The Impact of Commercial Aircraft Noise on Human Health: A Neighborhood Study in Metropolitan Minnesota
Meister, Edward A., Donatelle, Rebecca J., Journal of Environmental Health
The study reported in this paper assessed the impact of commercial-aircraft noise on human health and well being. Four neighborhoods exposed to commercial-aircraft noise were ranked according to the severity of the exposure by frequency of loud exposures and decibels. Two nonexposed communities in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metropolitan area were included in the study for purposes of comparison. Over 2,000 subjects responded to a randomly administered survey that measured general health; mental health; sense of vitality; and noise annoyance, noise sensitivity, and perceived stress levels. All health measures were significantly worse in the neighborhoods exposed to commercial-aircraft noise. Respondents with the worst health status tended to be among those experiencing commercial-aircraft noise of the greatest severity. Stress and noise annoyance levels were significantly higher in the exposed neighborhoods, and these measures were also significantly worse for those neighborhoods exposed to the highest levels of commercial-aircraft noise.
Exposure to aircraft noise has become an increasing public health concern and arena of research within the international environmental health community (1,2). Exposure to commercial-aircraft noise has been associated with direct damage to the hearing system and indirect effects such as psychophysiological stress, chronic cardiovascular reactivity, sleep disturbance, and impacts on morbidity and mortality (3-8). It has been more difficult to establish a causal link between exposure to commercial-aircraft noise and health impacts because of 1) the individual variability in risk factor accumulation, 2) the multi-factorial etiology of chronic diseases, 3) variability in exposure to commercial-aircraft noise, and 4) the difficulty of actually measuring health status at the population level.
Early studies of exposure to aircraft noise found increased risk of hypertension and related cardiovascular disease conditions, and a dose-response relationship between the health effects and increasing sound level exposure (9-12). Subsequent studies attempted to segment communities on the basis of average decibel (dBA) levels to more fully assess the dose-response causality. (A decibel (dB) is a unit of sound given by the logarithm of the ratio of the sound pressure of the signal to a reference pressure [0.0002 dynes per centimeter squared]. For environmental noise assessment, researchers use the A-weighted scale exclusively.) The Okecie Airport (Poland), the Paris-Orly Airport (France), and the Okinawa Prefecture (Japan) studies all employed a self-administered health questionnaire to measure physical and mental health status (13-15). The Okecie Airport study found that among women (but not men), health measures in a community with commercial-aircraft noise levels exceeding 100 dBA differed significantly fr om those in communities with exposures of less than 100 dBA. The Paris-Orly study found a dose-response relationship for physical health and feelings of malaise with increasing levels of aircraft noise. The Okinawa Prefecture study found essentially the opposite. A dose-response relationship was evident for subjective complaints about mental instability, depression, aggressiveness, nervousness, and neurosis, but not for physical health measures. Such apparently conflicting results typify much of the commercial-aircraft noise exposure research.
In Germany, the impact of the new Munich International Airport on stress, quality of life, and cardiovascular reactivity was assessed among children nine to 11 years of age. Over a two-year period, systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly higher, as were stress hormone levels (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol). Quality-of-life measures dropped in the lives of the children exposed to commercial-aircraft noise, although this decrease did not occur until 18 months after the opening of the airport (16). …