Opponents of the F-35 made emotional appeals Monday night in a failed attempt to persuade the South Burlington city council to reject local basing of the fighter jet. On Tuesday night they summoned scientific data to reinforce their argument that noise from the planes is harmful to human health.
At a forum entitled "Last Call for Kids," three Vermont medical experts warned that the F-35 will have potentially acute physical and mental consequences for those living in areas subject to the highest decibel outputs.
Citing a 2011 World Health Organization study, University of Vermont nursing school professor Judith Cohen listed some of the possible impacts: "headaches, tiredness, irritability, impaired intellectual function, inability to complete tasks." Noise levels produced by the likes of the F-35 can cause "cognitive impairment" in children, Cohen added, saying "reading, attention span and learning" may all be adversely affected.
Dr. John Reuwer, an emergency and occupational medicine practitioner in South Burlington, reduced the data to a simple formulation: "The F-35 is bad for our children's health." The effects are such, Reuwer added, that "allowing this plane to come here is like encouraging our children to smoke."
Dr. Jean Szilva (pictured), a professor emeritus at the UVM medical school, was equally succinct in her summation of studies of what loud noise can do to human health. "These planes are dangerous and they don't belong in this populated an area," she declared.
The two-hour session in the gym of the Chamberlin School was entirely one-sided. None of the featured speakers supported the proposal to bring up to two dozen of the warplanes to the Vermont Air National Guard station at Burlington International Airport.
But the bias was not the result of an effort to exclude other voices.
St. Michael's College philosophy professor Katherine Kirby, the event's moderator, announced at the outset that the state's three-member congressional delegation had been invited to take part, as had Gov. Peter Shumlin and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. Those politicians, along with almost the entire local business establishment, favor basing the jet at BTV. None of these invitees showed up, nor did any of the three members of the South Burlington city council who voted Monday night in the same venue to upend a previous policy position and support the Air Force's basing plan.
Ben & Jerry's cofounder Ben Cohen (pictured at left in photo) serves as one notable crack in the solid front of business support for the plane. Cohen has plunged into the fray with money and ice cream. A man wearing a striped shirt circulated in the gym Tuesday night with a tray full of cups of Ben & Jerry's flavors, free for the taking (pictured below). Cohen sat quietly near the rear of the gym as the presentations were rolled out.
Szilva and Reuwer both made disparaging reference to claims put forward by some of the plane's proponents.
"We've heard, 'Oh, it doesn't bother me,'" Szilva said in regard to comments about noise from the fleet of F-16 jets the Guard currently flies out of BTV. "The health effects will bother you whether you know it or not," she observed.
Reuwer told the roughly 125-person audience, "It makes me worry about people with bumper stickers on cars saying, 'I love jet noise.' I wonder if they would still love it if they knew it could increase your risk of heart attack by 40 percent."
The South Burlington physician added, "Politicians and developers saying there is no risk are kidding themselves or lying to us."
Studies on the effects of noise cited in the Air Force's environmental impact statement are out of date, speakers said. The most recent analysis of the human health impact referred to in the report was carried out 11 years ago, anti-F-35 activist and attorney Jimmy Leas noted.
But the Air Force is not trying to force Vermonters to accept the plane, commented South Burlington City Councilor Rosanne Greco, a retired Air Force colonel.
"I don't think Air Force cares where it puts the F-35," said Greco, an opponent of the local basing. "They're not pushing Burlington; other people are pushing Burlington They're going to put them where people will take them."
"You have the power," Greco said in response to a question from an audience member about what can be done to stop the plane from coming.
Judith Cohen in turn told of a sign she has hanging on her office door at UVM: "It's not enough to be compassionate. One must also act."