TAG writes to the Department of Health on effects of aviation on health
2nd April 2016 (By Teddington Action Group, TAG)
We asked the Department of Health what role they have in assessing the impact of aviation noise on public health and whether they have any influence over the Government’s aviation policy, which is developed by the Department for Transport. Below are our original questions and the Department of Health’s response.
Thank you for your letter of 17th February concerning the role of the Department of Health in aviation policy and health. Public Health England (PHE) provides advice and input into noise related health matters for the Department of Health, including aviation policy and therefore they have provided answers below to the questions you raised in your letter.
AIRCRAFT NOISE AND PUBLIC HEALTH: THE EVIDENCE IS LOUD AND CLEAR
1. Does the Department of Health currently have any ongoing role, either directly or indirectly through its partner heath organisations, in assessing the public health impacts of aviation noise and aviation policies?
a) In 2014 PHE was represented on the Inter-Governmental Group on the Costs and Benefits of Noise, which informed the policy appraisal guidance document “Environmental Noise: Valuing impacts on: sleep disturbance, annoyance, hypertension, productivity and quiet.”
b) PHE is working with the Department of Transport (DfT) in the following areas:
i) Survey of Noise Attitudes 2014 (a field study investigating noise attitudes of people living close to airports) – PHE is represented on the project board that oversees the methodology and overall progress
ii) Airport Capacity Appraisal of Sustainability – PHE is steering the Health Impact Assessment process.
iii) Night Flight Restrictions consultation – PHE is providing ad-hoc advice to DfT on the
2. Has the Department of Health had any involvement with the design of the Government’s Future Airspace Strategy?
PHE has not yet had any involvement with the design of the Government’s Future Airspace Strategy.
3. In light of the latest research, as summarised in the AEF report Aircraft Noise and Public Health: the evidence is loud and clear, what plans does the Department of Health have to ensure that the impacts of aviation on public health are properly assessed and that the detrimental impact on public health is minimised wherever possible?
PHE plans to continue its engagement with the Department of Transport, by providing evidence-based advice. To be able to do this, PHE will continually monitor the scientific evidence on the health effects of aviation noise, and promote research to further our understanding, particularly on the effectiveness of interventions to protect and improve health.
Dr Felicity Harvey
Director General for Public and International Health
See also recently:
Mayor reveals cost to public health from noise due to Heathrow 3rd runway would be £20 – 25 bn over 60 years
A new report “Landing The Right Airport” published by the Mayor of London and TfL has revealed that the long term health effects of exposure to the extra noise – due to a 3rd Heathrow runway – would be valued at a staggering £20 to 25 billion over 60 years. The figure is derived using methodology from the WHO, which values each lost year of healthy life at £60,000. That reflects the increased risk of heart attack, stroke, dementia and other disorders shown to be linked to prolonged exposure to aircraft noise. TfL calculate that while there are now about 766,000 people affected by an “annoying” level of noise from Heathrow, if the speculative improvements in noise exposure proposed by the Airports Commission do not actually happen, there could be as many as 986,600 affected. There could also be between 98,900 and 277,100 people newly affected by plane noise for the first time. The runway would also expose 124 more schools and 43,000 school children to a level of aircraft noise proven to be damaging to learning. TfL also says the number of daily journeys to Heathrow by passengers and staff is expected to rise from 200,000 to 430,000 by 2050. “At some locations, non-airport passengers will be unable to join rail services because of crowding exacerbated by passengers travelling with luggage towards central London.”
AEF report finds UK’s out-of-date aircraft noise policies putting the health of over one million people at risk
A new report by the AEF has identified that the Government’s aircraft noise policies are risking the health of over one million people and an urgent policy rethink is needed ahead of runway decisions in 2016. Aircraft noise is associated with increased risk of increased blood pressure, and higher risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke. Health is also detrimentally affected through sleep disturbance and annoyance. Aircraft noise impedes the memory and learning ability of school children. The UK’s aircraft noise policy has not been updated in line with this mounting evidence base, with some noise policies based on studies dating back to the early 1980s. The Government’s lack of response to emerging evidence on noise may be costing the UK £540 million each year.The noise problem is particularly acute at Heathrow, including many affected schools, but there are serious problems at many other airports too. The health burden is not just experienced close to airports, with high levels of noise miles from the runway. The current policy on flight paths does not consider the impact of sudden changes, or the health impacts of newly affected communities. The report calls for the Government to act now to reduce the health burden from aircraft noise. Long-term noise targets are needed to protect health, and all noise policies should be reviewed in the light of these targets. A new runway should only be permitted if the noise burdens are reduced.
Professor Stansfeld on how noise pollution, including aircraft noise, can damage health
Stephen Stansfeld is a Professor of Psychiatry at Queen Mary University of London, who has done a lot of work the health impacts of noise, including aircraft noise. He comments that as well as physical (cardiovascular) illness, there can be significant emotional response to noise pollution, including negative feelings noise can create such as disturbance, irritation, dissatisfaction and nuisance, as well as a feeling of having one’s privacy invaded. But annoyance can vary widely between different people. Noise can have different impacts depending on how much it interferes with your activities, the fear you feel associated with the source of the noise, your coping mechanisms and even your belief about whether the noise is preventable. “For example, you’re likely to feel more annoyance to aircraft flying overhead if you feel the airport is taking no measures to regulate the noise.” He also says that the evidence suggests mental ill-health may increase the risk of annoyance by noise – rather than the other way round. Sleep disturbance from noise may have more effect on the elderly, children, those who work shifts or have poor health. He suggests – if screening or masking is not possible – we could design our society “to be less noisy in the first place.”