Most of us think that a low level of noise is an acceptable price to pay for the convenience of modern travel. However there is increasing evidence that noise above a certain level can cause serious physical and mental health problems.
World Health Organisation guidance shows that aircraft noise above 45 decibels on average is associated with adverse health effects. They recommend even lower levels at night. Heathrow and our government set laxer standards, regarding levels up to 54 decibels as acceptable. Furthermore, Heathrow’s consultation uses a 57 decibel contour to define their ‘lowest observed adverse effect level’.
In reality, even today, noise meter readings of 70 to75 decibels from individual flights have been reported from outside homes in South and West London – including Ealing.
In relation to airport expansion, the London Assembly Environment Committee note that:
“the number of people disturbed by noise would increase with any new runways or flight paths, and the amount of disturbance would increase with any increase in the frequency of flights on existing paths”.
In other words, we will be exposed to more noise from 2022 – if new flight paths and more flights are introduced.
Heathrow suggests that the area which will be exposed to unacceptable levels of noise will be slightly reduced despite the huge increase in flights that they are planning with the 3rd runway. Not only is this claim extremely difficult to believe but even if it were true, it is irrelevant to people who are still inside their loud noise envelopes. This includes Ealing.
Heathrow also claims that with a 3rd runway they will introduce a ban on scheduled night flights between 11pm and 5.30am. Beware the term ‘scheduled’ – it refers to the official flight time on a ticket. The reality is that we will hear landing flight noise 15 minutes before schedule and take-off flight noise 20 minutes after schedule. This means you will be allowed peace and quiet between 11:20pm and 05:15am – just 5 hours 55 minutes. This is not enough to support a healthy life for most people.
Aircraft noise and health
There is now strong evidence that aircraft noise can impact both physical and mental health. Physical effects arise as noise increases stress levels – leading to physiological arousal, such as raised heart rate and blood pressure.
A study here of aircraft noise around Heathrow found that high levels of aircraft noise are associated with increased risks of hospital admission and death from stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease.
A further report here confirms the ill effects of aircraft noise on health. This report from Queen Mary’s University also highlights that noise can impact children’s learning – affecting their reading ability and long-term memory.
The impact of aircraft noise on our mental health is also well recognised. The term noise annoyance is used to describe the negative feelings associated with noise such as disturbance, irritation, dissatisfaction and nuisance, as well as a feeling of having one’s privacy invaded. This can result in debilitating anxiety and depression, as reported here.
Repeated exposure to noise while you are asleep can be particularly damaging to health. This is especially the case for children, the elderly and people in poor health. The Airports Commission’s own analysis showed that the health benefits of a full night flights ban would be far greater than those associated with the proposed limited ban.
In response to the consultation, we suggest that you comment as follows:
- Any expansion in air traffic will bring more noise which is damaging to the health of communities around the airport.
- If you or any member of your household is elderly, or have a health issue or if you have children – we suggest that you mention any concerns that their health will be damaged by increased noise
- We suggest that you highlight that a 6 hour maximum night time ban is insufficient, even insulting. Again, if you have vulnerable people or children in your home why not tell Heathrow how many hours sleep you feel they need?
- We suggest that you ask Heathrow why they are ignoring WHO guidelines on acceptable levels of noise. If you want more information on this topic, please see Teddington Action Group’s detailed report here
Click here to add your comments and feedback to Heathrow’s consultation.