Aviation Noise Impacts: State of the Science [US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health]
Noise is defined as “unwanted sound.” Aircraft noise is one, if not the most detrimental environmental effect of aviation. It can cause community annoyance, disrupt sleep, adversely affect academic performance of children, and could increase the risk for cardiovascular disease of people living in the vicinity of airports. In some airports, noise constrains air traffic growth.
This consensus paper was prepared by the Impacts of Science Group of the Committee for Aviation Environmental Protection of the International Civil Aviation Organization and summarizes the state of the science of noise effects research in the areas of noise measurement and prediction, community annoyance, children’s learning, sleep disturbance, and health. It also briefly discusses civilian supersonic aircraft as a future source of aviation noise.
The goal of this review is to briefly summarize the current state of scientific knowledge regarding the adverse effects of aircraft noise emissions on the public. Every effort has been made to base the findings upon peer-reviewed publications, carefully reviewed by specialists from around the world. The topics addressed here are community annoyance, children’s learning, sleep disturbance, health impacts, and the noise of supersonic aircraft. Appendix A additionally provides some background information on noise measurement and prediction as well as technical definitions for the interested reader.
Chronic aircraft noise exposure and children’s learning
Recent reviews of how noise, and in particular aircraft noise, affect children’s learning have concluded that aircraft noise exposure at school or at home is associated with children having poorer reading and memory skills. There is also an increasing evidence base which suggests that children exposed to chronic aircraft noise at school have poorer performance on standardized achievement tests, compared with children who are not exposed to aircraft noise.
In the limited space available here, it is only possible to discuss some of the central epidemiological field studies forming the empirical basis of these conclusions. The most recent large scale cross-sectional study, the RANCH study (Road traffic and Aircraft Noise and children’s Cognition & Health), of 2844 children aged 9–10 years from 89 schools around London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol, and Madrid Barajas airports found exposure–response associations between aircraft noise and poorer reading comprehension and poorer recognition memory, after taking social position and road traffic noise, into account.
Reading comprehension began to fall below average at around 55 dB L Aeq,16hours at school, but as the association was linear, there is no specific threshold above which noise effects begin, and any reduction in aircraft noise exposure should lead to an improvement in reading comprehension. A 5 dB increase in aircraft noise exposure was associated with a 2 month delay in reading age in the UK, and a 1-month delay in the Netherlands. These associations were not explained by air pollution. Children’s aircraft noise exposure at school and that at home are often highly correlated.
In the RANCH study, night-time aircraft noise at the child’s home was also associated with impaired reading comprehension and recognition memory, but night-noise did not have an additional effect to that of daytime noise exposure on reading comprehension or recognition memory.