The Relationship Between Aircraft Noise and Health
Airplanes roar over our rooftops. Those of us bothered by the airplane noise know that these planes affect our mental health, but is there any research that shows it can also affect our physical health?
The World Health Organization (WHO) states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Since the airplane noise we hear on a daily basis is annoying and disruptive, it clearly impacts our “well-being” and quality of life. However, this annoyance factor or having to wait a few moments to continue speaking has real consequences that may not be appreciated. Research clearly demonstrates that children in schools that are affected by disturbing airplane noise show a decrease in learning, a delay in reading proficiency and have difficulties remembering material. Other studies show that intermittent “single event” noises, such as a loud airplane flying overhead, are even more distracting than constant noise and decreases the productivity of workers.
Of more concern than annoyance, research amply demonstrates a relationship between airplane noise and the physiological side of the WHO definition of health – “disease or infirmity.” In particular, multiple studies have positively shown a disturbing pattern of increased incidences of adverse cardiovascular effects of hypertension, myocardial infarction (heart attacks) and ischemic heart disease that correlate with loud aircraft noise exposure in neighborhoods around airports.
Two potential, noise-related pathways to these adverse cardiovascular effects have been proposed: Noise-induced stress and Sleep disruption:
- Noise-Induced Stress
Stress responses to a single-event loud noise, such as an airplane, cause a short-term increase of blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones. Many may think of this reaction as a “fight or flight” type response. Although it serves us well if a bear is chasing us, this stressful involuntary reaction is repeated with every loud noise and continues to occur even when you are asleep and don’t wake-up to the noise. Research shows that this repeated stress and hormone burst can lead to nervousness and changes in the functioning of the cardiovascular system with adverse consequences. This is seen even when other factors that may cause these same effects are taken into account such as smoking, diet etc. For those of us living under concentrated NextGen flight corridors with numerous, loud, low-flying planes, the number of day and night “stress responses” is significant. Statistically, the adverse consequences of hospitalizations for heart issues associated with aircraft noise are about equal to that of second-hand smoke. Currently, this is not being addressed as a serious health issue, but is an increasing concern as more data comes in.
- Sleep Disruption
This problem has become a way of life under the new NextGen flight corridors. Sleep researchers are examining the increasingly strong evidence that shortening, fragmenting, or changing how one sleeps may lead to increases in the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
Compounding the issue of health effects that can be blamed on aircraft noise is that people exposed to major aircraft noise impacts may also be exposed to increased aviation emissions. In “particular,” it’s the “fine particulate matter” of airplane emissions that dominate the health risks.
Aircraft Noise-Related Documents
Aircraft noise-related health issues are complex. This is just a short summary of a few of the well-researched documents that are available.
The following papers were used in this summary for those who want to delve further into this topic:
- A study out of Harvard:
Residential exposure to aircraft noise and hospital admissions for cardiovascular diseases: multi-airport retrospective study. Correia AW, Peters JL, Levy JI, Melly S, Dominici F. British Medical Journal 347:f5561 (2013). http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f5561
- Two studies out of MIT:
- A Review of the Literature Related to Potential Health Effects of Aircraft Noise. PARTNER Project 19 final report. Hales Swift. July 2010. Report No. PARTNER-COE-2010-003 http://web.mit.edu/aeroastro/partner/reports/proj19/proj19-healtheffectnoise.pdf
- Health Impacts of Aviation-Related Air Pollutants. The PARTNER Project 11 final report. PARTNER Report No. PARTNER-COE-2015-001 (2015) http://partner.mit.edu/sites/partner.mit.edu/files/proj11-finalreport.pdf
- A study out of University of London: Aircraft Noise Effects on Health. Clark, C. Report prepared for the Airports Commission (2015)