A series of zoning ordinances approved by townships in rural Michigan rely on scientific research that undercuts – not supports – the claims made to back the ordinances, a Checks and Balances Project analysis shows.

The ordinances in Almer, Casnovia and Pierson Townships cite six government and scientific reports to justify the passage of the ordinances that make it difficult, if not impossible, to locate the turbines in those townships.

Language in each ordinance says the rules are necessary “based on evidence presented in this State and others concerning the adverse secondary effects of wind energy systems on communities.”

The ordinances cite two 2012 studies from Maine and Massachusetts, a 2013 Oregon report, a 2010 report in Vermont, a 2011 paper on infrasound and a 2013 article in a Canadian medical journal.

“The study concluded that claims of adverse health outcomes resulting from wind turbines are not supported by scientific facts,” said medical doctor Jeffrey Ellenbogen, one of the lead authors of the Massachusetts study, in 2019 testimony before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

During an October forum in Montcalm Township, Mich., Ellenbogen said his mission was to help people “make informed decisions based on good information about health. What matters to me is that the decision is made soundly and not based on false information. False information to me is a polite way to say fear. I love the topic of noise and sleep and I’m bothered by a lot of the misinformation I see that’s leading to arguments in communities and decisions that aren’t sound.”

The studies from Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon and Vermont were reviews of previous research conducted around the world. Each study concluded there was no scientific evidence that showed that wind turbines led to hypertension, cardiovascular disease or other diseases.

Canadian article an opinion column, not a scientific report

The report from the Can Fam Physician medical journal was not a study at all but an opinion article about how the opening of wind projects in Canada could lead some physicians to “see increasing numbers of rural patients reporting adverse effects from exposure to industrial wind turbines (IWTs).” The three authors included one physician, an accountant and a retired pharmacist who were all members of the Society for Wind Vigilance, an organization generally opposed to wind projects.

A disclaimer at the end of the article says, “The opinions expressed in commentaries are those of the authors. Publication does not imply endorsement by the College of Family Physicians of Canada.”

No negative health effects from shadow flicker

Shadow flicker is the effect of shadows cast by wind turbines and their blades at certain times of the day. Most wind farms turn off certain turbines to minimize the shadows cast and the potential of flicker on nearby buildings.

Some wind opponents have claimed the shadow flicker induces seizures in those living near wind turbines, but the Massachusetts study found that “although shadow flicker can be a considerable nuisance particularly to wind turbine project non-participants, the evidence suggests that there is no risk of seizure from shadow flicker caused by wind turbines.”

Such seizures, known as photosensitive epilepsy, were not found by Oregon researchers in their study of turbines. “We did not identify any self-published or self-reported cases of seizures or epilepsy associated with shadow flicker from wind turbines,” the report said.

Exaggerating the threats of ‘infrasound’

Low-frequency noise, also known as infrasound, has been linked to wind turbines by opponents, but the various studies found no evidence that turbines create infrasound that led to health problems.

“In summary, there are no studies in which laboratory animals are subjected to exposures that mimic wind turbines,” the Massachusetts study reported. “There is insufficient evidence from laboratory animal studies of effects of low frequency noise on the respiratory system. There is limited evidence that rats are a robust model for human infrasound exposure and effects.”

The Vermont report agreed, saying “there is no direct health effect from sound associated with wind turbine facilities.”

The final reported mentioned in the ordinances, a 2011 paper on infrasound by Drs. Alec Salt and James Kaltenbach, was not conclusive about any health effects tied to low-frequency noise. Instead, it says: “it is quite possible that low-frequency sounds at the levels generated by wind turbines could affect those living nearby.”

Salt, a hearing specialist at Washington University in St. Louis, says on the university’s website that he is continuing to investigate infrasound but makes no conclusions about whether it causes health problems or not.

Kaltenbach’s profile on the Cleveland Clinic website doesn’t even list his 2011 paper with Salt among his published research, and neither does Salt’s profile on the Washington University site.

More recent studies ignored

The Almer, Casnovia and Pierson ordinances were written after the completion of multiple studies that show there is no link between turbines and negative health effects, but those studies were ignored.

So, not only do the ordinances misrepresent the studies that are cited, but they ignored later reports that refute the claims of negative health outcomes caused by the presence of wind turbines.

A 2019 report by the University of Iowa’s Environmental Health Sciences Research Center concluded that there is “no authoritative evidence that sound from wind turbines represents a risk to human health among neighboring residents. The only causal link that can be identified is that wind turbines may pose an annoyance to some who live near them. However, annoyance is likely influenced by a person’s feelings about the impacts of wind turbines on viewsheds, whether they get an economic benefit from the turbines, whether they have had a say in the siting process, and attitudes about wind power generally.”

A 2017 study for the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment also concluded there was no evidence to support claims of negative health outcomes from wind energy.

Ray Locker is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.

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