Testimony of Dr. Robert McMurtry

Guinea Pigs

by Harvey Wrightman

I make no claim of impartiality. I am an advocate for protection of the health of the rural population where wind turbines are to be deployed.  On my way to Chatham, I drive through 5 wind projects (proposed and under construction) besides our own. I cannot see how one could remain unpolarized. I also know there are very few supporters in the rural areas anymore – just the very few  with direct, large benefit. The Kent Breeze project is the template – one property owner gets all the rent. Everyone else there isn’t even a good-bye, or go to hell.

I have to say that the media covering the ERT have been pretty accurate and fair-minded. But, nuances of presentation are not always told, and it’s the feeling that I want to convey. It is a difficult, technical-laden subject. One would think the “other side” would bring their best effort to the table. Indeed, in Suncor lawyer, Rod Northey they pulled all the stops. I would guess Mr. Northey must make more than any other lawyer in the room. He knows his worth and flaunts his superiority with an acerbic manner that does not cross the boundary of rudeness – barely.  He is very polished, researches his subject thoroughly, and passably memorizes enough of the subject to run through the questions. He is a very accomplished practitioner. But, he is vulnerable, and subject to over-playing his hand, which did happen when he crossed swords with – more of that later.The highlights of Dr. McMurtry’s testimony are:
1)      The serious health effects may be immediate or there may be a delay in appearance. There may also be a “remission” in symptoms for a period of time, and then a recurrence.
In many cases, symptoms disappear as soon as the person is removed from the turbine area. This leads to a rather strange anomaly where people choose to leave their homes to seek respite. As Dr.McMurtry said, this is completely opposite to what would usually be the response to distress.

2)      Using the composite of  surveys of annoyance from studies done by Eja Pedersen, a Swedish researcher,  Dr. McMurtry was able to show that the annoyance effect of wind turbines develops at levels that are ~10 dBA below the noise of aircraft. Indeed, as acoustician/engineer Rick James has pointed out, wind turbine annoyance begins just above the ambient noise level. The wind industry vehemently protests that there is nothing “unique” about the sound of wind turbines, yet the surveys of Pedersen and others tell us otherwise.

3)      Dr. McMurtry emphasized that the pathology is not direct (hearing loss), rather indirect beginning with repeated sleep disturbance leading to physiological symptoms – disruptive influence on the autonomic nervous system which maintains our basic body functions.  Production of hormones increases, blood pressure rises, blood glucose levels rise and also blood density, serious in itself.
4)      Dr. McMurtry  referenced acoustical engineer, Geoff Leventhall, who has stated that studies of wind turbine noise need to be done to determine the health impact on humans. He noted that what we really need are longitudinal, epidemiological studies to determine the dose/response relation between wind turbine noise level and distance from the turbines.

5)      He concluded his testimony by citing a recent Low Frequency Noise paper (December, 2010) for the MOE, which states,  that audible low frequency sound is expected to result in a non-trivial percentage of people to be highly annoyed.  There will be harm.
The paper was prepared by acoustical engineer, Brian Howe of HGC who throughout this hearing has been shifting between both the MOE and the Suncor people – not with the residents and taxpayers. Sorry, but I just had to put that in. We are paying for those people who “imagine” that they would be our masters. It has been very gratifying to see our side finally presented in the Chatham Council Chambers.
The afternoon’s “interrogation” (that’s the only way to describe it) was very, very intense. Mr. Northey is a worthy lawyer and he tried his very best to confront and confuse the witness, but he did stumble on his own trap. There was much parrying about how and when Dr. McMurtry’s views turned from “concern” to “confirmed”. This I found rather pointless and as Dr. McMurtry stated there was no clear line between the two states of mind. Clearly Mr. Northey had scoured through records of  public statements, but there is no damning inflammatory pronouncements to be found. Mr. Northey desperately implied bias that would influence the testimony. To this assertion Dr. McMurtry  referred to his credentials as a health policy expert and advisor. His service in that capacity for three decades speaks for itself.
With the bluster that accompanies trepidation, Mr. Northey charged into the “technical issues” that most lawyers hate to encounter. He had seen already how the other 3 lawyers had lost their bearings. In this regard  Mr. Northey was better, but more in the way he can run away from the fire. If he comprehends the arguments, he knows their weakness. He cannot argue the truth. He must look for the technicalities. That’s dangerous for anyone, no matter how intelligent you are. Pure bluster is not enough. Gentle logic will win.
Dr. McMurtry was at one time asked to reference 4 papers on his desk, he asking, “…which one are you on?”  It was very confusing and Mr. Northey’s opaque, rapid  “declarative” style presented its own challenge. It eventually petered out as Mr. Northey was confronting a dead end himself and he did not have confidence in what he was speaking to – time for exit.
One thing that struck me was when Mr. Northey stated that, there is no definitive epidemiological study.  Thank you Mr. Northey, that’s all we’ve been asking for.
As Dr. McMurtry outlined, an independent 3rd party study could easily be done through the Canadian Institute of Health Research. He fully supports a proposal put through that process.

From there, Ms. Rotter for the AG representing the MOE, took over. Thankfully, after the intensity of the previous exchange, this cross-examination was more casual and had much humour – to everyone’s benefit.
She began with a long preamble re: probabilities and she talked in general terms how stress affects a person’s life including her own ( I love these personal anecdotes ), it may be her job, or her kids or, as she said, “…me interrogating you…” at which point Dr. McMurtry interjected, “I have not evaluated you as a patient, but would be happy to do so.”
In another exchange about appropriateness of  the 550m setback, Ms. Rotter stated,…you are aware that the setbacks are not about human health… I found that to be a stressor.
Unlike some of the other counsel, Ms. Rotter will blithely swing into the fire line of “technical issues” –  I perk up.

First off Ms. Rotter declares that under no conditions will there be sound above 40 dBA at any receptor – WRONG –  anyone signing a wind lease is not protected, and the permitted sound level rises with ground wind speed above 6m/s which Dr. McMurtry pointed out.
Sloughing that off she decided to discuss infrasound studies of Dr. Alex Salt and how the use of guinea pigs as research subjects was not analogous to humans because of anatomical differences. Dr. McMurtry explained that through long experience, the guinea pig has been found to be the best animal to use for research relating to the human ear. Ms. Rotter thinking of how guinea pigs might be useful in a “field” test, then blurted out, “…but they don’t put guinea pigs beside wind turbines do they?” and the good doctor smiles and says, “… And they’re grateful for that.”   –  *** We are the guinea pigs ***
You would think that’s the end, but she has a script she is determined to deliver.
On shadow flicker Dr. McMurtry speaks about the pervasive effect it casts and how people will withdraw to the middle of their houses to escape it. Demonstrating her ignorance of the effect, Ms. Rotter glibly asks, “ Can’t they just draw the blinds?”  Dr. McMurtry gently suggests she view some of the numerous videos of shadow flicker that are on YouTube.
Donate to the Suncor Kent Breeze Wind Challenge
In response to questions about how he tried to have these issues acknowledged and recognized by the province before the enactment of the Green Energy Act, Dr. McMurtry noted that the Act is intended to protect human health (contrary to what Ms. Rotter stated), but fails.

Dr. McMurtry requested that the Ministry of Health be involved in the process, but the MOE declined. However, he reminded the court of  Dr. Ramani Ramakrishnan, P.Eng. who has stated, “I am not a medical doctor or a psychoacoustician or a physiological acoustician. I am an acoustician from the engineering science perspective. So to comment on health issues is outside my area of expertise.”

Dr. McMurtry concluded with, “…I did not intend to become the medical person who forwards this issue; but, by necessity have undertaken to do so.”

Ms. Rotter had no further questions or comments.


Posted on February 18, 2011, in Environmental Review Tribunal, Health, Ministry of Environment, Noise, Suncor, Take it to court. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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