The union representing Madison’s teachers is calling on county officials to conduct a more robust study of the noise impacts that the incoming F-35s will have on area students.
The letter, sent by leaders of Madison Teachers Inc, or MTI, was addressed to County Executive Joe Parisi, who did not respond to WORT’s request for comment by airtime. On top of calling for a larger study on the noise impacts of the F-35s, the letter also calls for noise measuring and abatement measures for area schools.
The airport is currently working to update their Noise Compatibility Plan, which will give a more accurate view of the noise levels surrounding the airport. The study, which is scheduled to be completed in winter of 2024, does not include any research into the health effects and impacts noise has on children’s health or hearing.
The letter points to several studies that show a link between airport noise and decreased learning in school children. One study, from a pediatrician in Vermont, found that children who live near F-35 jets see decreased reading skills and attention spans, and increased risk for anxiety, depression, and aggressive behaviors.
Jeff Knight is the Executive Director of MTI. He says that he wrote the letter after he was approached by Safe Skies Clean Water, a nonprofit coalition against the F-35s coming to Madison.
“We ended up doing some research, and there is some research that that kind of noise pollution can interfere with learning. (Our) request was that be included in any study on that noise from the jets. There’s another study that has to be done, and they want that study to include, and we agree, our board of directors voted on this as well, some consideration of the schools and how they will be impacted,” Knight says.
MTI is asking County Executive Parisi and the Dane County Airport to take the many schools that sit within five miles of the Dane County Regional Airport into consideration when they update their Noise Compatibility Plan.
These measures include extending the study area from three miles around the airport to five miles, studying the noise impact on all schools on the northeast side of Madison, and studying if low-income families and families of color would be disproportionately subjected to the noise.
Additionally, the letter asks for noise abatement measures to be included for area schools. MTI is calling for a flight tracking system of both commercial and Air National Guard planes so that they can see what planes are flying over schools, and to install noise monitoring systems in the schools near the airport.
These noise monitoring systems would allow the schools to accurately monitor noise levels within the schools. While the current plan would use computer monitoring to predict noise levels, it would not include any actual noise measuring.
Finally, MTI is asking for all schools on the northeast side to have noise abatement improvements made at the schools. The letter includes making sure that the schools have air conditioning systems in place. Knight says that, while air conditioning may sound unrelated to cutting the noise, it could actually help.
“The part about air conditioning is that, if you don’t have schools that can be sealed up when the weather is hot, the noise is going to be louder. That by itself is an abatement measure. We would like to have that considered as part of any plan going forward,” Knight says.
Steve Klafka with Safe Skies Clean Water says that the entire process of the airport’s study is not nearly enough to give northside residents an accurate picture of what the noise levels will be at the airport.
“I know last spring they had an open house to discuss the procedures, and it seemed like it was going to be a very limited study. They did as little as possible, as little as the FAA would require them to do. It literally would not tell us much about the impacts of the noise, in fact it would do far less than the Air Force did when they wrote their Environmental Impact Statement,” Klafka says.
Knight says that, at the end of the day, he just hopes that the county takes their concerns into consideration.
“It’s that taking a step back and looking to see if there is evidence that this could impact our schools, and if there is evidence that this could impact schools with kids from low-income families and families of color. If that’s not taken into consideration, that’s just another form of environmental racism,” Knight says.
The letter was also sent to Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, the Madison School Board, and Airport Director Kimberly Jones, all of whom did not respond to WORT’s request for comment by airtime.
According to the final environmental impact statement released by the US Air Force in 2020, replacing the existing F-16 jets at Truax Airfield with F-35 jets will not come quietly. While the impact statement showed that around 2,700 people would be subjected to an average sound level of around 65 decibels, or around the volume of a vacuum, the report does not showcase how loud the jets will be when landing or takeoff.
A 2012 environmental impact statement for F-35s coming to Vermont says that the noise level for an F-35 on takeoff is around 115 decibels, louder than a car horn and a rock concert, and just quieter than a siren.
The F-35s are set to touch down at Truax Airfield next year.
Photo courtesy: Chali Pittman / WORT Flickr