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Letters / Microplastic concern triggers call for health impact study

In response to a statement by Aaron Priest of SSE Renewables on the topic of microplastic eroding from wind turbine blades:

We agree with Stuart Hill


Dear SSE Renewables,

Save Shetland would like to thank Aaron Priest for his response to Save Shetland’s concerns about leading edge erosion and pollution from wind turbine blades following research by K. Pugh and M.M. Stack at University of Strathclyde cumulating in their report Rain Erosion Maps for Wind Turbine based on Geographical Locations: A Case Study in Britain and Ireland (January 2021) and later reported on by Asborn Solberg, Bard-Einar Rimereit and Jan-Erik Weinbach of The Turbine Group (July 2021) to calculate what the volume of micro-and nanoplastic erosion would be in Norway from leading blade erosion.

Note well, the Strathclyde report only looks at rain, so the mass loss is likely to be even higher in Shetland – you only need to imagine the additional impact of our snow, ice or hail (and our additional wind speeds and salinity) on their calculations.

There is a suggestion in response to our letter that the calculation was done on the whole of the wing rather than just the tip. We understand that the calculation of the weight of eroded micro-nanoplastics by Strathclyde University was only calculated on the leading edge’s first 25 meters of a 75-meter wing and therefore the tip, rather than for the whole of the wing, which includes the tailing edge where there is also a great amount of wear and tear.

The Turbine Group states that their calculations were based on a Vesta turbine blade weighing 60 tons with only 700 kg of it being exposed; the micro-nanoplastic erosion from this will give an annual loss of 62 kg.

The industry is well aware that longer rotor blades give increased speed on the blade tip so that there will be even greater erosion. The total amount of micro-nanoplastics eroded is therefore likely to be substantially greater than the amount calculated for the blade tip only.

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  • How much do you calculate the loss of micro-nanoplastics from the Viking Energy wind farm will be in total over 25 years?

We feel it is implied that the erosion of micro-nanoplastics won’t be a problem because Viking Energy’s wind turbine blades will already be fitted by Leading Edge Protection (LEP).

  • Can you tell us exactly what Leading Edge Protection is fitted to the turbine blades?

Our understanding is that LEP is almost certainly either an Epoxy coating which will contain Bisphenol A known to be very harmful to health and therefore already subject to controls, or a layer of Polyurethane based paint or varnish. Polyurethane is also known to be carcinogenic and allergenic. Therefore LEP has its own potential dangers to health.

  • Can you give us figures of exactly how much wear and tear is permitted before you carry out protective maintenance?

What you say suggests that there will be visible erosion and therefore there will already have been a significant amount of eroded micro-nanoplastics that will have been spread into the air and water before maintenance is carried out.

  • Quantifying how much damage is done before your industry carries out any protective measures is an answer we need and want now.

We are concerned that there is the risk that profit will be prioritised over health, and mitigation measures delayed due to their cost. You after all importantly admit that you try to mitigate/ negate erosion but you cannot stop micro-nanoplastics polluting our internationally revered environment.

  • Will there be potential adverse risks to the environment whilst you carry out LEP maintenance?

Micro-nanoplastics erosion from wind turbines is not the same as from a plastic bag which you at least have the opportunity to pick up – once in the environment it will be dispersed widely and irreversibly for thousands of years, potentially harming not just our generation but hundreds of generations to come.

  • What happens if the amount of Bisphenol A arising from eroded micro-nanoplastics rises above the permitted levels in drinking water?
  • Will bottled water be imported and for how long?
  • It is known that microplastics/ Bisphenol A have the potential to cause serious damage to our health including infertility, cancer and inflammation. Can you categorically assure us that we will not be at risk of this?
  • Without a health impact study how can any baseline monitoring be done?

Save Shetland requests that a comprehensive human health impact assessment is conducted for the Viking Energy project in its entirety, particularly in light of increasing reports such as this one highlighting the dangers to our health.

This should include the impact of power substations and power lines and should address all dimensions of human health and well-being including social and community well-being.

Save Shetland
Ernie Ramaker

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