Aircraft noise linked to higher risk of heart disease and stroke

LONDON Wed Oct 9, 2013 7:47am EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Exposure to high levels of aircraft noise near busy international airports has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and strokes in two separate studies from Britain and the United States.

Researchers in London studied noise and hospital admissions around London Heathrow airport, while a separate team analyzed data on 6 million Americans living near 89 U.S. airports.

Both studies, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ)on Wednesday, found that people living with the highest levels of aircraft noise had increased risks of stroke, coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.

In the Heathrow study, the risks were around 10 to 20 percent higher in areas with highest levels of aircraft noise compared with the areas with least noise.

Stephen Stansfeld, a professor at Queen Mary University of London who was not part of either research team but provided a commentary on their findings, said the results suggested that "aircraft noise exposure is not just a cause of annoyance, sleep disturbance, and reduced quality of life" but may also increase sickness and death from heart disease.

City and town planners "need to take this into account when extending airports in heavily populated areas or planning new airports," he said.

Other experts said the studies raised important issues about aircraft noise and health, but did not establish a causal link.

"Both of these studies are thorough and well-conducted. But, even taken together, they don't prove that aircraft noise actually causes heart disease and strokes," said Kevin McConway, a professor of applied statistics at Britain's Open University.

The British research team set out to investigate the risks of stroke and heart disease in relation to aircraft noise among 3.6 million people living near Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world.

They compared hospital admissions and death rates due to stroke and heart disease from 2001 to 2005 in 12 areas of London and nine further districts to the west of London.

Levels of aircraft noise for each area were obtained from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and factors that could have affected the results, such as age, sex, ethnicity, social deprivation, smoking, air pollution and road traffic noise were also taken into account.

Their results showed increased risks of stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease - especially among the 2.0 percent of the study population exposed to the highest levels of daytime and night time aircraft noise.

"The exact role that noise exposure may play in ill health is not well established," said Anna Hansell of Imperial College London, who led the British study. "However, it is plausible that it might be contributing, for example by raising blood pressure or by disturbing people's sleep."

The researchers noted that discussions on possible expansion plans for London's airport capacity have been on and off the table for many decades, with demand for air travel expected to double in Britain to 300 million passengers per year by 2030.

"Policy decisions need to take account of potential health related concerns, including possible effects of environmental noise on cardiovascular health," they wrote.

In a second study also published in the BMJ, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Boston University School of Public Health looked at data for more than 6 million Americans aged 65 or over living near 89 U.S. airports in 2009.

The research - the first to analyze a very large population across multiple airports - found that, on average, zip codes with 10 decibel (dB) higher aircraft noise had a 3.5 percent higher cardiovascular hospital admission rate.

The results showed that people exposed to the highest noise levels - more than 55 dB - had the strongest link with hospitalizations for heart disease, and the link also remained after adjustment for socioeconomic status, demographic factors, air pollution, and proximity to roads.

Conway said that because of the kind of data used, the studies could only "suggest very strongly that we should find out much more about aircraft noise and circulatory disease".

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Comments (4)
jrj906202 wrote:
They should move these airports,offshore,where they wouldn’t bother homeowners.Helicopters are the worst,Here in central So California,the local Anaheim police love to fly around for hours,causing lots of noise for citizens.I complained,and they said they weren’t going to change.Hopefully,they start using quieter drones,in the future.

Oct 09, 2013 11:53am EDT  --  Report as abuse
elainakrm wrote:
Separate studies from Britain and the United States that were published in the British Medical journal have associated a relationship between the exposures to high levels of aircraft noise near busy international airports and a higher risk of heart disease and strokes. These findings make complete sense to me and I am glad that research has been done to validate this correlation and to spread awareness of this health issue. The environment we live in can have a great effect on our mood and health, therefore it is imperative that we take these findings and make certain changes. We may not be able to relocate existent airports, however we can construct new airports in environments that are not so populated. Furthermore, this information may effect where people decide to live. Someone who is looking for a new location to reside to can now decide whether they want to live in an area that has been proven to engender an increased risk of heart disease and other cardiac illnesses. Expansion of airports and the construction of new airports in highly populated areas need to take these results into consideration in the future.

Oct 09, 2013 3:09pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
SDekhtyar wrote:
The article discusses a topic that I have always had questions about. I always wondered how the cities around airports could handle all of the constant noise. Besides for it being extremely annoying and distracting, it would also affect one’s sleep. This article however, states that not only does airport noise cause annoyance, but it causes health problems as well. It leads to stroke, coronary heart disease, and other cardiovascular disease. Although several researchers disagreed with the findings and insisted more research should be done to come this, I personally think that all the criteria that should have been accounted for was. They included sex, age, income, ethnicity, smoking and air pollution. Living right next to a train station should probably have similar health effects as well. This is most likely also why real estate prices decrease as you get closer to airports. It would be nice to start building airports on coastlines, but not every state in the US borders the ocean, and many large cities that require a nearby airport are right in the center of the state. Hopefully we can find a way to decrease the noise, in order to decrease the health risks of disease.

Oct 09, 2013 9:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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