“Pants on Fire!” says Truth-o-Meter to health problems from turbine shadow flicker

Posted on February 1, 2011. Filed under: Economic development, Wind | Tags: , , |

From an article on Political Fact Check:

To some, spinning wind turbines are a majestic source of pollution-free energy. But when they’re proposed for residential areas, opponents often portray them as a menace to healthy, safety, aesthetics and property values.

The rhetoric can get pretty extreme.

When one was proposed in Barrington in 2008, opponents claimed that unnamed “independent medical experts” had found that turbines can cause everything from headaches to heart problems, and that sunlight flashing through the blades can produce a stroboscopic effect that may lead to nausea, dizziness, disorientation and seizures.

So when a massive 427-foot turbine was proposed for Stamp Farm on Route 2 in North Kingstown, it wasn’t surprising that the opposition would echo those claims. One opponent was state Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt of North Kingstown. He co-authored an opinion column published in The Providence Journal with former North Kingstown Town Council President Edward Cooney.

For one of their bullet points, they played the epilepsy card: “The health risk of ‘flicker’ impact created by shadows of blades of turbines poses real and significant health risks, particularly seizures. . . .”

We contacted two epilepsy experts who said the concern was ridiculous because it was so unlikely.

David Mandelbaum, a neurologist and pediatrician at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, said even if an epileptic is sensitive to light, the flicker has to be at just the right frequency, and that frequency can vary widely from person to person.

Dr. Gregory Kent Bergey, director of the epilepsy center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said in an email: “The fact is, the great majority of people with seizures [probably greater than 95 percent] do not have this photosensitivity.” Some patients may experience a brief spasm if they see the sun coming through the trees, “but these seizures are usually readily controlled by medication. I do not tell these patients not to drive in the forest!”

He said “the risk from sun coming through a wind turbine would be very small — the person would first have to be looking at the sun, not just at a turbine, and most of us know not to look at the sun directly. . . . We cannot use this as a reason not to erect wind turbine farms.”

Mandelbaum said he has never seen any reliable documentation that turbines can cause seizures, or any other health problems. “They’re using the epileptic community. It’s clever and it’s nonsense, and I find it personally offensive,” he said.


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