Monday, May 11, 2009

Interphone: Good News, Bad News / Science Update / Question on the Independence of experts / Noise protesters howling about windfarms

The stalemate over Interphone is coming to an end.

A project of the International Agency for Research on
Cancer (IARC) on the possible links between mobile
phones and tumors, Interphone has been bogged down for over three years while its members feuded over how to interpret their results.

Now, Microwave News has learned, a paper on brain tumor risks is about to be submitted for publication. Christopher Wild, the director of IARC, forced a compromise to resolve what had become a major embarrassment for the agency.

In fact, Wild has only achieved a partial resolution.
After the brain tumor paper is finally published later
this year, much more work on Interphone will still
need to be done.

Check out the full story on our Web site:


Louis Slesin

April 2009 - Science Update

Apologies to news subscribers for the long delay since the last update! The following is a quick summary of another five papers that have come out over the last few months related to effects of electromagnetic radiation.


See enclosed question on the Independence of experts on the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) and answer from the Commission.

Kind Regards,

Eileen O'Connor

Radiation Research Trustee

Question from the Danish EU-MEP Schaldemose

Parliamentary questions

18 March 2009

WRITTEN QUESTION by Christel Schaldemose (PSE) to the Commission

Subject: Independence of experts on the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR)


The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which is responsible for establishing the international limit values for electromagnetic radiation, which apply throughout much of the EU, has been criticised both by researchers and organisations for setting those limits too high to the advantage of the telecommunications industry and the military sector.

Nevertheless, the majority of the newly established EU group of experts, the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR), consists of individuals with a background in the ICNIRP who were therefore involved in establishing the limit values which they have subsequently been asked to evaluate.

Does the Commission consider that these experts, who were involved in establishing the limit values for radiation, can be regarded as impartial and independent?

Does the Commission acknowledge that a lowering of the limit values for electromagnetic radiation would entail a major financial burden for European telecommunications companies?

Does the Commission agree that there is an acute conflict of interests involved in being or having been a member of the ICNIRP and participation in the work of the SCENIHR?

What measures will the Commission take to find a better balance between critical and uncritical researchers on the ICNIRP?

The Commission gave the following answer:

Parliamentary questions

30 April 2009

Answer given by Ms Vassiliou on behalf of the Commission

Impartiality and independence are a pre-requisite for the involvement of experts. In practice, there is a self-reinforcing feedback loop between expertise to work for standard setting bodies, and the expertise needed to provide high quality advice. Excellence in their field results in independent experts receiving invitations to assist standard setting bodies, an activity which further augments their expertise, which makes them more attractive for advisory bodies, etc.

Some of the most competent SCENIHR experts on
Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) were indeed also engaged in ICNIRP activities. Notably, ICNIRP is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and gives
independent advice to regulators around the world. The ICNIRP itself regularily evaluates its own recommendations in the light of newly available
scientific results published in peer-reviewed journals. The Commission would also like to stress that the work by ICNIRP focuses on limit values while the Scientific Committee limits itself to reviewing the most current scientific findings and examining their possible implications. The Commission believes that the Scientific Committee as a whole was in a position to achieve a high level of impartiality and independence because of the process through which the Committee reaches its conclusions. The procedure followed to produce a scientific opinion includes (i) using as a basis peer-reviewed scientific publications, (ii) cross-examining the text, (iii) having a Commission Scientific Officer acting as a neutral third party to facilitate this adversarial scientific discussion, and, whenever possible, (iv) engaging all stakeholders by opening a public consultation or organising a scientific hearing on the draft scientific opinion. Moreover, recognising practical limits to ensuring excellence, transparency, and independence and acknowledging that science continually advances, the Commission requests periodic updates of its opinions (i) to take into account the most recent scientific developments and (ii) to renew the membership of the expert working groups.

Lowering limits of EMF has financial consequences for the sector and should only be imposed when there would be clear evidence that they would have a positive effect on health. According to the advice the Commission received this would not be the case. It is to be noted, that ceiling values of exposure limits are generally only reached in very exceptional circumstances. The average exposure of the public to EMFs is many factors below the set safety limits.

As indicated above, the Commission realises that being or having been a member of the ICNIRP could be seen to have reduced the independence of the individuals concerned. However, in line with the established working procedures(1) of the Scientific Committees, all relevant interests and activities of all experts participating in the work of the Scientific Committees are being discussed and assessed by the members of that Committee. Furthermore, the Commission would like to clarify that the role of the SCENIHR was not to carry out an assessment of the limits proposed by ICNIRP per se but of the scientific evidence on possible health effects of EMF available at that time. Finally, the Commission is of the opinion that had there been a conflict of interest, the procedures in place and the facilitation by Commission civil servants would have been able to address it.

The Commission wishes to refer the Honorable Member to the answers given above while stressing that it strives to maintain and increase, if possible, the excellence, independence, and transparency of the work of its Scientific Committees. Specifically, the Commission will seek to minimise conflicts of interest further and pay even greater attention to the composition of the working groups, while not putting scientific excellence at risk in the future.

Last updated: 8 May 2009


Noise protesters howling about windfarms

FIRST OF TWO PARTS - Business - Noise protesters howling about windfarms

Group calls giant turbines a threat to health, but early studies suggest fears are overblown

May 11, 2009
Tyler Hamilton

High-school teacher Sandy MacLeod is near tears as she reaches into her coat pocket and pulls out a plastic bag filled with a dozen or so orange earplugs.

"I wear these every single night," she says, though
occasionally she'll "switch to headphones" to muffle the sound of the wind turbine near her home. "But it doesn't matter. The noise still gets into your ears."

And, she insists, it's making her sick.

Standing at the entrance of the Ontario Legislature,
enduring rain on a chilly spring day, MacLeod is among a small group of rural citizens that call themselves Wind Concerns Ontario. They've gathered to protest the rapid development of wind farms in a province determined to go green, with Ontario insisting there is no credible scientific link between human health and the noise or electromagnetic fields generated by properly sited wind turbines.

Ironically, it's April 22 - Earth Day - a time when more are likely to celebrate the positive environmental role that wind power plays in the battle against climate change and air pollution.

Indeed, a March survey of 301 residents in Essex County found that 87 per cent of those polled support plans to develop wind farms in their rural corner of southwestern Ontario.

Most of them "strongly" support such projects, according to the Pollara-conducted poll.

But this small, highly organized group occupying the front steps of Queen's Park is having none of it. Its members consider modern wind turbines over-hyped, underperforming industrial eyesores that threaten their rural way of life and, many say, their health.

MacLeod has a large turbine about 800 metres from her home, part of Suncor Energy's Ripley wind farm located in the Townships of Huron-Kinross. She says the turbines disturb her sleep, trigger headaches and cause heart palpitations. Others cite nausea, ringing in the ears, high blood pressure, heightened anxiety and depression as side effects.

They can't prove it, but MacLeod argues that nobody has demonstrated that wind turbines don't make people sick. That's why Robert McMurtry, former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario and a supporter of Wind Concerns Ontario, has called on the government to launch a large scientific health study to settle the issue.

Until such a study is complete, he argues, all turbines should be set back at least 1.5 kilometres from the nearest residence, though the group would prefer a complete halt in development. McMurtry says the government has a moral obligation to act.

Either wind turbines do have health effects or they don't, he says. "Both claims can't be true."

What is true is that the wind industry in Europe has grown at a phenomenal rate, and North America is catching up fast. There are more than 1,700 wind turbines in Europe generating enough electricity to meet 4 per cent of continental demand.

Total wind-power capacity in the United States grew by 50 per cent in 2008 and is proceeding at another record pace this year. Here at home, Ontario boasts the country's highest wind capacity and, under a new
Green Energy Act and European-style feed-in tariff program, it hopes to accelerate development and attract green manufacturing jobs.

There's no shortage of projects on the drawing board. A recent survey commissioned by the Ontario Power Authority found there were 164 wind-energy projects under various stages of development, representing 13,382 megawatts of potential capacity.

That works out to the equivalent of 7,000 wind turbines, most scattered across southern Ontario. That's on top of the 900 megawatts of wind capacity built and connected to the provincial grid - and another 600 megawatts being developed under contract.

The Green Energy Act is designed to speed those kinds of projects along, by removing roadblocks that have typically emerged during municipal approval processes. It's here where citizens, even if just a handful, have been able to use procedural delay to stall development, for example, when there is disagreement over how far a turbine should be set back from a property.

Under the new law, the province uploads that responsibility and the Ministry of Environment sets a universal minimum setback standard that all municipalities must meet.

The current setback distance recommended by the Ministry of Environment is 400 metres. "At the moment, what they should do is set back 1.5 kilometres, and I would argue two kilometres," says McMurtry, citing an unscientific survey he recently conducted that found 53 of 76 people living an average of 780 metres from the nearest wind turbine experienced what they described as negative health effects. Anything greater than a kilometre, however, appears highly unlikely.

"I don't take it seriously when they ask for a two-kilometre setback," said Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman on the day in February when he tabled his green-energy legislation. In his view, a 500-metre minimum is a "reasonable starting point" that goes beyond the distances previously set by most municipalities.

The Star approached several wind developers about the setback debate. Most said any setback one kilometre or more - would kill the economics of most wind projects in Ontario. Developers would have to purchase or access significantly more land and lay more electrical cable to accommodate such distances.

Smitherman said his government is reviewing the scientific literature, particularly out of Europe where the wind industry is more mature. Last month, he announced that the Ministry of Environment will
create and fund an academic research chair dedicated to examining the potential public health impacts of renewable energy projects, including wind.

At the moment, however, there's no convincing evidence that wind turbines located a few hundred metres from a dwelling negatively effect health, Smitherman said. A 2008 epidemiological study and survey, financed by the European Union, generally supports that view.

Researchers from Holland's University of Groningen and Gothenburg University in Sweden conducted a mail-in survey of 725 rural Dutch residents living 17 metres to 2.1 kilometres from the nearest wind turbine.

The survey received 268 responses and, while most
acknowledged hearing the "swishing" sound that wind turbines make, the vast majority - 92 per cent - said they were "satisfied" with their living

Perhaps most telling is that those most annoyed by turbine noises had a negative view of wind turbines to begin with, while those least annoyed gained economically by having turbines on their land or owning shares in a community wind-turbine venture.

The study also concluded there was "no indication that the sound from wind turbines had an effect on respondents' health."

The study's findings suggest that those drawing a link between their health and the nearness of an unsightly and annoying wind turbine may be suffering from a nocebo effect. Just as the placebo effect makes a sick individual feel better after taking a sugar pill disguised as medication, the nocebo effect would make a healthy individual feel sick after taking a sugar pill disguised as medication with supposed side effects.

The effect has been studied as it relates to people living near cellphone towers or hydro lines.

French newspaper Journal de Dimanche wrote in April about a household in Paris that blamed three recently installed cellphone antennas in the area for causing headaches, nosebleeds and a metallic taste in the mouths of some residents. It would be a plausible explanation, but for one detail: The antennas were never activated.

"There do seem to be strong similarities between the symptoms people attribute to wind turbines and those they attribute to mobile phone masts," says Dr. James Rubin, who researches the nocebo effect at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London.

"But if a wind turbine has just gone up next to your
house, that becomes the `obvious' cause of your symptoms," he says.

But as any politician knows, gaining complete public
acceptance is rare - indeed, impossible - in the world of energy planning.

Smitherman says opposition to energy plans comes from every corner: groups opposing nuclear, communities against natural gas plants, farmers against solar parks, and rural residents against wind farms.

If the province's overarching goal is to reduce
greenhouse-gas emissions and air pollution from coal-fired electricity, then wind, while not the only answer, must be part of the answer.

The known and well-documented health effects from coal use and the threat that climate change poses to humans and other species must be weighed against the unproven links between wind turbines and human health, Smitherman insists.

"As people see more information come forward on green energy, they will see that the pursuit of renewable energy is not about overriding concerns for the health or the environment," he says.

It's a position that doesn't sit well with MacLeod and
other members of Wind Concerns Ontario, who are convinced beyond all doubt that the wind turbines around their homes are the direct cause of their suffering.

"I'm the human level of it," says MacLeod.

"We just want our lives back."