Sound Off: UW study on Growler noise was not tainted




In a recent article in the Whidbey News-Times, a Navy League spokesman challenged the efficacy of the University of Washington’s new research study on military jet noise impacts. The League inferred the results were tainted because three of the junior authors of the peer-reviewed publication in Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology were members of groups opposing Growler noise impacts on Whidbey Island and surrounds.

As the three alluded-to authors, we wish to assure the League that their conspiracy worries are misplaced. We were simply recruited as relevant community partners with special local knowledge, not as scientific collaborators. Those scholarly activities lay strictly within the university domain.

Nor were the data analyzed within our domain. That is, the data were taken directly from previously published Growler noise evaluations conducted by Navy and National Park Service acoustical contractors and by an independent acoustician.

Nor were the thresholds tainted. That is, Growler noise data were compared against current noise exposure thresholds developed from and thoroughly vetted by numerous studies on the effects of noise on human and animal health and accepted as valid by the scientific community, including the Federal Aviation Administration.

The League goes on to claim that because a survey found Whidbey Islanders to be very healthy, that the reported impacts of noise are wrong. That broad generalized survey was not designed, intended, or able to dissect out the impacts of extreme noise on human well being. Per that logic, cancers from Navy use of aqueous fire fighting foam chemicals (PFAS) should be discounted here because a survey showed the population at large is healthy.

Finally, the League’s position, as stated by the News-Times, was that the university “has lent its goodwill and legitimacy to one side of a local Whidbey issue” and its “leadership should retract this study and recharacterize it as overt activism.” The League may be understandably distressed by the study’s results, but their meritless spin is neither credible nor warranted.

In spite of the League’s no-problems-here advocacy, people are suffering today with health impacts from extreme noise exposure. This is exactly why research is so important. Founded in 1861, the University of Washington is one of the oldest and most respected universities on the West Coast. We are lucky to have this major research university diving into this public health issue that is affecting so many.

The unsavory activism here is from the Navy League – not from the University of Washington. Frankly, the League’s unfortunate rhetoric does not help the Navy or any of us in securing common ground and seeking solutions that balance the need for Navy operations with ensuring the health of local communities.

Bob Wilbur is a member of Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve. Anne Harvey and Christine Hurley are members of Sound Defense Alliance.