Aircraft noise raises residents' blood pressure
Aircraft noise may increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease even among people who live miles from airports, according to a study out today.
Researchers in Sweden found that people subjected to the highest noise levels were 80 per cent more likely than those from less noisy areas to suffer high blood pressure.
But an association was also seen in places exposed to moderate amounts of aircraft noise above 55 decibels.
The findings suggest that residents of large swathes of London may face a heightened risk of high blood pressure due to noise from jets flying in and out of Heathrow.
Writing in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the scientists say the cause of the effect is likely to be stress.
They point out that high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, which therefore may also be linked to aircraft noise.
Anti-noise campaigners said the study would help them fight plans for a new fifth terminal at the airport.
John Stewart, chairman of the group HACAN ClearSkies, said: "It doesn't surprise us. The findings bear out the anecdotal evidence we have. Many people contact us to say they are suffering from stress and illness which they put down to aircraft noise.
"The Government defines 57 decibels as the point of 'onset of community annoyance', but the World Health Organisation says it's anywhere between the early 50s to 55.
"Our own surveys have found higher noise levels than are officially admitted. In areas of London such as Vauxhall and Camberwell where noise levels are supposed to be at 57 decibels we have measured levels in excess of 60.
"Where people live close to Heathrow, in places like Hatton Cross, you are talking about levels in the 70s and up to the 80s. It makes life pretty dreadful."
The researchers, led by Dr Mats Rosenlund, from Stockholm County Council's Department of Environmental Health, compared 266 people living near Arlanda Airport in the Swedish capital with 2,700 in other parts of the city.
In areas subjected to average noise levels above 55 decibels, or peak levels of more than 72 decibels, the prevalence of high blood pressure was 20 per cent compared with 14 per cent in less noisy places.
After adjustments to account for lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, smoking and type of housing, people in the highest noise zones had an 80 per cent increased risk of high blood pressure.
There was no difference between men and women, but older people and those with good hearing were more likely to suffer high blood pressure in noisy areas.
The scientists wrote: "our findings suggest that community exposure to aircraft noise may cause hypertension (high blood pressure). This implies that aircraft noise might be a risk factor also for cardiovascular disease."
Sweden is proposing guideline limits of 55 decibels for average aircraft noise and 70 decibels for the maximum level.
In Britain, aircraft are exempt from most noise regulation. The rules in force apply to aircraft taking off, and set very high limits of around 90 decibels, said Mr Stewart.
He said a fifth Heathrow terminal would mean no respite from noisy aircraft for many Londoners.
"At the moment there are fewer planes in the late morning and early afternoon, but a fifth terminal would close that gap," said Mr Stewart.
"There would be no escape from aircraft flying over every 90 seconds. Many, many people living miles from the airport would be subjected to noise levels of 55 decibels."
Looks like those living in Hong Kong Kowloon City before would have to face the problems...