September 26, 2012
Harry Chen, M.D.
Commissioner of Health
Vermont Department of Health
108 Cherry St.
Burlington VT 05402
Dear Commissioner Chen,
I am writing this letter at the behest of Austin Sumner, Chair of the Burlington Board of Health. I presented during the public comment period this month at the Board of Health meeting. He suggested at that time that I contact you and ask you to open an investigation into the public health effects that will be caused if the F-35 Weapon System is based at the Burlington International Airport.
In terms of health issues, noise is just one. The recently published U.S. Air Force draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) states “our area would be negatively affected in the following categories: Noise, Safety, Climate Change, Air Quality, Socioeconomics, Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Justice and the Protection of Children.” Declines in safety and air quality clearly have negative health effects, and I would argue that all of these categories threaten public health.
In terms of noise pollution, the DEIS shows an increase in maximum sound during a “military power take off” from 94 to 115 decibels (page BR4-18), and the report notes that each additional 10 decibels represents a doubling of sound to the human ear. The 21 decibel difference is more than two doublings of the sound or more than four times louder. The 65 decibel day/night average is “not considered suitable for residential use” according to the Air Force, and yet over 2900 Vermont residences are found within this noise contour
Outside of my workplace in Burlington, I witnessed a Bosnian woman falling to the ground during a flyover of the F-16s, hysterical with fear that she was being bombed after having survived such bombing. This kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is particularly common among veteran and refugee populations. In addition to re-traumatizing people living with such experience and resultant PTSD, studies show that this level of noise pollution adversely affects childrens’ ability to learn, causes elevated rates of stroke and heart attack, and causes hearing loss. Eberhard Greiser, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at Bremen University, states that in a study commissioned by Bonn authorities, it was found that women living near the Cologne-Bonn Airport had an increased risk of developing breast cancer and leukemia. (1, 2, 3. 4) These weapons systems also burn more fuel, and release benzene among other toxins that are known carcinogens.
The Washington Post in a 6/5/07 article describes how a study on children near the Munich airport bore out the claim that children suffer from extreme noise. Students living near the airport scored lower on tests of memory and reading than children in the neighborhoods where the airport was slated to move. However, the children living near the new airport saw a decline in scores after the move, while the children that had initially scored lower living near the old airport site had improved scores. One reaction students had to the noise was a type of “learned helplessness” where students just gave up problem-solving when subjected to loud noise.
Elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline were also measured in groups of children living near the working Munich airports, which could account for these differences. The resulting increase in blood pressure puts these children at a higher risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack later in life. Other studies have shown the resultant immune suppression caused by elevated levels of stress hormones inhibits healing, and even discourages a tendency most people have of generosity towards others. (5)
These bombers are designed for first strike and offensive as well as defensive missions, and indeed qualify as “stealth” weapons systems. They can carry 18,000 lbs of bombs to initiate attacks on countries thousands of miles away, and are equipped, according to the Air Force’s own advertisement, to have the ability to reduce the people in targeted countries to “hair, teeth, and eyeballs”. Despite these targets not being Vermonters, I would assume that a concern for public health would include all people
While the F-35 may be acceptable for other large military bases far from residential neighborhoods (barring moral arguments), 115 decibels is a grossly unacceptable level of loudness at a commercial airport surrounded by residential communities. Retired Colonel Roseanne Greco spoke to an Air Force personnel who said that the Burlington base was given 10 out of 10 points when evaluating the placement, 6 points of which were given in error, as the fact that there are 6700 people residing in the encroachment area would have disqualified us for these very health reasons. These health effects will have a disproportionate impact on low-income people.
While several of our elected leaders state that noise mitigation will be exercised by VTANG, the DEIS mentions that there are no plans by the Air Force, VTANG, or the airport to mitigate the noise impacts of the F-35, and the FAA further states that no noise mitigation methods actually work.
Safety is another health-related issue raised by Colonel Greco among others: “Safety projections for the F-35A are based on the F-22A, which was operationally deployed in 2002. However the F-22 is now experiencing significant safety issues, so much so that Air National Guard pilots are refusing to fly them. Moreover, new aircraft normally have more crashes than mature aircraft. And crashes are more prone to happen on take-offs and landings.” The DEIS states that projected “Class A Mishaps” (the crash rate) during years 2 -5 is 11 times higher than those of the current F-16 (BR4-46 and BR4-47). If the planes are ever loaded with nuclear payloads or depleted uranium, accidents could cause a deplorable level of damage here at home, and I will argue that they cause a reprehensible effect anywhere they are deployed.
Another important safety issue that proponents are perversely silent about is the fact of the greater Burlington area remaining or becoming a terrorist target; this is obviously not conducive to people’s health or wellness.
South Burlington’s school board (7) and city council have already rejected the local basing of these bombers, as has the Winooski school board. As the Board of Health is charged with some statutory responsibility for the “prevention, removal or destruction of public health hazards and the mitigation of public health risks”, and as you as Health Commissioner can authorize an investigation of this issue, I would like to request that you do so on behalf of all Vermont residents.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this issue as part of your duty to the public health.
Burlington VT 05401
1) Findings of a study on airport noise and health commissioned by the German Federal Environmental Agency analyzing data from more than 1 million people: http://www.umweltdaten.de/publikationen/fpdf-l/3153.pdf
2) WHO “The Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise”
3) International Journal of Epidemiology
4) University of Oregon Study
7) South Burlington School Board’s Statement:
CCTV footage of South Burlington’s City Council rejecting the F-35 can be viewed here: https://saveourskiesvt.org/node/93
Note: Whether you agree with the premise of the website’s title or not, all citations, including a link to the DEIS, can be found by visiting www.stopthef35.com and the link that can be found there to Juliet Buck’s blog, which documents numerous studies, many of which are published by the Air Force itself, as well as the Department of Defense, etc.
This letter forwarded to us by a coalition member.