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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 77  |  Page : 175--181

Wind turbines and health: An examination of a proposed case definition

1 Department of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; Staff Physician, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Pulmonary Division, Boston, Germany
2 Institute for Occupational Epidemiology and Risk Assessment of Evonik Industries, AG, Essen; Institute and Policlinic for Occupational Medicine, Environmental Medicine and Preventive Research, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany
3 Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, London, Ontario; Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit, Chatham, Canada
4 ENVIRON International Corporation, Massachusetts, USA

Correspondence Address:
Robert J McCunney
Department of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge - 02139, 77 Massachusetts Avenue Bldg. 16; Brigham and Women's Hospital, Pulmonary Division, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: Drs. McCunney, Colby and Mundt have served as experts in several litigation matters (including Environmental Tribunal Reviews in Ontario) on behalf of wind farm developers and wind turbine manufacturers, typically co-defendants with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE). Dr Morfeld is head of the Institute for Occupational Epidemiology and Risk Assessment of Evonik Industries AG.

DOI: 10.4103/1463-1741.160678

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Renewable energy demands have increased the need for new wind farms. In turn, concerns have been raised about potential adverse health effects on nearby residents. A case definition has been proposed to diagnose "Adverse Health Effects in the Environs of Industrial Wind Turbines" (AHE/IWT); initially in 2011 and then with an update in 2014. The authors invited commentary and in turn, we assessed its scientific merits by quantitatively evaluating its proposed application. We used binomial coefficients to quantitatively assess the potential of obtaining a diagnosis of AHE/IWT. We also reviewed the methodology and process of the development of the case definition by contrasting it with guidelines on case definition criteria of the USA Institute of Medicine. The case definition allows at least 3,264 and up to 400,000 possibilities for meeting second- and third-order criteria, once the limited first-order criteria are met. IOM guidelines for clinical case definitions were not followed. The case definition has virtually no specificity and lacks scientific support from peer-reviewed literature. If applied as proposed, its application will lead to substantial potential for false-positive assessments and missed diagnoses. Virtually any new illness that develops or any prevalent illness that worsens after the installation of wind turbines within 10 km of a residence could be considered AHE/IWT if the patient feels better away from home. The use of this case definition in the absence of a thorough medical evaluation with appropriate diagnostic studies poses risks to patients in that treatable disorders would be overlooked. The case definition has significant potential to mislead patients and its use cannot be recommended for application in any health-care or decision-making setting


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