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A committee has been formed to determine the scope of the testing. In the meantime, two residents who live 64o feet from the turbine — Mark and Laruen McKeever — filed a lawsuit on Dec. 14 against the Scituate Board of the Health. The McKeevers, who argue that the board erred in letting the turbine remain in operation, asked Plymouth Superior Court to send the issue back to the board for further consideration.
Board member Michael Vazza declined to comment, due to the pending litigation.
Further research is needed to figure out safe distances for wind turbines, said Michael Nissenbaum, a radiologist at the Northern Maine Medical Center who conducted a study of residents living near wind turbines in Mars Hill, Maine. His study found that noise from the turbines disrupted the sleep and impaired the mental health of residents living within 1.4 kilometers of the machines and had “the potential to harm human health.” Widely recognized for his work, Nissenbaum was asked to testify before an Australian Senate committee and to present his findings to the prime minister of Aruba.
“I think it’s ridiculous that people jump to conclusions that it’s a placebo effect . . . , ’’ Nissenbaum said in an interview. “To come out right out of the gate and say that these people are just making this up because they don’t like [wind turbines] . . . that’s malpractice, from a medical point of view.”
Tim Dwyer, who lives on Country Club Way in Kingston, insists he’s not making up his symptoms. Dwyer said he and his wife have been awakened by a “constant and rhythmic grinding noise” that they could hear even with their windows shut, their air conditioning running, and a white-noise machine on. He also said he experienced a feeling of increased pressure in his ears.
“I have not jumped to conclusions and immediately blamed the turbines for my problems,’’ Dwyer wrote in an e-mail to town health officials. “To the contrary, I have tried everything I can to prove they are NOT the cause of my symptoms.” Dwyer and several other residents want tests to find out exactly how much low-frequency sound is being produced by Kingston’s turbines.
Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., a noise-consulting firm based in Burlington, has been tapped to study one of Kingston’s turbines, a privately owned structure atop the capped landfill on Cranberry Road.
The firm will place noise-monitoring instruments around the turbine, with microphones about 5 feet from the ground (roughly the height of a human ear), to collect data on sound levels and frequencies.
One interesting finding is that “people seem to be more sensitive to sounds from wind turbines than from transportation sources,” said Christopher W. Menge, principal consultant and senior vice president with Harris Miller.
One possible reason is that unlike many other sources of noise, wind turbines don’t get quieter at night, so people notice them more, he said. He added that the pulsating noise of turbines “sounds different. It’s unusual in the environment. It’s something new.”
Overall, Menge said, “there’s nothing conclusive in terms of health effects” of turbines; “the research is still a little bit young.”
Even the research that exists is controversial.
“It’s a very challenging issue right now,” said Stacie Nicole Smith, a professional facilitator with the Consensus Building Institute, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that specializes in negotiation and dispute resolution. “There is, I’d say, on all of the sides, people who have a hard time seeing other points of view.”
Smith was hired by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state’s green-energy agency, to make sure the Kingston study is “credible and legitimate.”
“Past sound studies have resulted in ongoing arguments about whether the results are legitimate,” said Smith, who has served on the Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Committee for the past nine months.
Kingston’s Board of Health wants all of the turbines in the landfill area to be studied, and will discuss turbines at its Jan. 14 meeting. Kennedy, of Copper Beech Drive, plans to attend.
“I had no idea the turbines were going to be over 400 feet tall. I had no idea it would affect my family’s quality of life,’’ he said. “Part of me would just like it to go away. Part of me says they should be moved to a less densely populated area.”
At the meeting, Board of Health member Dan Sapir said, he plans to propose shutting down the turbines temporarily.
“I feel very badly for these people,’’ he said. “And I have no doubts their complaints are justifiable.”