Is the Huron County Board of Health reneging on the Wind Turbine Health Investigation? By Mike Stachura

The Huron County Board of Health (BOH) chair, Tyler Hessel, appears to be reneging on his commitment to implement the investigation of potential health effects of wind turbines. In April 2016, Hessel called for an emergency board meeting. The next day, Hessel and Van Diepenbeek met with Dr. Janice Owen, the county’s acting Medical Officer of Health, and then waited to escort her out the door. The following day, reports came out that the Huron County BOH and Dr. Owen had parted ways.

The BOH Chair, Tyler Hessel, Mayor of Bluewater, declined to discuss the reason for Dr. Owen’s departure; however, he assured health affected residents and the press that it had nothing to do with the wind turbine investigation. Hessel stated “everything would continue to move forward as usual.” Hessel told one resident that the investigation was supported unanimously by all the board with the exception of one member with a conflict of interest. Hessel assured the residents that the investigation would proceed as planned. However, without informing anyone, at the May 2016 meeting, the board voted to delay the investigation. The board members are: Tyler Hessel-chair, Ben Van Diepenbeek-vice chair, Paul Gowing, Dave Jewitt, Joe Steffler, Art Versteeg, and Rosemary Rognvaldson. According to Hessel, as reported in the London Free Press, “…we are waiting for information to come back … we don’t want to get into duplication, because we can’t afford to at a small level. We don’t want to get into a situation where we are throwing money away.” If he is concerned about wasting money, why did he not ask more questions back in March when the plan was announced? Why did he allow the staff to utilize untold hours to develop a plan for the investigation, develop the survey and give false hope to residents by allowing them to sign-up for the investigation? Now, months later, when the majority of the staff hours required to develop the investigation is done and the project is ready to launch, he is now questioning the need for the investigation.

The Huron County Health Unit (HCHU) was to conduct the first investigation of its kind in Ontario, even though wind turbines have been documented to cause numerous negative health impacts to nearby residents throughout Ontario. Since the announcement of the investigation in March, the Board of Health has received resolutions from municipalities throughout Ontario commending the Huron County Health Unit and Dr. Owen for taking the lead by conducting the health investigation.

On March 15, 2016 in an interview with the Ontario Farmer, Huron County epidemiologist, Dr. Erica Clark stated “we’re treating it as a potential health hazard, as if it were a food [poisoning] outbreak or cancer cluster. The health unit’s mandate is population health, so if it’s something that impacts the health of a community, it’s our jurisdiction”. Clark said “there are now 270 turbines in the county, and another 50 coming soon. Health complaints from residents directly and through the Facebook page of the health unit staff have flooded in.” The interview continued “while the individual’s information will be kept confidential, the information will be aggregated and Clark has committed to analyze it seasonally and publish the results. “It will be a public document,” she said. “We will be looking at the pattern…using the information from this first phase to inform the next steps.” “A Medical Officer of Health has the authority to make orders to protect human health. No one has yet ordered wind turbines halted or adjusted to accommodate human health in Canada, Clark said “Right now we don’t have evidence that will pass that test.” “We need better information,” she said. “The survey is a key step.”

Despite the resounding community support, and the survey developed and slated to be launched this month, and that Huron County residents continue to sign-up to participate in the investigation at and the survey remains promoted on the website of the Huron County Health Unit, the Board of Health voted to delay the investigation into wind turbines. They made this decision relying on some very unsound reasons given by the newly contracted acting Medical Officer of Health from Perth County, Dr. Miriam Klassen. Even though Dr. Klassen admitted there were no wind turbines in Perth County and she did not know much about wind turbines, this ignorance did not stop her from making several illogical statements and suggestions. She told the board it is not in their mandate to investigate health complaints. She apparently relied on the advice of the Public Health Ontario’s (PHO) Chief Environmental Occupation and Health, Dr. Ray Copes. Public Health Ontario is a crown corporation, accountable to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, and relies on the financial support of the Ontario Government. It should be pointed out that in his professional position, Dr. Copes is not governed by the legal mandate to conduct such an investigation, unlike county health units.

The following is the law, in regards to medical officers of health’s duty to investigate health complaints. In legal terms, shall is mandatory or required, whereas should would be suggestive but not mandatory.

Complaint re health hazard related to occupational or environmental health

11. (1) Where a complaint is made to a board of health or a medical officer of health that a health hazard related to occupational or environmental health exists in the health unit served by the board of health or the medical officer of health, the medical officer of health shall notify the ministry of the Government of Ontario that has primary responsibility in the matter and, in consultation with the ministry, the medical officer of health shall investigate the complaint to determine whether the health hazard exists or does not exist. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.7, s. 11 (1).

Considering Dr. Klassen did not investigate the complaints before making her decision, if she fails to do an investigation, could this be considered malfeasance in office, nonfeasance in office or both? She claims she consulted with Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long Term Care, which is required by the law, but this does not preclude her from conducting an investigation under the law. If Dr. Klassen has proof that the health effects were not caused by wind turbines, which she does not possess; she is still required to conduct the investigation as to whether the health hazards exist or do not exist, which she is failing to do. Under the law, the board cannot prevent her from conducting this investigation. If the investigation is the real reason the board wanted Dr. Owen gone, then shame on them. If the members of the board are truly worried about liability, they put themselves and taxpayers in more peril by misfeasance in not allowing the MOH to do her duty. There is nowhere in the law that gives the board of health any decision making ability in regards to whether a health hazard investigation shall be conducted. According to Hessel, “the board wants to check with the province to insure the work wouldn’t duplicate other efforts before a final decision is made.” However, he is duplicating efforts because the HCHU has already determined under Dr. Owen that the province has not and has no plans to conduct this type of investigation.

According to Dr. Klassen, Dr. Copes suggested that residents could participate in the Ontario Health Study. The public in attendance, at the board of health meeting was flabbergasted by this suggestion. This study is entitled “Discovery, Its’ in your Blood”. This study is highly selective on who participates and has little to nothing to do with the symptoms experienced from people affected by wind turbines. This study gets a baseline of your blood. Considering the residents with health complaints have been already subjected to wind turbines, it is too late to get a baseline. It is a long-term study for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, expecting to last decades. How can any medical professional in good conscience even offer this as a reasonable alternative to conducting an investigation into current health complaints? It is readily apparent that Dr. Klassen did little, if any, research on this program before carelessly suggesting it as an alternative to an investigation of whether a health hazard exists. The board, relying on this misinformation provided by Dr. Klassen, voted to delay the launch of the investigation. On May 12, 2016, the Huron County Board of Health directed Dr. Klassen to contact Dr. Copes and bring back additional information/actions prior to proceeding with the investigation. What was the purpose of this motion? Dr. Klassen had already contacted Dr. Copes and he advised against a local health study.

The real shocker was when Dr. Klassen said that Dr. Copes was not aware of the Huron County Health Unit investigation and Dr. Copes advised against a local health study. This was shocking because HCHU staff consulted with the PHO Environmental and Occupational Health Department, of which Dr. Copes is the Chief, on the possibility of developing tools required to conduct an investigation of industrial wind turbines under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. The PHO staff recommended that obtaining real-time data from residents, such as reported/absence of health symptoms, weather, topography, would constitute a starting point to conduct such an investigation. Dr. Owen informed the representatives in the community of the PHO recommendations. Considering the publicity surrounding the HCHU investigation, it is hard to imagine that he would be left in the dark by his staff or that he could be that clueless.

Dr. Klassen also told the board she contacted Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario (CMOH) and Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long Term Care. According to Dr. Klassen, Dr. Williams and Dr. Hoskins gave her clear direction. Dr. Klassen did not say, nor did any board members ask, what that clear direction was. Dr. Williams told Dr. Klassen he did not want to micro-manage her unit (HCHU).

Unfortunately, the board, demonstrating their lack of fore thought or empathy for those suffering health concerns and ignoring the legal mandate, was unable to come up with any reasonable alternatives for where residents suffering health effects from wind turbines can go for help. Apparently, the board failed to read the report provided in February by Dr. Owen, listen to the presentation given by residents in March, read the report in April and ask questions of Huron County Environmental Health manager, Jean-Guy Albert in May where Albert outlined the criteria on which they based the investigation. The reports and the presentation were informative and of exceptional quality. The BOH meeting in March had a record, standing room only, crowd in attendance, which should have demonstrated to the board members the magnitude of the problem. One misinformed member of the board still thought the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change investigates health complaints. The MOECC only takes noise complaints and does not even possess the training or equipment to determine if a wind turbine project is out of compliance. In addition, the staff does not possess any medical background that qualifies them to perform a health hazard investigation. Another member of the board offered misplaced concerns of liability, not realizing that failing to act as required by law would provide more basis for liability.

Phase 1 of the health investigation developed by Dr. Owen, Dr. Clark and Jean-Guy Albert was merely a real time survey to be taken, over a year, by those residents whose health has been adversely affected by wind turbines. The survey was nearly complete and ready for implementation. The cost of the investigation was negligible, as the software was already being used. Shockingly, the biggest concern to the board was the fear that the study would show a correlation between wind turbines and health effects similar to politicians ignoring for decades the problems with cigarettes and what would happen if it was proven cigarettes caused cancer. Then and now, was it or is it really better not to know? Any board member, who votes against or delays this investigation at the next BOH meeting on June 2, 2016 because he/she is afraid of what the investigation may reveal, is doing a disservice to the residents of this county and should not only be ashamed of themselves, but should resign immediately. The thought that board members would disregard their duty and forsake their constituent’s health is disgraceful. The excuse by a board member that other health units are not conducting an investigation sounds childish and is without merit. Just because other units are not doing their legal duty is not an excuse to not do your legal duty. Besides, residents of other counties may not have made complaints to their county health units. The question remains: did Tyler Hessel tell the truth to his constituents in April and why is he reneging on his promise to go forward with the health study now? He did not say one word at the board meeting in support of the investigation.

Dr. Owen took her position seriously. Upon her appointment, she too had little knowledge of wind turbines. Her decision to implement a health investigation was taken after months of receiving and reviewing numerous complaints from residents detailing their health problems. She read numerous peer reviewed articles, both pro and con, on wind turbine syndrome. She contacted experts from around the world on the subject. She also said she was under a legal mandate to investigate. Now, we have Dr. Klassen, who admitted to having little knowledge of wind turbines, made her recommendation in less than two weeks. The Huron County Board of Health needs to stop listening to the province or the wind industry and do the right thing for those suffering and conduct the investigation. The board should take a cautious step before settling permanently on Dr. Klassen, considering her judgement at the first board meeting generates no confidence.

As a community, it is unacceptable to continue to put our “heads in the sand” and pretend people suffering adverse health effects from wind turbines do not exist. These people are our friends, families and neighbors. Ignoring the health impacts being experienced will only lead to further negative health effects from emotions including anger, disappointment, dissatisfaction, withdrawal, helplessness, depression, anxiety, agitation, or exhaustion.