Weinberger's F-35 legacy akin to Flint Michigan
F-35 especially targets children's learning and cognitive development
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger claimed during a recent Burlington Mayoral debate that he “believes in the science” regarding the F-35. Yet his acts to foist the F-35 training flights amidst cities full of children demonstrated that he was tone deaf to the science that was provided by the US Air Force, the CDC, the EPA, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Vermont Department of Health. His actions are akin to those of the officials who foisted the lead-laced water on Flint Michigan, which damaged the cognitive development of children there.
In Volume II of its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) the US Air Force presents the results of studies concluding that noise can affect the “learning and cognitive abilities” of children and can produce physiological changes (p. C-28): Children residing in high aircraft noise areas near heavily trafficked civilian airports or attending elementary schools in such areas had “more difficulty solving cognitive problems” (p. C-29), had “poorer reading comprehension and selective cognitive impairments” (p. C-29), and “scored 20 percent lower on recall ability tests” (p. C-30) than those living further away.
The Air Force further cited studies showing that “tasks involving central processing and language comprehension (such as reading, attention, problem solving, and memory) appear to be the most affected by noise” (p. C-29). Also, that “chronic exposure of first- and second-grade children to aircraft noise can result in reading deficits and impaired speech perception (i.e., the ability to hear common, low-frequency [vowel] sounds but not high frequencies [consonants] in speech) (p. C-29). The Air Force further said that “this awareness has led the WHO [World Health Organization] and a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) working group to conclude that daycare centers and schools should not be located near major sources of noise” (p. C-30).
In addition to the direct blasting of their ears and brains, the Air Force also reported that the cognitive development of children can also be impaired by multiple hourly classroom speech interruptions. In Volume I of the EIS the Air Force identified 7 schools in the oval-shaped extreme noise zone of F-35 takeoffs and landings with large numbers of classroom noise interruptions per hour: Bellwether School, Center for Science Education, Chamberlin School, Saint Michaels College, St. Francis Xavier School, Vermont Technical College, and Community College of Vermont (p. BR4-33). The Chamberlin School, with its 552 preK to 5th grade children, is located just 800 yards to the side of the runway.
The Air Force EIS further acknowledged that the hearing damage can make the learning impairment worse: “barriers to hearing can cause interferences or disruptions in developmental evolution” (p. C-29). (See the article, “Mayor Weinberger distorts science to push F-35 training flights in a populated area,” which focuses on F-35 noise-induced permanent hearing damage). This conclusion was supported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
Hearing plays an essential role in communication, speech and language development, and learning. Even a small amount of hearing loss can have profound, negative effects on speech, language comprehension, communication, classroom learning, and social development. Studies indicate that without proper intervention, children with mild to moderate hearing loss, on average, do not perform as well in school as children with no hearing loss. This gap in academic achievement widens as students progress through school.
The peer reviewed 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) report, Burden of disease from environmental noises agrees with the Air Force finding that cognitive impairment of children occurs at lower average noise levels than the Air Force says is needed to cause permanent hearing damage. The WHO report (p. 48) states that:
· 20% of children are cognitively impaired when day/night average noise level is between 55 and 65 decibels. The 55 to 65 decibel area is omitted from the oval-shaped noise contours identified in the Air Force EIS. Inclusion of this 55-to-65-decibel area so as to include the 20% of children who live there would add thousands more to the 2,963 homes the Air Force says are in its 65 decibel-and-over oval-shaped noise danger zone.
· 45 to 50% of children are cognitively impaired when day/night average noise level is between 65 and 75 decibels.
· 70 to 85% of children are cognitively impaired when day/night average noise level is between 75 and 85 decibels.
According to numbers given in the Air Force EIS, some 6,663 Vermonters live in those 2,963 homes where average noise level is 65 decibels DNL or higher. The Air Force reports that some 20.7% of Vermonters are children (p. BR4-87), meaning that 1379 children are daily exposed to the extreme F-35 noise. As the WHO report indicates that about 50% of those children will be cognitively impaired at this noise level, the training flights of F-35 jets at BTV are impairing the cognitive development and learning of 689 Vermont children.
Yet Weinberger’s own house on Summit Street is more than a mile from the Air Force’s oval-shaped noise danger zone. Weinberger thus sets an example of where such dangerous noise producing activities may safely be conducted—remote from anyone’s house.
Children are not all affected equally--The US Air Force EIS admits that the F-35 flights would result in unequal treatment of Vermonters based on race, color, nationality, immigration status, and income: The Air Force EIS admits that the F-35 training flight noise has “disproportionate impact” on “low income and minority populations” (p. BR4-83). The EIS reports that 11.3% of Vermonters are low income while 16% of those living in the F-35 noise zone are low income. It says that just 4.7% of Vermonters are minority while 11% of those living in the F-35 noise zone are minority (pps. BR4-81 and BR4-83).
The Burlington airport runway aims directly at the center of the City of Winooski, only 1 mile away. Winooski is an ethnically diverse working-class city where more than 20 languages are spoken and where 98% of the 885 children in K-12 are low income and on free or reduced-price lunch. The Air Force oval-shaped extreme noise contours extend over more than half of this city.
Further illustrating the class bias, among the three South Burlington elementary schools, 34% of the K-12 children at the Chamberlin School are on free or reduced-price lunch, whereas at Orchard School, 22% and at Central, 17%. Chamberlin is the one within the Air Force oval-shaped F-35 noise danger zone.
The F-35 training flights target the ethnically diverse and working-class areas of Burlington, Winooksi, and South Burlington while affecting none of the tony neighborhoods with their large expensive houses: A repugnant daily display of state-sponsored violence combined with classism and racism foisted on Burlington by its own mayor against the will of its people.
In addition, the F-35 training flights accelerate the global climate emergency, which most impacts black, brown, and indigenous populations: The F-35 gets only 0.5 mile per gallon of jet fuel and consumes over 1,400 gallons an hour while training for wars for oil against people of color.
A United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) letter commenting on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the F35 bed down at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida (November 2010) adds further evidence of severe bodily harm to children:
EPA is particularly concerned over noise impacts to children per Executive Order 13045: Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks. E.O. 13045 recognizes children may suffer disproportionally from environmental health risks and safety risks. Because their smaller ear canals magnify the sounds entering the ear canals, children’s hearing may be particularly sensitive. For example, a 20-decibel difference can exist between adult and infant ears.
While Eglin Air Force Base has more F-35 flights per day than Burlington airport, the base has two long runways aiming in different directions. Under a settlement of a lawsuit filed by then Valparaiso Mayor Bruce Arnold the Air Force uses the Eglin runway that aims away from the densely populated city of Valparaiso rather than the runway that aims directly at the city, one mile away, for F-35 takeoffs, sparing that city’s civilian population. To his credit, unlike the Burlington mayor, Mayor Arnold fought to defend his citizens by seeking nothing short of banning F-35 flights overhead. That very agreement, if applied to the Burlington airport, would similarly ban F-35 training flights along the runway that aims directly at the center of Winooski, which is also one mile away.
A training presentation for health care providers by the World Health Organization, “Children and Noise,” adds yet additional evidence of severe harm to children. It urges consideration that children are vulnerable to “lifelong impairment of learning and education” (p. 15) and says that “over 20 studies have reported that noise adversely affects children’s academic performance” (p. 33). It reports impairment in reading, memory, auditory discrimination, speech perception, academic performance, and attention (p. 35).
Consistent with all this science, an article in VTDigger, "Panic attacks. Ringing ears. Shaking walls. Happy 1-year anniversary to the F-35s," September 27, 2020, provides living evidence of the pain, injury and suffering produced by the F-35 training flights from the Burlington airport.
F-35 Report and Complaint Form adds to the evidence
Starting in the spring of 2020, Vermont political and military leaders have regularly received the data from online “F-35 Report and Complaint Forms” which included charts and graphs and in-their-own-words statements from hundreds of Vermonters exposed to the noise of the F-35 jets. The submissions confirm the pain, injury, and distress anticipated by the Air Force, WHO report, CDC, EPA, and WHO presentation from the F-35 training flights in Vermont’s most densely populated cities and towns. (Click here to submit your experience with the F-35 on the Fall-Winter form).
Burlington voted to cancel the F-35
After Burlington citizens voted at town meeting in 2018 to request cancellation of the Air Force plan to base F-35 jets at the city’s airport, Weinberger wrote a commentary in VTDigger in which he said that he had “submitted a letter to the United States Air Force reaffirming my strong support for the F-35s.” Like his statement during a recent mayoral debate, the commentary presented misleadingly incomplete information about F-35 noise. It demonstrated the mayor’s willingness to sacrifice the democratic vote and the health and safety of Burlington citizens for his extremist right-wing ideology of obsequious support for the military industrial complex and its racist wars for oil against countries with black and brown populations.
No amount of distorting, diverting, and denying the science will change the F-35 into a positive for children. The facts presented by no less authorities than the US Air Force, the CDC, the EPA, and the WHO, along with the facts in VTDigger article and the heart-breaking testimony of pain, injury, and distress in more than 1,000 online F-35 reports and complaints so far submitted add up to daily violence knowingly committed against thousands of Vermont families and their children by Weinberger and Vermont state officials.
For harming the learning and cognitive development of children, as well as their hearing, Weinberger disqualified himself from continuing to hold a public office. Like the Michigan officials responsible for knowingly and wantonly inflicting lead-laced water on Flint, Weinberger should not just be removed from office. He should be investigated, prosecuted, and incarcerated for his role in the daily state-sponsored violent assaults the F-35 inflicts on the thousands of Vermont families identified by the Air Force.