Day 42 of Ostrander Point — Testimony of Dr. Robert McCunney
Report on June 6th ERT Hearing on Human Health Appeal
by Paula Peel, APPEC
Gilead completed its case before the Environmental Review Tribunal with Dr. Werner Richarz continuing his testimony from June 5 and Dr. Robert McCunney giving full testimony.
Cross-examination of Dr. Richarz
Dr. Richarz agreed with APPEC lawyer Eric Gillespie about the uncertainty in the international standard. He said that uncertainty is implicit in the guideline; if the predicted value is 40 dBA, there is uncertainty of +/- 3 dBA.
Mr. Gillespie questioned Dr. Richarz’s reliance in his witness statement on an Australian study that found an insignificant difference in infrasound levels in urban homes, rural homes, and rural homes near wind farms. Mr. Gillespie pointed out that it was a week-long study involving seven urban homes and four rural homes. Of the four rural homes two were located 1.5 km from wind turbines, and the other two, 10 and 30 km away. Dr. Richarz did not know the number of wind turbines involved in the study or their make or model.
Mr. Gillespie referred Dr. Richarz to a summary in Noise Bulletin, June 2011, of a paper presented at a 2009 conference in Rome. Dr. Richarz had looked at how low-frequency pulses could become audible. In a real atmosphere with turbulence the pulse shape can be distorted. The result is an audible burst of noise perceived as a “swoosh”. Dr. Richarz attested to the accuracy of the summary and said that conclusions stated in the paper have not changed.
Re-examination of Dr. Richarz
Gilead lawyer Bryn Gray asked Dr. Richarz about the audible burst of noise. Dr. Richarz said that infrasound is not audible, but the pulse contains low-frequency noise. A precise, pristine sound goes into the atmosphere and then washes out, and part of the sound becomes audible.
ERT Panel Questions
Heather Gibbs asked about Dr. Thorne’s reference to a “rumble-thump” noise. Dr. Richarz referred to this as mechanical noise associated with older wind turbines. Newer turbines have improved fittings that provide smoother turning mechanisms.
Robert Wright asked about someone standing within 30 m of his or her house at night, hearing some noise from turbines, and then moving indoors. What is the difference in the sound? Dr. Richarz said that some of the swooshing sound would be diminished.
Dr. Richarz agreed with Mr. Gillespie that (1) living in a brick house is not the same as living in a wood- or aluminum-sided house and results would vary, (2) dBA increases if windows are open, and (3) standing waves inside a structure affect the sound people hear.
Qualifying of Dr. McCunney
Dr. McCunney is a physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital Pulmonary Division, Harvard Medical School, and a Research Scientist at MIT. His research pertains to occupational and environmental health hazards. Dr. McCunney teaches public health and epidemiology at MIT as well. He is one of the authors of the AWEA/CanWEA white paper: Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: an Expert Panel Review (2009).
Dr. McCunney confirmed that none of the 94 peer-reviewed publications in his CV refers to wind turbines, and the AWEA/CanWEA white paper is not a peer-reviewed publication nor was it ever intended as such.
Gilead lawyer Darrel Cruz sought the same qualification as Dr. McCunney received at the Chatham-Kent hearing (Erickson 2011). There were no questions or objections.
The ERT panel qualified Dr. McCunney to give opinion evidence as a medical doctor, board certified in occupational and environmental medicine, with particular expertise in the health implications of noise exposure.
Examination of Dr. McCunney
Dr. McCunney stated his opinion that the Ostrander Point wind project will not cause harm to human health. That opinion is based on Dr. McCunney’s reading of post-turbine witness reports, on the Helimax report, on various wind industry-funded studies, and on the nature of people’s complaints as follows:
- Evidence provided in medical records of 10 post-turbine witnesses does not demonstrate a causal link with wind turbines.
- The Helimax report states that sound at receptors for the project will not exceed 40 dBA. There are no direct health effects as far as is known at less than 40 dBA.
- Studies in Texas, Australia, etc. conclude that infrasound may be detectable under turbines but is not detectable as one moves away. Two studies conclude that infrasound may be measurable but is not harmful.
- Annoyance may have nothing to do with a person’s health. Complaints of annoyance relate to visual appearance, economic benefit, etc.
- An Australian study of wind projects lends support to the psychogenetic hypothesis: While symptoms may be real they are generated by the psyche.
Dr. McCunney noted that APPEC’s notice of appeal cites 16 different symptoms but none is specific to any disease. In thirty years of environmental medicine Dr. McCunney has never encountered a hazard that could cause so many symptoms.
Cross-examination of Dr. McCunney
Since Dr. McCunney had stated that there may be adverse health effects from being under wind turbines, Mr. Gillespie asked whether there would be any harmful effects if a wind turbine was 10 m from a home. Dr. McCunney said that he could not answer this question without knowing the noise levels.
Mr. Gillespie asked Dr. McCunney whether he was telling this Tribunal that no witnesses presented sufficient medical evidence. Dr. McCunney said he was referencing one witness in general and he did not have supporting notes with him for the others. Dr. McCunney said that proper steps were not taken, information is insufficient, and it is impossible to do a thorough causality assessment.
Mr. Gillespie pointed out that Mr. Olivera’s 2010 psychiatric report describes complaints after Mr. Olivera built a home and wind turbines went up around it. Dr. McCunney agreed that Mr. Olivera had symptoms of a major depressive disorder.
Re-examination of Dr. McCunney
Gilead lawyer Darryl Cruz asked Dr. McCunney to clarify his thinking on Mr. Olivera. Dr. McCunney said that he didn’t see any causality assessment when perusing Mr. Olivera’s records. He noted that depression is a common condition for a lot of people and needs to be explained more thoroughly.
ERT Panel Questions
Heather Gibbs noted Dr. McCunney’s reference to the World Health Organization (WHO) in the context of night-time noise. Dr. McCunney said that he was familiar with the WHO definition of health as the freedom from infirmity and disease and also with its commentary on quality of life.