim­i­lar to the Ther­riens’ - have been built on Ver­mont moun­tain­tops dur­ing Shum­lin’s six years in of­fice, with five more in plan­ning or con­struc­tion. The state is pur­su­ing a goal of 90 per­cent re­new­able en­ergy by 2050. Luann Ther­rien said the cou­ple has not sued tur­bine own­ers be­cause they can’t af­ford to hire a lawyer and have not found one will­ing to take the case for free. But another per­son liv­ing near the Sh­effield Project, Paul Brouha, has sued, say­ing the noise is “out of char­ac­ter with the sur­round­ing area, is ex­ces­sively loud and continues un­abated for long pe­ri­ods of time both day and night.” Brouha de­clined to com­ment, cit­ing the pend­ing law­suit. Lawyers for the tur­bines’ own­ers have de­nied his claims in court fil­ings.

The Ther­riens - he is 54, she is 47 - and their two young chil­dren now live in nearby Derby and re­ceive govern­ment as­sis­tance. The toll from his years of work as a trash col­lec­tor, cou­pled with the more re­cent health prob­lems, means he can’t work, Steve Ther­rien said. Luann Ther­rien said she has been de­pressed since the symp­toms took hold. A psy­chi­atric nurse prac­ti­tioner who has treated the Ther­riens wrote in a let­ter this year that both “suf­fer from a form of trau­main­duced and stres­sor-re­lated dis­or­der.” The nurse com­pared their con­di­tion to post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, say­ing the wind tur­bines caused last­ing sleep and men­tal health is­sues.

The Ther­riens are now ac­tivists. They founded the group Vic­tims of In­dus­trial Wind and post fre­quently on so­cial me­dia. Luann trav­eled to the State­house last win­ter to tes­tify to a Se­nate com­mit­tee, and they go oc­ca­sion­ally to tes­tify at pub­lic hear­ings in other com­mu­ni­ties.

No sci­en­tific link

Ver­mont’s health com­mis­sioner, Dr. Harry Chen, told law­mak­ers this year that “no sci­en­tific re­search has been able to demon­strate a direct cause-and-ef­fect link be­tween liv­ing near wind tur­bines, the noise they emit, and phys­i­o­log­i­cal health ef­fects.”

Stud­ies com­mis­sioned by pub­lic health agen­cies in Canada and Aus­tralia have reached sim­i­lar con­clu­sions, though Aus­tralia’s Na­tional Health and Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil sug­gested more re­search could be done on pos­si­ble health ef­fects for those liv­ing clos­est to wind farms. Since July, more than 100 doc­tors, other sci­en­tists and ac­tivists world­wide have signed a let­ter urg­ing the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion to rec­om­mend new sound guide­lines for wind tur­bines. State reg­u­la­tors in Ver­mont have adopted a stan­dard ac­cept­able wind tur­bine noise level av­er­ag­ing 45 deci­bels dur­ing the course of an hour, qui­eter than a nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion. Re­new­able en­ergy sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing the Ver­mont Pub­lic In­ter­est Re­search Group, have at­tacked the plan for sound mon­i­tor­ing re­search at the Ther­riens’, say­ing it won’t be ob­jec­tive. Mark Whit­worth, board pres­i­dent of En­er­gize Ver­mont, which is spon­sor­ing the re­search, has said it will start with some built-in as­sump­tions. “We would like to un­der­stand how they bake prej­u­dice or bias into their mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram,” he said. Sep­a­rately, law­mak­ers this year ap­pro­pri­ated $50,000 for sound-mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment to be used by Lyndon State Col­lege, pro­vid­ing the col­lege finds match­ing funds. — AP

SH­EFFIELD, VER­MONT: In this Oct 26, 2011 file photo, wind tur­bines line the hill­side at First Wind’s project. —AP

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