Forum mulls wind farm health effects

Posted Nov. 20, 2008, at 10:18 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:54 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — It commonly begins, Dr. Michael Nissenbaum says, with lots of headaches.

Then comes a chronic feeling of annoyance and irritability. As it progresses, nausea, vertigo and lapses in concentration become common. It culminates with chronic sleep disturbance and may lead to depression and a host of other long-term, life-damaging effects, such as hypertension, weight gain and all of the negative side effects associated with those.

None of the early medical studies done in France, Germany and other European countries has quite developed a formal name for this collection of symptoms, Nissenbaum told more than 150 people at Fort Kent Community High School on Thursday night.

The only certainty, he said, is that the symptoms seem to be caused by low-frequency sound — one to 120 hertz — made by the swirling blades of wind turbines and that they commonly occur in an undetermined percentage of residents who live near wind farms.

The radiologist from Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent told the crowd at the Citizens for Responsible Wind Development forum that the seemingly random symptoms allow wind turbine companies “to conclude that someone is lying or crazy.”

Forum organizers wanted to help residents of Fort Kent, a likely site for a large wind development, to explore the pros and cons of wind farms before any applications are filed, said David Soucy, a lawyer who helped organize the event.

Texas-based Horizon Wind has been negotiating lease agreements with landowners in the Fort Kent area and in other parts of Aroostook County with an eye toward building a wind farm.

“The issue is not whether wind farms are a good idea or not,” Soucy said. “The issue is where can they be ideally situated.”

First Wind of Massachusetts has a 28-turbine farm in Mars Hill, is building a 38-turbine farm on Stetson Mountain between Danforth and Springfield, and has applied for permits to build a 40 1.5-megawatt turbine farm on Rollins Mountain in the towns of Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.

While the prime wind sources are in the Midwest, most turbines are built close to the best markets with power line access, such as Maine, said Dan Boone, a Maryland-based researcher of wind farms.

He and other speakers said the minimum safe distance for dwellings from turbines is 1.2 miles, but environmental conditions, such as sound-reflective bodies of water, could nullify that buffer. Germany has a national 1-mile buffer, France’s is just under a mile, and Riverside, Calif., sets a 2-mile boundary, Nissenbaum said.

Residents Grace Boutot and Dale Charette said they found the forum fair and instructive.

“I have been to Mars Hill, and I haven’t heard any sounds from the turbines,” said Boutot, 17. “A wind turbine would be a great thing to have if they were far enough from people not to disturb them.”

“We need snowsledding and recreation here, so I don’t think they would be a good fit for the area,” Charette, 46, said of wind farms.

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