Guest Opinions

Pollutants from fighter jets could affect Treasure Valley air quality

I believe the current debate regarding the placement of F-35s here in Boise is focused on the wrong issue. While the noise created by these jets will indeed be intolerable and damaging to physical and mental health, I believe this is the least of the effects we in the Treasure Valley will suffer. The air pollution created by F-35s will be far more damaging to the health of our citizens than the noise. According to the Air Force environmental report (F-35 Training Basing: Environmental Impact Statement, 2012) produced for the Boise area, F-35s will annually release tons of additional pollutants into the Valley’s air, such as volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, and large and small particulates.

While the amount of pollution will vary by the number of planes and flights, it is certain that the pollution caused by the F-35s will be well above what we experience now from existing plane traffic. Given the inversions and wildfire smoke we suffer each year, and given that Idaho in general was ranked by the United Health Foundation in 2015 as one of the states with the poorest air quality in the nation, I find it remarkable that we are being considered at all for the F-35s. Atlantic County, N.J., was considered for placement of the F-35s, but its poor air quality was partially responsible for the rejection. I believe we can make the same argument here.

A Burlington, Vt., report (Endangered Health, 2012) found “three key pollutants in jet exhaust ... are widely recognized as having a major impact on health, contributing to cancer and respiratory disease. ... The UCLA Medical Center study of the Santa Monica Airport ... demonstrates the critical significance of local measurement of these pollutants in assessing the impact of airport operations.”

Boise State recently hosted Dr. Lilian Calderon-Garciduenas, who specializes in the effects of air pollution on the developing brains of children. She outlined the very damaging effects of these pollutants in the air on children and teens, including brain inflammation, neurovascular effects, and ultimately changes in brain structures similar to what is seen in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s (Calderon-Garciduenas et al, 2015).

Given the poor air quality we already often have in Boise, which will likely only decrease in quality in the future (due to increasing wildfires, inversions and the growing population), I do not believe we can accept any more pollutants to our air. The research connecting damaging health effects with air pollution is vast, and we need to stop sacrificing the health of our communities for financial gain.

For those who think only those living near the airport will be affected, think again. The extent of the pollution exacerbated by the F-35s will spread depending on wind direction, wildfire smoke and inversions. The entire Boise area is at risk.

Say no to F-35s. Save our children’s lives.

Denise Seigart is a registered nurse who has been working or teaching for 37 years in the areas of public health, pediatrics, maternal-child health and research. She and her husband moved to Boise in 2014.