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I’m a midwife on Madison’s north side, and the F-35s will harm the families I care for

The fighter jets will intensify noise and chemical pollution that threaten the health of babies and parents.

The fighter jets will intensify noise and chemical pollution that threaten the health of babies and parents.

Illustration by Shaysa Sidebottom.

I live in one of the neighborhoods that would be most impacted if F-35 fighter jets should bed down at Madison’s Truax Field. I bought my home in Eken Park five years ago and was drawn to the racial and economic diversity of this neighborhood. As a daughter of immigrant parents, I found that this neighborhood reminded me of the neighborhood of my childhood—rich in character and resilience. It was one of the last affordable neighborhoods I found a home in that also serendipitously had a space in the back for a midwife office. For that reason and many more, this is my dream home. 

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My home serves as a midwifery practice for hundreds of families who I have had the privilege of caring for as their midwife. Hundreds of pregnant people, including many of my neighbors, have come to my home office for prenatal care. My home is in the “65 decibel zone,” according to the Air Force’s analysis of the F-35s’ likely impact on noise levels in Madison. The Federal Aviation Administration has said that this average noise level renders a home “incompatible with residential use.” More than 1,000 homes in north and east Madison will be impacted if this decision goes through. Furthermore, my home and 600 others have “avigation easements” on them that will restrict us from accessing sound mitigation compensation. 

Sound mitigation isn’t even the heart of the matter. The Wisconsin chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility has been very vocal in pointing out that you cannot mitigate the whole outdoors. You cannot mitigate toxic chemicals in our drinking water. You cannot mitigate hearing loss or problems with memory retention in young children from F35 jets. No soundproofing or number of panes of window glass will stop these negative consequences from occurring.  

The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s existing fighter-jet wing at Truax has polluted nearby water and soil with a dangerous class of chemicals known as PFAS. Some surface-water samples taken around Madison already exceed the EPA’s health advisory limits of 70 parts per trillion, and the chemicals have also made it into several of the groundwater wells that provide our drinking water. If more military construction were to take place at Truax, this would lead to further contamination of our drinking water. The leader of the pro-F-35 group Badger Air Community Council, Mike Moore, has already stated that he would be worried about the quality of the air and water in our neighborhoods if his family were to live here.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that provides unbiased public health information about the environment. EWG’s research shows that even low levels of exposure to PFAS chemicals have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, and weakened childhood immunity. The construction that would take place to accommodate the F-35s would cause more PFAS to be distributed in our environment, including increased contamination of our groundwater. One of the north side’s drinking-water wells, Well 15, has already been shut down due to levels of PFAS in the well water, measured at 56 parts per trillion (PPT). EWG suggests 1 part per trillion (PPT) as a safe level. 

Breastmilk is at the top of the food chain. This natural fluid and food can be contaminated with PFAS, affecting the growth of newborns, the learning and behavior of infants, and the endocrine and immune systems of children. 

The F-35s could have devastating impacts on our health. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Environmental Health has already published research indicating that exposure to excessive noise during pregnancy may result in hearing loss in newborns and may be associated with preterm labor and intrauterine growth restriction. If premature babies are born and come home from the hospital, they may experience cochlear damage from excessive noise levels in the 65 decibel zone. 

The decision to base the F-35 planes here would disproportionately impact people of color and low-income people in my community. The City of Madison has already stated that nearly every block impacted by this decision has a higher poverty population and person of color population than the city or county average. For example, the closest apartment complex to the south of the runways is the city-owned public housing Truax Park apartments. According to the city, the demographics include 70% people of color, 100% low income people, 45% differently abled people, and 14% elderly people. 

I became an activist at age 12 and was inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 25 states that mothers and children are entitled to special care and assistance. The article also states that everyone has the right to a standard of living supportive of their health and well-being. These rights specifically include access to food, clothing, housing, and water. It is imperative that we stand together as a community to safeguard these basic rights for our children and for all our community members.

This issue isn’t about supporting our troops. My parents are immigrants to this country and I don’t ever take my rights for granted and I will never forsake this country. But what good does it do to protect our freedoms when we can’t drink the water in our city? When our children can’t hear or learn? 

Please amplify your voice. See the Safe Skies Clean Water website to find out how to oppose the F-35 jets from being based here at Dane County Truax. Write to Senator Tammy Baldwin, who is currently in support of the F-35s plan. If you drink water and you want safe drinking water, this is your issue. If you care about babies, mothers, pregnant people, and families, this is your issue.

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