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Aircraft noise linked to higher rates of heart disease and stroke near Heathrow

A new study by the Imperial College London and Kings College London has found that risks of hospital admissions and deaths from stroke and heart disease are higher in areas with high levels of aircraft noise. The study found that the risks were 10 to 20% greater in areas with the highest level of noise compared to areas with the lowest, suggesting that aircraft noise is a contributing factor.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, is very timely given Sir Howard Davies’ statement this week that a new runway in the south east is needed. The findings call into question Sir Howard’s decision not to consider the local impacts of any runway expansion in his argument for a new runway in the south east.

The study included a population of 3.6 million people living near Heathrow in 12 London boroughs and 9 districts outside of London where average aircraft noise exceeds 50 decibels (which equates to the volume of a normal conversation in a quiet room).

Academics then compared day and night time noise levels from 2001 (from the Civil Aviation Authority) with hospital admissions and mortality rates from 2001-2005.

The findings, that those living in areas with the highest levels of aircraft noise were 10-20% more likely to be at risk from strokes and heart disease, were compared with other factors that may have been linked to heart disease rates, including social deprivation, ethnic composition, road traffic noise and air pollution. Researchers found that being of South Asian ethnicity – which is associated with higher risks of heart disease – may account for some of the association as many areas with the most noise also have large South Asian populations. Therefore, academics conclude that more work is needed to establish the exact relationship between noise and ill health.

The lead author of the study, Dr Anna Hansell from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London said:

“These findings suggest a possible link between high levels of aircraft noise and risk of heart disease and stroke. The exact role that noise exposure may play in ill health is not well established. However, it is plausible that it might be contributing, for example by raising blood pressure or by disturbing people’s sleep. The relative importance of daytime and night-time noise also needs to be investigated further.”

Ultimately, the research highlights the importance that should be given to the potential future noise impacts of any runway expansion, given the likelihood of causing further grief to those people living close to an airport. It is for this reason that AEF argued, in our response on noise to the Airports Commission, that any expansion proposals must be measured by how they actively tackle the current noise problem. Our response on noise to the Commission can be found here.

NOTES

This article is largely based on information found on the Imperial College website, which also includes a short easy-to-understand video explaining the research findings.

The study is titled: A. Hansell et al. ‘Aircraft noise and cardiovascular disease near Heathrow airport in London: small area study.’ British Medical Journal 2013. Available here: http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f5432. Or download a pdf copy from here.