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Another Voice: Health study should be required before wind project

By Daniel Engert

In a Dec. 4 Buffalo News story headlined “Niagara Health Board wants state review of 70 wind turbines for Somerset,” it was reported that the Niagara County Board of Health voted to ask Albany for a full environmental review of the giant wind power project. The Lighthouse Wind Project is projecting 70 huge industrial wind turbines that would tower more than 620 feet into the sky, immediately along the beautiful and tranquil shoreline of Lake Ontario in the towns of Somerset and Yates. The developer is Apex Clean Energy from Charlottesville, Va.

Also reported in the story is my strong belief that a baseline health study should be required for any industrial wind turbine project that is proposed to be constructed so near to people. As town supervisor, it is a fundamental duty to be proactive, not reactive, in protecting the health and safety of Somerset residents. If health impacts are reported by individuals after a project is in place, the burden shouldn’t be on a resident to prove that the project is the cause but rather, it should be the other way around. A developer should be required to conduct a health study and prove to the community in advance that there are no health impacts.

The regularity of community complaints near wind projects has spawned an identifiable interdisciplinary research concern internationally. Such was presented at this meeting and in response to my call for a baseline study prior to the project, Apex representatives and Canadian scientist Dr. Christopher Ollson stated, “The company doesn’t have to do such a study and if people are concerned, they should see their local physician.”

It should also be noted that the immediate response from Apex representatives to the question from the county Board of Health was that it was a “funding” issue. The response was and is wholly unacceptable.

Interestingly, before he was hired by Apex Clean Energy to say the opposite, Ollson held a much different position regarding health effects posed by wind turbines and seemed to agree with me. In a 2011 peer-reviewed paper published in the Environmental Health Journal, Ollson stated, “Conducting further research into the effects of wind turbines (and environmental change) on human health, emotional and physical, as well as the effect of public consultation with community groups in reducing preconstruction anxiety, is warranted. Such an undertaking should be initiated prior to public announcement of a project, and could involve baseline community health and attitude surveys …”

His new position, of course, is intended to persuade the Niagara County Board of Health. I’m not persuaded and remain committed to requiring a baseline health study to be conducted in a community prior to the installation of wind turbines.

Daniel Engert is supervisor of the Town of Somerset.