Public health impact of large airports

The largest study of health impacts at airports was carried out for the dutch
government and published in 1999. It is called “Public health impact of large
airports”. It looked at the range of health impacts, including noise and air pollution.

On the general issue of airports and air pollution, the report says “The contributions from aircraft, other airport operations, road traffic to or from
the airport or to other destinations to the public health effects of air pollution
in an airport operations system are intricately mixed. This is due to the spread
of air pollutants in the atmosphere by dispersion processes, whereas total pollution
is also determined by sources outside the system, possibly far away. The important
conclusion is that air pollutant levels around large airports are similar to those
in urbanised areas and are to a large extent determined by road traffic emissions.
At such concentrations public health effects are to be expected, even though the
concentrations are generally below official guideline values

More specifically on airports and health it says “The committee concludes that there is sufficient evidence that episodes of air
pollution with levels observed within an airport operations system cause short-term
effects like an increased mortality rate and an increased frequency of hospital
admissions due to acute respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity. A decrease in
pulmonary function is also one of the acute effects for which the committee considers
there to be sufficient evidence. For increase of respiratory symptoms and aggravation
of asthma attacks the evidence appears to be limited

It also says “Epidemiological research has also produced evidence for effects of long-term
exposure to air pollutants. The committee qualifies the evidence for several health
effects of long-term exposure to ambient air pollution as sufficient. More prospective
studies could give further insights in the relationship of chronic exposure to
air pollutants with chronic morbidity and mortality. One of the questions to be
answered is to what extent the increase in respiratory conditions is due to exacerbation
of existing disorders. Although it is plausible that air pollutants contribute
in a modest way to cancer incidence, there is no evidence for specific contributions
from local sources (e.g. PAH emissions by aircraft) in an airport operations system.
Sufficient evidence exists for odour-induced annoyance. Psychosomatic and somatic
effects of odour for which there is limited evidence, may be mediated by annoyance
or be a direct effect of odour exposure

The study summarises the health effects and assesses how good the evidence is
on a 3-point scale: * inadequate, inconsistent evidence; ** limited evidence;
*** sufficient evidence. The severity of the impact is also shown: * slight; **
moderate; *** severe. Finally, the number of individuals affected: * susceptible individuals; ** specific
subgroups; *** substantial part of exposed population.

The conclusions are:

Premature death: knowledge ***; severity ***; number *

Aggravation of respiratory and cardiovascular disorders (resulting

in hospital admissions): knowledge ***; severity ***; number *

Decreased lung function: knowledge ***; severity *; number *

Increase in chronic respiratory conditions: knowledge **; severity **

Aggravation of asthma: knowledge **; severity **

To download full report (198 pages) see “publications”. For the 5 page summary
see “links”.


Public health impact of large airports (PDF file; 198 pages)