Aircraft Noise: know the mental and physical health impacts

People who live close to airports suffer more than mere annoyance from ascending and descending aircraft. Beyond annoyance, aircraft noise may have significant mental and physical health impacts on people who live below the flight path of commercial and private airplanes. Since the 1970’s, many studies have found aircraft noise linked to the following:

  • stress
  • hypertension
  • sleep disturbances
  • work-related performance, and
  • learning and academic performance.

These trends need further analysis and documentation. Since the early 1980’s, Federal funding for noise research has been nearly impossible to obtain in this country. Too few studies on the impact of noise on health have been conducted in the United States.

In a 1997 study by Arline Bronzaft, Ph.D., et. al. in which a questionnaire was distributed to two groups, one living within the flight pattern of a major airport and the other in a quiet neighborhood, the researchers found that nearly seventy percent of the residents surveyed living within the flight corridors reported themselves bothered by aircraft noise. They also reported that these noises interfered with daily activities. Further, the subjects who were bothered by aircraft noise were more likely to complain of sleep difficulties and more likely to perceive themselves to be in poorer health. When we examine noise in our communities, we must remember that the noise which injures parents may very likely be injuring our children, as well.

A study by Cohen, et. al., in 1980, examined the impact of aircraft noise on children’s health and found higher systolic and diastolic pressure in children living near the Los Angeles airport when compared to children living further away. Evans, et. al., in 1995 found a relationship between chronic noise exposure and elevated neuroendocrine and cardiovascular measures for children living near Munich’s International Airport.

Studies have also linked exposure to aircraft noise with deficits in learning. A 1997 study by Gary Evans and Lorraine Maxwell found that first and second-grade schoolchildren chronically exposed to aircraft noise had poorer reading skills than children attending elementary school in a quiet neighborhood.

What makes these findings particularly alarming is that our world will only get noisier. Of all forms of transportation in the United States, aviation is projected to have the fastest growth. While a 1990 law brings us increasingly quieter engine technology, the projected continued growth of air travel threatens to cancel out these gains.

What to do

Write to your public representatives urging them to support funding for studies on the effects of aircraft noise on health. For further information on aircraft noise, contact:

Natural Resources Defense Council
40 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10010-4162