Activists and experts spoke against a potential base for F-35 jets located in Madison in a public forum on Sunday, highlighting growing amounts of pollution and environmental injustice.
The event came in preparation for the anticipated mid-February release of the federally mandated final Environmental Impact Study. The final decision to bring the jets to Truax Field, a military facility located at Dane County Regional Airport six miles northeast of downtown Madison, will be made by the Air Force 30 days after the study.
The forum, sponsored by Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin, including Ald. Rebecca Kemble, District 18, Maria Powell of the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization and Brian Benford, the former president of the City of Madison Equal Opportunities Commission.
Panelists focused on the increase of chemicals commonly known as PFAS due to the inevitable pollution of the F-35s, which are classified as nuclear weapons delivery systems.
“There are all kinds of health problems associated with [PFAS]. Cancer, thyroid problems, all kinds of things,” said Tom Boswell, the community organizer of Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin. “It’s in our water. Starkweather Creek is probably one of the most contaminated places in the state.”
It was also noted by panelists that the effects of the noise and military-grade pollution will disproportionately affect neighborhoods closest to Truax Field, mainly populated by low-income residents and people of color.
“We know F-35s are bad. How do we know that? A lot of our information is from the Air Force’s own information,” Ald. Kemble stated. “We learned in August when they released the draft of the first EIS how bad these are for humans to be around.”
Kemble pointed out that the jobs created by the aircraft base will be sourced out or given to contractors instead of going to locals. She added that while the Air Force promises to mitigate noise, in actuality they have no resources to accomplish this, as shown in the draft of the EIS.
“There’s a myth that the International Guard is a good neighbor,” Kemble said. “Well, tell that to people who have been sexually harassed and assaulted. The guard is now under federal investigation for that.”
Max Prestigiacomo, UW-Madison student and next District 8 Alder, was shocked by the potential effects of an F-35 base in Madison.
“Sitting in the audience at the F-35 forum struck me with immense fear for our community,” Prestigiacomo stated. “I’m fearful for our water that’s currently being tainted with PFAS and on course to increase if F-35s are placed in Madison. I’m fearful that our country will not stop wasting billions and trillions of taxpayer dollars on war machines that perpetuate the climate crisis.”
Nada Elmikashfi, another UW-Madison student that attended the forum, expressed concern for the vulnerable populations on the East Side that would be most affected by an F-35 base.
“Wisconsin has a long way to go when it comes to healing the racial disparities that divide our communities,” she said. “However, immoral capitalist-racism has never been more unapologetic than it is with this proposal. This is not what we stand for in Madison.”
If Truax Field is chosen by the Air Force after the release of the EIS, the F-35 jets would arrive in 2024.