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UW Study: More than 74,000 people at risk of adverse health effects from Growler aircraft

May 29, 2024 - For more than a decade, people on the Olympic peninsula and in the San Juan Islands have complained about the noise from EA-18G Growlers practicing take offs and landings at Whidbey Naval Air Station. South Lopez Island residents have told Representative Rick Larsen how the noise affects their quality of life. 

A University of Washington study, Population health implications of exposure to pervasive military aircraft noise pollution,  published this month is the first paper on the Health Impacts of the Growler activity. 



While the adverse health effects of civil aircraft noise are relatively well studied, impacts associated with more intense and intermittent noise from military aviation have been rarely assessed. In recent years, increased training at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, USA has raised concerns regarding the public health and well-being implications of noise from military aviation.


This study assessed the public health risks of military aircraft noise by developing a systematic workflow that uses acoustic and aircraft operations data to map noise exposure and predict health outcomes at the population scale.


Acoustic data encompassing seven years of monitoring efforts were integrated with flight operations data for 2020–2021 and a Department of Defense noise simulation model to characterize the noise regime. The model produced contours for day-night, nighttime, and 24-h average levels, which were validated by field monitoring and mapped to yield the estimated noise burden. Established thresholds and exposure-response relationships were used to predict the population subject to potential noise-related health effects, including annoyance, sleep disturbance, hearing impairment, and delays in childhood learning.


Over 74,000 people within the area of aircraft noise exposure were at risk of adverse health effects. Of those exposed, substantial numbers were estimated to be highly annoyed and highly sleep disturbed, and several schools were exposed to levels that place them at risk of delay in childhood learning. Noise in some areas exceeded thresholds established by federal regulations for public health, residential land use and noise mitigation action, as well as the ranges of established exposure-response relationships.

Impact statement

This study quantified the extensive spatial scale and population health burden of noise from military aviation. We employed a novel GIS-based workflow for relating mapped distributions of aircraft noise exposure to a suite of public health outcomes by integrating acoustic monitoring and simulation data with a dasymetric population density map. This approach enables the evaluation of population health impacts due to past, current, and future proposed military operations. Moreover, it can be modified for application to other environmental noise sources and offers an improved open-source tool to assess the population health implications of environmental noise exposure, inform at-risk communities, and guide efforts in noise mitigation and policy governing noise legislation, urban planning, and land use.



From the Boeing website:

The EA-18G is the cornerstone of the naval Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) mission. Derived from the combat proven F/A-18F aircraft, the EA-18G incorporates advanced AEA avionics bringing transformational capability for suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) and non-traditional electronic attack operations. Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses: The EA-18G will counter enemy air defenses using both reactive and pre-emptive jamming techniques.

Stand-off and Escort Jamming: The EA-18G will be highly effective in the traditional stand-off jamming mission, but with the speed and agility of a Super Hornet, it will also be effective in the escort role.

Non-Traditional Electronic Attack: Dramatically enhanced situational awareness and uninterrupted communications will enable the EA-18G to achieve a higher degree of integration with ground operations than has been previously achievable.

Self-protect and Time-Critical Strike Support: With its Advanced Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, digital data links and air-to-air missiles, the EA-18G will have self-protection capability and will also be effective for target identification and prosecution.

Growth: High commonality with the F/A-18E/F, nine available weapon stations and modern avionics enable cost-effective synergistic growth for both aircraft, setting the stage for continuous capability enhancement.

Full Spectrum: The EA-18G's ALQ-218 wideband receiver combined with the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System will be effective against any radar-guided surface-to-air threat. Precision Airborne Electronic Attack: Selective-reactive technology enables the EA-18G to rapidly sense and locate threats with a significantly higher degree of accuracy than was previously possible. This improved accuracy enables greater concentration of energy against threats.

Advanced Communication Countermeasures: Its modular ALQ-227 Communication Countermeasure Set enables the EA-18G to counter a wide range of communication systems and is readily adaptable to an ever-changing threat spectrum.

Interference Cancellation System (INCANS): INCANS dramatically enhances aircrew situational awareness by enabling uninterrupted communications during jamming operations.

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