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What does it say about our national priorities that our government won’t fund world class environmental research into  the harm done by acid rain and climate change, has slashed Parks Canada unmercifully, but is happy to duplicate research into the alleged health effects of annoyance about wind energy? The Canadian government’s war on science is not as bad as the US Republicans‘, but it’s still appalling, and bound to lead to even worse policy decisions in the future. How can any government make good decisions about resource management if we lack the data to know what we’re doing?

Two of the more prominent, and important, recent casualties of federal environmental cuts are the Experimental Lakes Area and the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory. The fresh water lakes research station was critical to understanding how to best manage our freshwater resources, which will be under much greater stress as climate weirdness increases. The polar lab was uniquely positioned to record climate variations in the far north, and its closure has left a gap in climate models around the world. In both cases, the infrastructure was already built, and the cost of continuing existing research was relatively small compared to the unique importance of the accumulated expertise and data.

Instead of funding these world class organizations, or even studying the health effects of natural gas, oil or coal, we’re going to have Health Canada studying wind turbines, in substantial part by asking the people who live nearby how they feel about them. What we are most definitely NOT going to learn from this is anything useful about how to choose between energy sources. In particular, Health Canada will not compare the mortalities, impairments and on-going risks associated with different energy types, or of generating power locally versus building more high frequency transmission lines. Health Canada will not even compare the impacts of different types of noise sources.

According to Health Canada:

“The study will be undertaken by Health Canada in collaboration with Statistics Canada.  The project is being designed by a 25 member panel of multidisciplinary experts with expertise in areas including statistics, epidemiology, clinical medicine, acoustics, psychology and engineering.  The methodology design will be undergoing formal peer review by organizations such as WHO, experts at Inter-Noise and the 25 member panel itself.  In addition, the proposed methodology will be posted on the HC website for a 30 day review and comment period, that will be open to the public.  Results of the consultation will furthermore be posted on the Departmental website. The study will be the largest of its kind, targeting approximately 2000 dwellings, and will include both self-reported and objective measurements of health, as well as a sound modeling component (both interior and exterior sound levels) using industry accepted models such as Cadna/A, as well as field verification using sound measurement protocols.  There will also be a low frequency component to the study.  This work is funded and executed entirely through Health Canada, with assistance from Statistics Canada (there will be no provincial involvement).  HC officials tell us that the proposed draft methodology will be posted for a 30 day comment period in mid-June (CanWEA will review and provide comment with your assistance), and results from the study are anticipated in 2014.  This work would be presented at various conferences, and would seek publication in a medical or professional journal following the typical peer review process.”

David Michaud is heading up the Health Canada study.  He is on record arguing that annoyance is an adverse health effect: see Annoyance Review Can Acoustics Vol 36- 13-28 (2008); see also A proposal for evaluating the potential health effects of wind turbine noise for projects under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Mr. Michaud proposes that noise mitigation should be required if predicted wind turbine noise levels exceed 45 dBA at noise sensitive receptors. Since Ontario regulations already require mitigation if noise is predicted to exceed 40 dBA at sensitive receptors, will it help to spend two years proving that there ought to be mitigation at 45 dBA?

 

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