New study links aircraft noise from Heathrow to increased risk of heart disease and strokes
A new study by researchers at Imperial College and King’s College in London – and published in the BMJ – has found that deaths from stroke, heart and circulatory disease are 20% higher in areas with high levels of aircraft noise than in places with the least noise. The research compared on day- and night-time aircraft noise with hospital admissions and mortality rates among a population of 3.6 million people living near Heathrow airport. Their study covered 12 London boroughs and 9 districts outside London where aircraft noise exceeds 50 decibels – about the volume of a normal conversation in a quiet room. The researchers made every effort to eliminate other factors that might have a relationship with stroke and heart disease, such as deprivation, South Asian ethnicity and smoking-related illness. This new study confirms the findings of the 2008 “HYENA” study, also by Imperial College, which looked at people living near Heathrow and 5 other European airports. The research is clear that living with a lot of aircraft noise damages health, though this needs further work. The study indicates that planners need to take the health impacts of aircraft noise into account when expanding airports in heavily populated areas or planning new airports.
New study links aircraft noise from Heathrow to increased risk of heart disease and strokes
A new study has found that deaths from stroke, heart and circulatory disease are 20% higher in areas with high levels of aircraft noise than in places with the least noise.
Researchers at Imperial College London and King’s College London compared data on day- and night-time aircraft noise with hospital admissions and mortality rates among a population of 3.6 million people living near Heathrow airport. The findings are published in the British Medical Journal.
The study covered 12 London boroughs and 9 districts outside of London where aircraft noise exceeds 50 decibels – about the volume of a normal conversation in a quiet room.
The new research backs up the findings of earlier work published by Imperial College. The 2008 HYENA Study discovered a 14% increase in the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) for each 10 decibel increase in night-time aircraft noise. The HYENA study looked at 4,861 people aged between 45 and 70 who had lived near Heathrow, Berlin Tegel, Amsterdam Schiphol, Stockholm Arlanda, Milan Malpensa and Athens Elephterios Venizelos airports for at least five years.
John Stewart, chair of HACAN said, “This latest study highlights once again that living under a flight path can damage your health. More people are affected by noise from Heathrow than by any other airport in Europe. It is yet another reason not to build a third runway.”
The paper is:
A. Hansell et al. ‘Aircraft noise and cardiovascular disease near Heathrow airport in London: small area study.’ British Medical Journal, 2013.
Link to research paper: http://press.psprings.co.uk/bmj/october/aircraft1.pdf
Public link to paper: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/doi/10.1136/bmj.f5432
The area included in the study comprised the London boroughs of Hillingdon, Hounslow, Ealing, Brent, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Richmond upon Thames, Kingston upon Thames, Wandsworth, Lambeth and Southwark; and nine districts to the west of London: Windsor and Maidenhead, Slough, Spelthorne, Wokingham, Elmbridge, Bracknell Forest, Wycombe, Runnymede and South Bucks.
The HYENA study:
“Hypertension and exposure to noise near airports”, Jarup et al, 2008 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2265027
UK and American studies both show aircraft noise may increase risk of heart disease
Date added: October 9, 2013
People who live close to an airport and are exposed to constant loud aircraft noise may face an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, according to new studies from the UK and the US. The aircraft noise is not merely an irritation, and does not just reduce people’s quality of life. It also causes actual harm to health, especially for older people. This should be factored in to future planning decisions about new airports and runways. The UK study published in the BMJ looked at admissions and mortality rates for 3.6 million people living near Heathrow in the noisiest areas. The linked American study looked at over 6 million Americans over the age of 65 living around 89 US airports. It found that, on average, their risk went up 3.5% for every extra 10 decibels of noise they experienced. Simon Calder said that 2 days ago, Sir Howard Davies gave a meticulous exposition of the factors concerning his commission, and its decision on new UK airport capacity. “He paid due regard to the concerns of local residents about noise and traffic. But 48 hours ago a correlation between airport proximity and the risk of heart attacks or strokes was not in the public domain. Now that it is, the spectrum of harm from airports has extended from nuisance to a serious public health threat.”
Details of the American study are at
Residential exposure to aircraft noise and hospital admissions for cardiovascular diseases: multi-airport retrospective study
Despite limitations related to potential misclassification of exposure, we found a statistically significant association between exposure to aircraft noise and risk of hospitalization for cardiovascular diseases among older people living near airports.
This story is covered in most of the UK papers today. Below are the articles from the BBC, from the Independent, and also by Simon Calder, of the Independent:
Aircraft noise ‘link’ to stroke and heart disease deaths
By Jane Dreaper, Health correspondent, BBC News
9 October 2013
The risks of stroke, heart and circulatory disease are higher in areas with a lot of aircraft noise, researchers say.
Their study of 3.6 million residents near Heathrow Airport suggested the risks were 10-20% higher in areas with the highest levels of aircraft noise.
The team’s findings are published in the British Medical Journal.
They agreed with other experts that noise was not necessarily to blame and more work was needed.
Their work suggests a higher risk for both hospital admissions and deaths from stroke, heart and circulatory disease for the 2% of the study – about 70,000 people – who lived where the aircraft noise was loudest.
The lead author, Dr Anna Hansell, from Imperial College London, said: “The exact role that noise exposure may play in ill health is not well established.
“There’s a ‘startle reaction’ to loud noise – if you’re suddenly exposed to it, the heart rate and blood pressure increase.
“And aircraft noise can be annoying for some people, which can also affect their blood pressure, leading to illness.
“The relative importance of daytime and night-time noise from aircraft also needs to be investigated further.”
The study used data about noise levels in 2001 from the Civil Aviation Authority, covering 12 London boroughs and nine districts outside of London where aircraft noise exceeds 50 decibels – about the volume of a normal conversation in a quiet room.
The authors say fewer people are now affected by the highest levels of noise (above 63 decibels) – despite more planes being in the skies – because of changes in aircraft design and flight plans.
The researchers – from Imperial and also King’s College London – adjusted their work in an effort to eliminate other factors that might have a relationship with stroke and heart disease, such as deprivation, South Asian ethnicity and smoking-related illness.
They stressed that the higher risk of illness related to aircraft noise remained much less significant than the risks from lifestyle factors – including smoking, a lack of exercise or poor diet.
In an accompanying editorial, Prof Stephen Stansfeld, from Queen Mary University of London, said: “These results imply that the siting of airports and consequent exposure to aircraft noise may have direct effects on the health of the surrounding population.
“Planners need to take this into account when expanding airports in heavily populated areas or planning new airports.”
Noise ‘has fallen’
The study covered 12 London boroughs in the centre and west of the capital – and nine council districts beyond London, including Windsor and Maidenhead, Slough and Wokingham.
Heathrow Airport’s director of sustainability, Matt Gorman, said: “We are already taking significant steps to tackle the issue of noise.
“We are charging airlines more for noisier aircraft, offering insulation and double glazing to local residents and are working with noise campaigners to give people predictable periods of respite from noise.
“Together these measures have meant that the number of people affected by noise has fallen by 90% since the 1970s, despite the number of flights almost doubling.”
A government spokesman said: “The number of people affected by high levels of noise around Heathrow has been falling for years due to improvements in aviation technology, better planning of flight paths and other factors. We would expect to see this trend continue.”
A separate study, also published on Wednesday in the BMJ, demonstrates a higher rate of admission to hospital with cardiovascular problems for people living near 89 airports in the US.
Prof Kevin McConway, from the Open University, said: “Both of these studies are thorough and well-conducted. But, even taken together, they don’t prove that aircraft noise actually causes heart disease and strokes.
“A major difficulty in interpreting what these studies tell us is that they are based on data for geographical areas, not for individual people.”
Over the coming months, Public Health England will recruit experts to further examine the public health issues around exposure to noise.
Why living near an airport could be bad for your health
Studies reveal link between areas with high noise pollution and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke among residents
8 OCTOBER 2013
Anyone who has ever lived under a flight path will tell you that the constant din of jet engines is more than enough to raise your blood pressure.
But now researchers are warning for the first time that there may be a real health risk associated with aircraft noise. Two studies, published today in the British Medical Journal, found evidence that people living in areas with high levels of noise pollution from passing aeroplanes had a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
The first study compared Civil Aviation Authority data on aircraft sound levels with hospital admissions and mortality rates for 3.6 million people living near Heathrow Airport, in areas where aircraft noise exceeded 50 decibels – the level of normal conversation in a quiet room.
Researchers from Imperial College London and King’s College London found that the risks of cardiovascular disease were greater for those living in neighbourhoods with highest noise levels and closest to the airport, such as Slough and Hounslow. Around 72,000 people living in the noisiest areas had a 10 to 20 per cent greater risk than people living in the quietest areas, researchers estimated.
A second investigation carried out in the US looked at heart disease among 6 million people living close to 89 airports. More than two per cent of hospitalisations for cardiovascular diseases could be attributed to aircraft noise, the researchers from the Harvard School for Public Health and the Boston University School of Public Health said.
Previous studies have suggested a link between a noisy environment and high blood pressure. Loud noise can lead to short-term increases in blood pressure, and sustained exposure could lead to more long-term risk. Scientists also proposed that night-time aircraft noise could be disturbing people’s sleep, which is another risk factor for heart disease.
Although health leaders in the UK stopped short of confirming a causal link between aircraft noise and heart problems, the studies show a strong association, which they said should be taken into account in future plans to expand airport capacity.
The findings come just days after the chairman of the Airports Commission Sir Howard Davies, the man tasked with solving the problem of the South East of England’s airport capacity, said that he would consider adding a third runway at Heathrow and a second runway at Gatwick.
Professor Paul Elliott, from the Centre for Environment and Health said: “The issue here is particularly with areas with the highest levels of aircraft noise. How can you design your future airports and airport capacity [while] trying to keep the exposure to the population below those highest levels? That’s [a question] the policymakers have to take into account. They’re already well aware of the annoyance levels. What we’re adding into the mix is that there may also be an effect on risk of heart disease.”
The Heathrow study covered 12 London boroughs and nine districts outside London. The study area was divided into 12,110 zones with a population of around 300 people each. Data on the noise levels for each small area in 2001, provided by the Civil Aviation Authority, was compared with information from the Office for National Statistics and the Department of Health on hospital admissions and deaths from cardiovascular disease between 2001 and 2005.
The results were adjusted to account for other heart disease risk factors, such as social deprivation and air pollution – although the area-based analysis made separating risks associated with factors such as smoking and ethnicity difficult.
In an editorial for the BMJ, Stephen Stansfeld, professor of psychiatry at Barts and London School of Medicine, said that the results “imply that the siting of airports and consequent exposure to aircraft noise may have direct effects on the health of the surrounding population. Planners need to take this into account when expanding airports in heavily populated areas or planning new airports,” he said.
Matt Gorman, Heathrow’s director of sustainability, said that the airport was already taking “significant steps” to reduce noise pollution by charging airlines more for louder aircraft and offering insulation and double glazing to local residents.
“Together these measures have meant that the number of people affected by noise has fallen by 90 per cent since the 1970s, despite the number of flights almost doubling. We are committed to ensuring this reduction continues,” he said. [The 90% figure is, of couse, not true. For a statement like that to be plausible, it would need to be qualified, indicating just what is 90% reduced. Sadly it is just a Heathrow public relations statement. AW].
A spokesman for the Airports Commission said: “We are aware of this report and will consider its findings. Environmental impacts, including levels of noise, are within the scope of our considerations and are something we are already looking at.”
Case study: ‘I can hear a plane every 90 seconds’
Margaret Thorburn, 59, lives in Osterley, London, under the Heathrow flight path
“These findings are alarming. Yet they reinforce what many of us living here have suspected for a long time. I have lived in Osterley for 30 years and have been diagnosed with high blood pressure.
“What people don’t realise is that it’s not just the sound of the aircraft – but how you have to adapt your entire audio environment. Everything in the house has to be louder to block out the noise; while your subconcious thought patterns are continuously interrupted.
“Over the years I have no doubt this has taken its toll on my anxiety levels.
“For all you hear about more advanced and quieter planes, the frequency of take-offs and landings are more than I ever remember. It’s not unusual for my day to be interrupted every 90 seconds. At the age of 59, I may well consider moving. But there are many of us that simply don’t have that option.”
A health warning that could stall debate on expansion of our airports
For those keen to see expansion, the report is more than an unwelcome irritation
SIMON CALDER (Independent)
Tuesday 8 October 2013
Passengers aboard the first wave of flights descending over west London into Heathrow this morning may have health concerns – but only about their own well-being. They could fret about the short-term impact of a 14-hour flight from Singapore or Hong Kong to Britain, and the longer-term effects of disrupting circadian rhythms by crossing time zones faster than the speed of sunlight. They are, though, unlikely to think about the millions of people over whose homes and lives their Airbus or Boeing is rumbling.
Today’s findings in the British Medical Journal add another important dimension to the question of our age: how damaging is air travel? As every long-haul airline passenger knows, sleep deprivation is an unwelcome irritation. Now researchers say they have identified something much more serious: a “significant association between exposure to aircraft noise and cardiovascular health”. The risks appear to rise sharply for people living very close to a busy airport.
For those keen to see expansion, particularly at Heathrow, the report will prove more than an unwelcome irritation; if the findings are sustained and augmented, the airport expansion debate takes on a new character. Sir Howard Davies is the chairman of the body charged with solving the aviation capacity crunch in south-east England.
Two days ago, he revealed the Airport Commission’s work thus far. Sir Howard gave a meticulous exposition of the factors concerning his commission, from maintaining Britain’s global competitiveness to meeting the UK’s carbon emissions targets. He paid due regard to the concerns of local residents about noise and traffic.
But 48 hours ago a correlation between airport proximity and the risk of heart attacks or strokes was not in the public domain. Now that it is, the spectrum of harm from airports has extended from nuisance to a serious public health threat.