Study done for Airports Commission shows 3rd Heathrow runway could place thousands more children at risk of sleep, reading and memory problems
The Teddington Action Group (TAG) has written to all headteachers in London to alert them to the findings of a report published by the Airports Commission (1st July), admitting that thousands of extra children could experience sleep, reading and memory problems as a result of a 3rd runway at Heathrow. The TAG letter highlights the findings of the report “Aircraft noise effects on health”, by Dr Charlotte Clark of Queen Mary University of London. This points to evidence of the health and educational effects on children of aviation noise. These include: sleep disturbance and changes in sleep structure; decreased quality of life; and decreased reading performance. The report estimates that an additional 24 schools will suffer from aircraft noise above the maximum levels recommended by the WHO if a 3rd runway is built, placing thousands of extra children at risk of decreased educational attainment. TAG said parents would be concerned about the report’s findings, and how little weight was put on this issue by the Commission. The first part of the report is a review of the evidence on the effect of aircraft noise on health including psychological health; the second part deals with the effects of aircraft noise on children’s cognition and learning. and the implications for the proposed runway schemes.
by Queen Mary, University of London, for the Airports Commission
by Dr Charlotte Clark, Centre for Psychiatry, Barts & the London School of Medicine, Queen Mary University of London. May 2015
The INTRODUCTION says:
Recent years have seen an increase in the strength of the evidence linking environmental noise exposure (road, rail, airport and industrial noise) to health. The World Health Organization (WHO, 2011) recently estimated that between 1 and 1.6 million healthy life years (Disability-Adjusted Life Years) are lost annually because of environmental noise exposure1, such as road traffic noise and aircraft noise, in high income western European Countries. The WHO estimated that each year 903,000 DALYS are lost due to sleep disturbance; 654,000 DALYS due to noise annoyance; 61,000 DALYS due to heart disease; and 45,000 DALYS due to cognitive impairment in children.
Aircraft noise negatively influences health if the exposure is long-term and exceeds certain levels (Basner et al., 2014). This review briefly summarizes the strength of the evidence for aircraft noise effects on cardiovascular health, sleep disturbance, annoyance, psychological well-being, and effects on children’s cognition and learning, as well as briefly discussing guidelines for environment noise exposure. This evidence is related to the three shortlisted schemes for the new runway.
This is a selective review focusing on reviews assessing the strength of the evidence, as well as high quality, robust, large-scale epidemiological field studies of aircraft noise exposure, highlighting studies that have been conducted within the United Kingdom, where possible. It represents key studies within the field butshould not be considered an exhaustive review. Studies of road traffic noise, as opposed to aircraft noise, have only been included where evidence for aircraft noise exposure is unavailable.
And the CONCLUSION says:
The health effects of environmental noise are diverse, serious, and because of widespread exposure, very prevalent (Basner et al, 2014). For populations around airports, aircraft noise exposure can be chronic. Evidence is increasing to support preventive measures such as insulation, policy, guidelines, & limit values. Efforts to reduce exposure should primarily reduce annoyance, improve learning environments for children, and lower the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and cardiovascular disease (Basner et al, 2014).
On the increase in schools with a Heathrow runway, it says:
3.3.2. Heathrow-NWR [Page 22]
“It is estimated that in 2030, compared with the Do-Minimum scenario, that there will be 49 fewer schools exposed to 54dB LAeq 16 hour. In 2040 it is estimated that there will be 12 additional schools exposed to >54dB LAeq 16 hour and in 2050 24 additional schools exposed to >54dB LAeq 16 hour.
“In 2030 there is a reduction of 2 in the number of schools exposed to N70>20. However, there are increases in the number of schools exposed to N70>20 in 2040 and 2050, and for N70>50, N70>100 and N70>200 in 2030, 2040 and 2050. There is also a small increase (n=2) in the number of schools exposed to N70>500 in 2040 and 2050. Schools experiencing a high number of events over 70dB would benefit from being included in insulation schemes.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – THURSDAY 3 SEPTEMBER 2015
Third runway at Heathrow could place thousands more children at risk of sleep, reading and memory problems
A community group has written to all headteachers in London to alert them to the findings of a report published by the Airports Commission, admitting that thousands of extra children could experience sleep, reading and memory problems as a result of a third runway at Heathrow.
Teddington Action Group’s letter, which coincides with the first day of term at most schools, highlights the findings of the report “Aircraft noise effects on health”, which was published on 1 July 2015 by the Airports Commission. The report points to evidence of the health and educational effects on children of aviation noise, which include:
- sleep disturbance and changes in sleep structure
- decreased quality of life
- decreased reading performance
The report estimates that an additional 24 schools will suffer from aircraft noise above the maximum levels recommended by the World Health Organisation if a third runway is built. The national average school size is 220 pupils per primary school and 950 pupils per secondary school, so this would result in somewhere between 5,280 to 22,800 extra children at risk of decreased educational attainment.
Incredibly, this document was only published on 1 July as a separate addendum to the Airports Commission’s final report. Its content does not feature within the main body of the Commission’s report and its content was not subject to public consultation.
Teddington Action Group’s letter urges headteachers to write to the Secretary of State for Education, asking her to ensure that the effects of airport expansion on children are given appropriate consideration by the Government when it decides whether to accept the Airports Commission’s recommendation to build a third runway at Heathrow.
A spokesperson for Teddington Action Group said:
“Any parent will be very concerned about the findings of this latest research. The fact that they hardly get a mention in the Commission’s 342 page final report shows how little weight the Commission placed on the human cost of airport expansion. This report highlights that it will be the younger generations that will pay the highest price of expansion. “
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The letter from the Teddington Action Group to the Headteachers said:
3 September 2015
Effects of aircraft noise on education
We are writing to alert you to new research, which points to evidence of significant adverse effects of aircraft noise on children’s education and health.
Teddington Action Group is a group of residents, many of whom are parents, who are opposed to increases in aircraft noise and pollution from Heathrow Airport.
You will no doubt be aware that the Airports Commission, which was set up by the Government to examine the need for additional UK airport capacity, recently published its final report recommending that a third runway be built at Heathrow Airport.
As part of its work, the Commission asked Dr Charlotte Clark, a respected researcher at Barts & the London School of Medicine, to prepare a report looking at the effects of aviation noise on health and the associated impact of the three shortlisted runway options. This report was never consulted upon and was only published along with the Commission’s final report on 1 July. Dr Clark’s report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/446311/noise-aircraft-noise-effects-on-health.pdf
Dr Clark’s report summarises the current evidence on the health and educational impacts of aviation noise, acknowledging that:
- Evidence for children concluded that there were associations between aircraft noise and high blood pressure, which may have implications for adult health (p.2);
- Children aged 9-11 years of age living near London Heathrow reported annoyance for aircraft noise exposure at school and at home (p.9);
- Night-time noise is associated with sleep disturbance and changes in sleep structure. Aircraft noise exposure during the evening and early morning also has relevance for the health and sleep quality of the local population, and may be particularly relevant for children (p.18).
- Based on current evidence, aircraft noise might be associated with decreased quality of life (p.19);
- Many studies have found effects of aircraft noise exposure at school or home on children’s reading comprehension or memory skills. One study, which included 9-10 year old children from schools around London Heathrow, found that aircraft noise was associated with poorer reading comprehension and poorer recognition memory. The same study indicated that as aircraft noise exposure increased, reading performance decreased (p.19).
- The development of cognitive skills such as reading and memory is important, not only in terms of education but also subsequent life chances and adult heath (p,19).
We hope that you share our view that the findings of this research are extremely concerning.
The report also estimates that an additional 24 schools will suffer from aircraft noise above the maximum levels recommended by the World Health Organisation if a third runway is built. The national average school size is 220 pupils per primary school and 950 pupils per secondary school, so this would result in somewhere between 5,280 to 22,800 extra children at risk of decreased educational attainment. The new flight paths are yet to be confirmed so the actual number could be much higher, and in any case, these figures are over and above the many thousands of children already living under Heathrow’s flightpaths and suffering the adverse effects highlighted by Dr Clark’s report.
Unbelievably, the effects of Heathrow expansion on children barely get a mention in the Commission’s 342 page final report and children were excluded from the Commission’s quality of life study. There was no attempt to cost the negative impact of expansion on education, for example the cost of the additional educational support required in schools to mitigate the effects of decreased reading performance.
Dr Clark recommends that newly affected and existing schools exposed to high levels of aircraft noise should be insulated, but also states that such a large-scale insulation programme should be evaluated empirically to ensure its effectiveness. She acknowledges that children spend a considerable amount of time at school in the playground and that play is thought to be important for children’s social, cognitive, emotional and physical development, as well as enabling relaxation between more formal teaching activities. Dr Clark states “Unfortunately, at this time, there is no empirical evidence upon which to draw conclusions about how aircraft noise exposure might impact upon children’s use of playground settings”.
We are concerned that the human impact of airport expansion is at risk of being overlooked in favour of economic arguments. If you share these concerns, we ask that you write to the Secretary of State for Education asking her to ensure that the effect on children is given the appropriate consideration by the Government when it considers whether to accept the Airport Commission’s recommendation to build a third runway at Heathrow.
An example letter that you may wish to use or amend is attached for your convenience.
TEDDINGTON ACTION GROUP
Secretary of State for Education
20 Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BT
Secretary of State for Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
London SW1P 4DR
The paper says, on psychological health: (Page 9) that: