Wind power sounds environmentally friendly and, well, harmless. But is it?
Well, the state of Oregon is aiming to find out as it embarks on a welcome study of the health effects of wind turbines. We don't necessarily see widespread health risks associated with generating wind power.
But the fact is that wind farms are growing in large numbers in Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon. It seems prudent to study the health impacts of these turbines before there are even more and before they get closer to larger populations.
The Oregon Public Health office will begin the study next month with listening sessions in Eastern Oregon, including Pendleton and La Grande. The idea is to find out what effects, if any, the churning blades are having on those living nearby.
The Oregonian newspaper reported the assessment will start with the listening sessions, but also includes a review of health studies and talks with a steering committee that will include wind farm developers, community members, the state Department of Energy and Oregon's energy facility siting council, which oversees new wind farm locations.
Sujata Joshi, an epidemiologist with the Public Health office, said the growing number of wind farms has led to more complaints about their health effects. The concerns are focused on noise and vibration generated by the huge turbines.
"With any development, you start learning more about potential concerns as more people start experiencing it," Joshi said. "Our goal now is to hear what people have to say, and see if we can find solutions that work for communities and for the state's goals."
Wind farm critics cite work done by New York physician Nina Pierpoint who coined the term "wind turbine syndrome" to describe effects -- such as headaches, dizziness and memory loss -- of living near the machines, The Oregonian reported. Industry representatives counter saying there has been no solid research linking wind turbines and negative health effects.
Perhaps this Oregon study will provide insights one way or the other.
And even if the health concerns are quelled, controversy won't. As wind farms have bloomed criticism has grown about the negative impact on scenery, land values and wildlife.
But addressing the health concerns is an important step in addressing concerns about wind generation. Oregon's study is a wise move for that state and the Pacific Northwest.