The federal government is wading into the contentious question of whether the noise from wind turbines can harm people's health, by launching a rigorous research study of the issue.
Health Canada said Tuesday that it will conduct the study in conjunction with Statistics Canada, to look at the connection between turbine noise and health effects in people living near wind power developments.
"This study is in response to questions from residents living near wind farms about possible health effects of low frequency noise generated by wind turbines," said Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq. The research, she said, will paint "a more complete picture of the potential health impacts of wind turbine noise."
The study plans to focus on 2,000 homes – ranging from as close as 500 metres to as far as five kilometres, from eight to 12 wind installations. It will take measurement from individuals' blood pressure and hair samples, and interviews will be conducted to ask about annoyance, sleep quality and stress. It will also take noise measurements. The results – which will be peer-reviewed – are set to be published in 2014.
The government posted its proposed research methods on a website for a 30-day comment period. Feedback will be reviewed by a committee, which will include experts in noise, health assessment, clinical medicine and epidemiology.
While the wind industry has always claimed that there is no evidence of direct health impacts from turbines, anti-wind advocates say there are ample anecdotal reports proving that people are suffering a range of symptoms because of the installations.
Many anti-wind groups have also demanded that governments conduct more research to delve into the issue. On Tuesday, Jane Wilson, president of an anti-wind group Wind Concerns Ontario, called for an immediate stop to approvals of large-scale wind projects in that province until the results are in from the federal study.
Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, said the new study will make a valuable contribution to the ongoing research on wind turbine effects. However, he said, "we believe the balance of scientific evidence pretty clearly shows that wind turbines do not have an impact on human health."