The Navy’s response to complaints of health harms caused by its EA-18G Growler jets has brought criticism and a challenge from noise victims on Whidbey Island. The Navy’s U.S. Fleet Forces Command responded after noise victims complained to the Washington State Board of Health about toxic noise and health harms from low-flying Growler jets.
Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve (COER) and Island Concerned Citizens say they took their complaints to the Washington State Board of Health on June 6 after years of being ignored by the Navy and unsympathetic politicians.
According to COER President Ken Pickard, “the Navy’s response sidesteps and dismisses concerns about health harms its Growlers jets are inflicting on the very people it is supposed to protect.”
The Navy’s response implies that health harms are not real because a federal court denied COER’s request that low-level flights over Central Whidbey be halted until completion of an Environmental Impact Study. “The fact that COER was denied its request by a federal judge does not prove the absence of health harms,” said Maryon Attwood.
The Navy’s response all but ignores health issues and focuses on whether or not the Growlers are the “loudest” jets yet to fly. “Whether Growlers are the loudest, or one of the loudest jets, is not the public health issue here. The existing and potential health harms experienced by Growler noise victims is the issue that the Navy needs to address and wants to ignore,” continued Marianne Brabanski, retired local audiologist.
“Today, we know noise is more than annoyance”, said Cathryn Andrews. “The Navy and public officials have been provided with science-based data, research, and articles addressing the many health harms caused by noise. We’ve also provided declarations of patients, treating doctors and medical professionals.”
The Navy knows there are serious health issues related to noise, which is why it designates hazardous noise areas requiring use of high-quality hearing protection and routine health monitoring of its personnel. Sadly, the Navy’s concern for its own is not extended to civilians on Whidbey Island who are being exposed to noise levels that exceed any World Health Organization, OSHA, or State of Washington noise standards.
“The Navy’s claim that the Growler jets are not as loud as the Prowler jets they replaced has always been the Navy’s story, and there’s a reason the Navy is sticking to it,” said Pickard. “It was the Navy’s excuse for not conducting a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before the Growlers began to fly.” The Navy avoided an EIS by claiming that replacing Prowlers with Growlers would have “no significant impact.” The Navy finally agreed to conduct an EIS, scheduled for release later this year, but only after being sued by COER and after Growler operations and their harmful impacts had begun.
The Navy is also sticking to its ‘less noisy’ Growler’ story because of a 2002 out of-court settlement of a lawsuit over noise caused by the Prowlers. The Navy agreed to pay residents of central Whidbey hundreds of thousands of dollars and promised not to fly jets louder than Prowlers over their properties. To admit that Growlers are louder would be to admit being in violation of the settlement terms. In fact, Navy planning documents acknowledge that on takeoff Growlers are 30-40% louder and on approach to landing about 75% louder than the Prowlers.
In its recent response to Citizen complaints, the Navy selected excerpts from a 2012 Noise Study for Whidbey Naval Air Station (WNAS). The excerpt not used by the Navy revealed that WNAS
“has received complaints of building rattle/vibrations due to Growler events.” Those vibrations, according to the Study, “can result in rattling of objects within the dwelling such as hanging pictures, dishes, plaques and bric-a-brac.” The Study compares the Growlers and Prowlers and states, “With its increased low-frequency content, the Growler take-off events have higher potential to cause noise induced vibration.”
As an example of what the Navy wants to ignore, are health studies and other evidence of the harm that noise vibrations can cause to the human body, including micro-tears to internal organs.
“The Navy’s dismissal of concerns about Growler health harms, even before an Environmental Impact Study has been completed, is writing on the wall that forewarns of a flawed and biased EIS,” said Pickard.
COER and its experts are prepared to enlighten the Navy and the public, in a civil public forum, where experts and interested parties can have equal time to make their cases. The elected and appointed officials, and health professionals will be invited to attend.
“Facts are stubborn things,” said Pickard. “Like noise victims who are being robbed of their health and quality of life, they won’t go away.”