Is Living Near an Airport Dangerous for Your Health?


Nothing I ever wrote provoked quite as many hostile responses as my suggestion in an article in Belgium that rock music of all kinds was a terrible environmental pollutant and ought to be strictly controlled, like car exhaust or industrial effluent. I also suggested that its agitating effect upon youth was a cause alike of much bad behavior and many car accidents. Moreover, in the future there will be an epidemic of well-merited deafness. The young were particularly infuriated.

Considering the awfulness of noise as a destroyer of quality of life, its effects on health have been comparatively little studied. Some time ago, however, it was discovered that those living near a major airport, Schiphol in Amsterdam, and subjected to aircraft noise had higher blood pressure than those who lived in its absence. Two papers in a recent edition of the British Medical Journal, one from Britain and one from America, confirm and extend this observation.

The American paper analyzed the admission rates to hospital for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke of those who lived near airports and those who did not. They analyzed the data from 89 airports. They found that those exposed to 10 decibels extra of aircraft noise had a 3.5 percent increased admission rate for such diseases, and they estimated that overall 2.3 percent of all admissions for such disease were attributable to aircraft noise.

The British paper analyzed hospital admission rates for the same diseases in the geographical area around Heathrow Airport, the busiest long-haul international airport in the world (and the worst, in my experience). The authors controlled the results for such possible confounders as air pollution and road traffic noise; they found that those exposed to the highest levels of daytime noise had a 25 percent increased rate of stroke and a 20 percent increased rate of coronary artery disease. The authors warned, however, that they had not controlled for all possible relevant confounders, and therefore, in effect, that their results must be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt.