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How does noise from air traffic affect health?

In LBA’s own words from their recent application to expand:


13.2.61 Environmental noise (e.g. noise from road, rail, and air traffic, and industrial construction) has been linked to a range of non-auditory health effects including annoyance, sleep disturbance, cardiovascular disease, impairment of cognitive performance in children, higher BP, hypertension or the prescription of antihypertensives, ischemic heart disease (e.g., myocardial infarction), cerebrovascular disease (e.g., stroke), neuronal disorders (e.g., dementia), and cardiometabolic disease (e.g., diabetes mellitus).[1]

[1] Münzel, T. et al. The Adverse Effects of Environmental Noise Exposure on Oxidative Stress and Cardiovascular Risk. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling 28, 873-908, 2018

There are other significant effects of noise on health which are not considered such as mental health or the impact on children’s learning and new research is revealing just how toxic noise is, for example causing low birth weight.


Low birth weight for babies of mothers in proximity to the airport


In a recent study published by Lehigh University, Lafayette College and the University of Colorado, researchers have provided a causal estimate linking high-level noise exposure to a key health challenge, that of low birth weight (< 2,500 grams or approximately 5.5 pounds).

Described in Residential Noise Exposure and Health: Evidence from Aviation Noise and Birth Outcomes, their analysis revealed an increase of 1.6 percentage points--or 22 percent--in the risk of having a low birth weight baby among mothers living close to an airport, in the direction of the runway, exposed to noise levels over the 55 dB threshold (the threshold used by the EPA and the WHO for the protection of public health), and during the period when new flight pattern changes were more actively implemented at the airport.

On studying the daytime noise contour maps in Appendix 10.1 of the LBA’s recent application to expand, whether that expansion is achieved by stealth or by permission, it can be seen that the area affected by the 55dB threshold described in the study, when applied to LBA, includes much of Horsforth and Tinshill and beyond the ring road to Westpark and Hawksworth in the SE direction.

To the NW it affects the Eastern parts of Guiseley and Yeadon and extends as far out as Bradford Road (A6038) in Otley.

This is a shocking and, until now, unforeseen consequence of airport development on such an extensive residential area. To quote Professor Yang who led the study:

"Our findings have important policy implications regarding the trade-off between flight pattern optimization and human health. This is especially important given the long-term negative impact of low birth weight on a range of later-life outcomes such as lifetime earnings, educational achievement and long-term health."


Effects on mental health


From the Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2017 - Health Impacts of All Pollution:

Several studies have shown that neighborhood noise can have a negative impact on physical and mental wellbeing in adults, and one study found that exposure to neighbourhood noise at home is associated with conduct problems and hyperactivity in children. [2]

[2] Dreger S, Meyer N, Fromme H, Bolte G. Environmental noise and incident mental health problems: A prospective cohort study among school children in Germany. Environmental Research 143 (2015)

Noise acts as a psychosocial stressor [3], and the psychological reaction to it is influenced strongly by a number of personal, situational and environmental factors.[4]

[3] Job RFS. Community response to noise: a review of factors influencing the relationship between noise exposure and reaction. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 1988; 83: 991–10 01.

[4] Miedema HME, Vos H. Demographic and attitudinal factors that modify annoyance from transportation noise. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 1999; 105 (6)


Effects on education and learning


The World Health Organization states that the learning of children in primary schools near airports is adversely affected by noise. Double glazed classrooms do not provide sufficient noise insulation.

There are 36 schools listed in the Application as being affected by proximity to the flightpath at LBA. These include Secondary and Primary schools, some close to the airport are very badly affected. However, this does not include preschools. It’s probable that such establishments with young children are even more susceptible to noise, due to younger ears being more sensitive, putting down the crucial foundations for education, and not least, because they typically spend more time in an outdoor environment during the summer months and will be affected by the mid-afternoon peak in flights.

Reading and memory

Many studies have found effects of aircraft noise exposure at school or at home on children’s reading comprehension or memory skills (Evans & Hygge, 2007). The RANCH study (Road traffic and Aircraft Noise and children’s Cognition & Health) of 2844 9-10 year old children from 89 schools around London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol, and Madrid Barajas airports found that aircraft noise was associated with poorer reading comprehension and poorer recognition memory, after taking social position and road traffic noise, into account (Stansfeld et al., 2005).

Reading began to fall below average at around 55dB LAeq 16 hour at school but as the association is linear, (thus there is no specific threshold above which noise effects begin) any reduction in aircraft noise exposure at schools should lead to an improvement in reading comprehension, supporting a policy to not only insulate schools exposed to the highest levels of aircraft noise. The development of cognitive skills such as reading and memory is important, not only in terms of educational achievement, but also for subsequent life chances and adult health (Kuh & Ben-Shlomo, 2004). In the UK, reading age was delayed by up to 2 months for a 5dB increase in aircraft noise exposure (Clark et al., 2006). The UK primary schools in the RANCH study ranged in aircraft noise exposure from 34dB LAeq 16 hour to 68 dB LAeq 16 hour. If we take a 20dB difference in aircraft noise exposure between schools, the study would estimate an 8-month difference in reading age.

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