Overexposure to air traffic noise has the potential to cause severe adverse physical and mental health effects in populations. Such unreasonable levels of air traffic noise will cause sleep disturbance and annoyance, severely affecting the quality of life.
“Uninterrupted sleep is a prerequisite for good physiological and mental functioning, and the primary effects of sleep disturbance are: difficulty in falling asleep; awakenings and alterations of sleep stages or depth; increased blood pressure, heart rate and finger pulse amplitude; vasoconstriction; changes in respiration; cardiac arrhythmia; and increased body movements” (WHO, Guidelines for Community Noise 1999).
With overexposure to air traffic noise, psychophysiological changes, including changes to blood pressure and stress hormone levels, are possible. Cardiovascular disease in the form of ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and hypertension (high blood pressure) may arise. Obesity and type-2 diabetes are also promoted by such overexposure to air traffic noise. Children and vulnerable individuals may also suffer cognitive impairment effects. Chronic exposure to noise during early childhood impairs reading acquisition and reduces learning motivation.
In 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) collated and reviewed several research papers demonstrating how air traffic noise (and other environmental noises) can be responsible for such adverse health effects. Their review of the relevant research was presented in a document entitled the Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region 2018. The WHO in this document present guideline noise levels above which the adverse health effects begin to set in. Based on the evidence, the WHO makes a strong recommendation for policymakers to implement suitable measures to reduce noise exposure from aircraft to below these levels.
To avoid the adverse health effects described in this article, the average daily noise exposure to aircraft noise should occur below 45dB Lden. Night-time levels should drop further to below 40dB Lnight. For context, such levels approximate the perceived loudness of a quiet office or quiet bedroom at night. Achieving such low levels of air traffic noise may prove difficult, particularly in geographical areas located directly beneath busy flight paths.
The most efficient and widespread option involves policymakers implementing measures at a macro level. These measures will benefit all nearby populations exposed to air traffic noise. Flight paths can be designed and rerouted so that aircraft fly over as few residential areas as possible. Planners can refuse permission for the development of large residential estates directly beneath noisy flight paths. Airlines can be directed to increase their take-off and landing angles, thus increasing the distance between the airborne craft and residential areas. Runways can be closed at night, reducing the quantity of aircraft taking particular flight paths. The use of regional airports can be promoted, reducing quantities of traffic around the primary international airports.
Noise mitigation measures can also be implemented at a local level through the retrofit of existing dwellings with acoustic insulation. New dwellings can be designed and built with an acoustic noise-control strategy in place. Windows can be acoustically rated, with higher ratings providing greater attenuation of air traffic noise. Acoustically rated wall vents and trickle vents can be used for the natural ventilation of a home, negating the need to open windows as often. The roof and facades can also be reinforced with acoustic linings to ensure noise does not intrude through the external building envelope.
Noise is a frightfully serious environmental risk to health, only second to air pollution in the cause of health problems. Yet, the importance of noise control in society is often overlooked. Health and wellbeing in society relies on the consideration of noise.