Medical Panel Speaks at Citizen-led F35 Hearing

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Thursday July 18, 2013

Chamberlin School received its second round of F-35 action on Tuesday, July 9-- the day after the South Burlington City Council voted in support of basing the fighter jets in our community. “Last Call for Kids: a Public Hearing on the F-35 and Children” event consisted of a medical panel who spoke to the hazardous effects noise has on human health, particularly that of children.

Save Our Skies from the F-35 was one of 13 sponsors. Ben and Jerry’s Co-Founder Ben Cohen--as a token of support for the cause--provided ice cream throughout the two and a half hour meeting.

Katie Kirby, a philosophy professor at Saint Michael’s College, opened with a quote, “Senator Leahy said, ‘Yes. If I learned that it [F-35] would be harmful to Vermonters, I would change my mind’.

“So let us hope that Sen. Leahy is listening to us tonight,” Kirby said.

Save Our Skies invited the congressional delegation, the Mayors of Burlington and Winooski, City Councils from Winooski, South Burlington, Burlington, and Williston, every state senator and representative in Chittenden County, and members of the local clergy. The Air Force was also invited. 

Before hearing from the medical experts, South Burlington City Councilor Rosanne Greco, U.S. Air Force Col.(retired), provided a brief update on how the revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released this spring differs from the one issued previously. Greco referred to errors and old information used in the previous Draft EIS; the census data used initially was from 2000; the new EIS has been revised to include 2010 census data. 

Last year, supported by votes from  Councilors Greco, Riehle, Dooley and Engels, Council sent a six-page letter to the Air Force regarding the lack of updated health reports used in the EIS. The reports were between 11-20 years old, and there have been several new reports revealing health hazard findings, explained Greco.

She also stated that the Air Force, though they could not attend, said that every comment said that night would be part of the official record.A statement from G.W. Evans,   an environmental and developmental psychologist, was read.  Evans  is  cited in the Air Force Draft EIS and in a World Health Organization study which addresses health effects such as elevated blood pressure. 

The attention turned to the first speaker on the panel, Jean Szilva, M.D.  Dr. Szilva is  a professor emeritus at the UVM College of Medicine.  Szilva asked the audience to act as medical students, and she would be the instructor.

“What’s the difference between sound and noise?” Szilva asked. “Noise is unwanted how do we measure sound?”

Sound is measured by decibels, and with each increase of 10 decibels, the “perceived loudness” doubles. However, the physical intensity with each increase in 10 decibels is much more drastic, she said.  Each jump in 10 decibels results in an increase of physical intensity. She also read more into what Day/Night sound levels mean, and ran through several scenarios. She explained that with more noise and fewer operations, more people are actually affected. Szilva added that the U.S. was a leader in calling to protect citizens from noise pollution in the 1970‘s. “Why did we drop the ball?” she asked.

John Reuwer, M.D., Emergency, Urgent Care, and Occupational Medicine, was the second member of the panel to speak. Noise has an effect on school performance, he said, and it also has an effect on blood pressure, which is relevant to the health of children.

“The hardening of the arteries that causes heart attacks in adults begins in childhood,” he said. “Pediatricians are now encouraged to check cholesterol levels in children for this reason. High blood pressure exerts the same effect.”

Reuwer read from a study, the European Heart Journal (2006), that noise was a risk factor almost equal to the risk imparted by diabetes in men and women. The study  measured noise by asking about their exposure and then measuring their actual environment.

“I’m worried about the people who have bumper stickers that say ‘I love Jet Noise,” he said. “I wonder if they would still love it if they knew it would increase the risk of a heart attack by 40 percent, which is the number cited in the study.”

Reuwer also compared this noise exposure to the risk of smoking.

The third and final panelist, Judith A. Cohen, Ph.D., R.N., Professor, Department of Nursing, UVM, Captain in the US Naval Reserve, Nurse Corps (retired), then spoke of the cognitive effects on children.

“We physicians and nurses have a social contract with all of you...[which] is to protect your health and well-being. This proposal…violates this contract.”

Cohen spoke on behalf of a specific portion of a “vulnerable group” (elderly, children, chronically ill, etc.): children. Of young children, particularly vulnerable are fetuses, children with dyslexia and hyper activity, and children who take medication that may affect their hearing.

She spoke of the direct and indirect effects noise has on children. Of the direct effects, Cohen stated a few examples: 

“Children have smaller ear canals, and therefore smaller ear canals magnify the noise as it comes in, ” she said.

Indirect consequences include physiologic effects outlined by Nuewer, psychological effects, and symptoms from moderate levels of noise such as  headaches, tiredness, irritability, and impeding the ability to complete tasks.

Increased noise can trigger “personality changes, aggressive violent reactions, ability to cope, and can alter one’s ability to perform in the classroom and intellectual functions,” she said. In the classroom, it can affect children’s reading abilities, attention span, and--over time-- affect educational achievement.

After the panel completed their remarks, residents spoke about their concerns about the effects of noise.

“I would much rather see us invest our funds in education, or healthcare, or nutrition. I meet people every day who don’t have food,” said Sr. Pat McKittrick, an R.N. in the community.

Resident and former city councilor Meaghan Emery questioned the basis of support for the F-35 bed-down. “The uncle of the wife of Sen. Leahy is on the Airport Strategic Planning Commission and he stands to benefit from the basing of these planes,” she said. “Where is the conflict of interest clause in his contract?”

One of the final comments challenged a phrase commonly used in support of the basing. 

“What is this sound of freedom? Isn’t it dissent to saying “no” to what the government wants? If you don’t have that, you don’t have freedom, right?” South Burlington resident and Patent Attorney James Leas said. “We are the sound of freedom. We are the ones who are building the movements to stop the F-35.”

To conclude, Kirby urged those in the room to register their call to action by writing to Nicholas Germanos before the July 15 deadline,  to attend the Winooski City Council meeting scheduled for the following night (the Winooski City Council subsequently voted unanimously against the basing), and to attend a rally in front of Burlington’s City Hall which was planned for Saturday, July 13.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent