The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has issued a long awaited report on health effects from Wind turbines.  Over the past few years the Commonwealth has been taking a hard look at a range of energy alternatives.  In January of 2011, MassDEP and the Department of Public Health convened an expert scientific panel to look to evaluate the scientific literature and address the concerns expressed by the public. The panel’s finding, as documented in a report, was envisioned to help local officials by providing guidance and clarity on the science.

The panel’s charge was to review the scientific literature to identify and evaluate documented or potential human health impacts or risks that may be associated with exposure to wind turbines, and issue a report that will facilitate discussion of wind turbines and public health based on sound science. The panel was also to identify documented best practices that could reduce the potential for human health impacts.

The panel did not include new research studies, such as epidemiologic studies or investigations of the health status of populations living near wind turbines. The panel’s work was aimed at establishing the current state of science and health impacts associated with wind turbines from studies of the literature.

The agencies sought to create an independent panel by identifying technically qualified individuals and questioning them about their experience with wind turbines.   The questioning was directed at discovering their views and/or positions on wind turbines and health effects. The goal of the selection process was to help ensure that panel members did not come into the process with biases.   No member of the Wind Turbine Science Panel reported being directly or indirectly employed by or receiving funding from the wind turbine industry. In addition, no member of the panel expressed a particular position about wind turbines and health effects.

Among the key findings of the panel were:

  • There is no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”
  • Claims that infrasound from wind turbines directly impacts the vestibular system have not been demonstrated scientifically. Available evidence shows that the infrasound levels near wind turbines cannot impact the vestibular system.
  • The weight of the evidence suggests no association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.
  • None of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggests an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, and headache/migraine.
  • There is limited epidemiologic evidence suggesting an association between exposure to wind turbines and annoyance. There is insufficient epidemiologic evidence to determine whether there is an association between noise from wind turbines and annoyance independent from the effects of seeing a wind turbine and vice versa.
  • There is limited evidence from epidemiologic studies suggesting an association between noise from wind turbines and sleep disruption. In other words, it is possible that noise from some wind turbines can cause sleep disruption. Whether annoyance from wind turbines leads to sleep issues or stress has not been sufficiently quantified. While not based on evidence from wind turbines, there is evidence that sleep disruption can adversely affect mood, cognitive functioning, and overall sense of health and well-being.
  • Scientific evidence suggests that shadow flicker does not pose a risk for eliciting seizures as a result of photic stimulation. There is limited scientific evidence of an association between annoyance from prolonged shadow flicker (exceeding 30 minutes per day) and potential transitory cognitive and physical health effects.

The panel did not investigate reported problems at any particular turbine installation, though they did receive extensive public comment, including from residents who live near wind turbines. Instead, they were tasked with reviewing the extensive existing information within their areas of expertise to determine the potential for health effects. They looked at both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed studies.

A public comment period on the report is now open until Monday, March 19 at 5p.m. Electronic comments can be submitted to: WindTurbineDocket.MassDEP@MassMail.State.MA.US

Written comments can be submitted to:

MassDEP Wind Turbine Docket
One Winter Street
Fourth Floor
Boston, MA 02108

Verbal and written comments may also be submitted at the following three public meetings:

  • Tuesday, February 14, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Gardner Auditorium in the Statehouse, 24 Beacon Street, Boston (Please note the updated location, moved from MA DOT to the Gardner Auditorium).
  • Thursday, February 16, from 5-8 p.m. – Bourne High School, Beth Bourne Auditorium, 75 Waterhouse Road, Bourne.

Tuesday, February 28, from 5-8 p.m. – The Lee Middle and High School Auditorium, 300 Greylock Street, Lee. Snow date: February 29th.

TED and The Khan Academy Method:

Homework Help or the Future of Learning?

Written by Kimberly Carr

For those who are not familiar, TED is a non-profit organization devoted to “ideas worth spreading.”  The acronym “TED” signifies the meeting of three professional worlds: technology, engineering, and design.  The folks at TED “believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.”  At its two annual conferences in Long Beach/ Palm Springs and Edinburgh, Scotland, TED brings together some of the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give “the talk of their lives” in 18 minutes or less.

One TED presenter was a man named Salman Khan, who founded a remarkable non-profit called “Khan Academy.”  The academy started out simply as a way to tutor his nephews by using his own YouTube videos.  Some surprising things happened when Salman Khan posted his videos to YouTube.  First, his nephews, apparently, preferred video Uncle Salmon to real life Uncle Salman, but more than that, these videos sparked an idea worth spreading.  That idea being that a simple video could help struggling kids to succeed in school.

This instance is the very thing that inspired “Khan Academy”, which aims to change education for the better by providing world-class education to anyone anywhere.  Khan Academy’s website provides cross-curricular resources and videos on a vast number of subjects and learning levels.  The website states, “It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adults returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up on earthly biology.  The Khan Academy’s materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.”

Khan Academy currently has over 2700 videos (and that number continues to grow) and a world of exercises with help along the way.  If you need a hint, every single problem can be broken down, step-by-step, with one click.  The website also instantly generates statistics based on your progress, so that you can see whether or not you’ve been hitting your goals.  Finally, teachers and coaches can access all of their students’ data and get a summary of class performance as a whole (or dive into a particular student’s profile to better tailor lessons in the classroom.  Students working with Khan Academy at their side will be better prepared for classroom learning and can earn badges and points for learning.  The more students challenge themselves, the more “bragging rights” they will get.  “We’ve heard of students spending hour after hour watching physics videos and 5th graders relentlessly tackling college-level math to earn Khan Academy badges.”  Khan also reports that an incredibly impressive number of students were active on the Academy website on Christmas day.

The point is, kids are highly motivated and more successful using Khan Academy’s growing number of web resources.  But out of all of the impressive things Salman Khan had to say about Khan Academy, what really stuck with me was the idea that perhaps this method could be the future of learning—could literally flip education as we know it upside-down.  What I mean is this.  Currently, when students learn about a new topic, let’s say, long division, the teacher lectures about plugging numbers into an algorithm, but at the end of the day, students go home and are expected to apply this new knowledge of long division to their homework.

Instead, teachers could assign “lectures” (or Khan videos) for homework. This strategy embraces diverse learning styles and levels by allowing the students to work at their own pace.  Students would quite literally be in control of their own instruction.  They can watch the video lectures on their own time, rewind if they are confused, pause to try something or catch up, and learn at their own desired pace.  In the classroom, students can work on developing a deeper understanding with the support of the teacher.

As an educator, I think this method is absolutely ingenious and I can’t wait to try it out.  Something that started out as “homework help” really could become so much more.  Technology, mixed with the power of ideas, really could revolutionize education as we know it.

View Salman Khan’s inspiring TED Talk here.