Health and airplane noise


By Janet Parker

SYDNEY — The plague of aircraft noise generated by the opening of the third runway at Kingsford Smith airport is uniting affected communities in a powerful opposition — one that has NSW Labor politicians running for cover. The daily papers are filled with letters from outraged residents describing the terrible disruption to their lives, health and peace of mind.

Doctors in the affected suburbs are calling for an urgent health study into the effect of aircraft noise on people living under the flight path.

Already doctors in Sydney's inner west have reported an estimated 20% increase in stress-related health complaints since the third runway opened last month. Insomnia, anxiety, blood pressure and circulatory problems have become more common, particularly among the elderly and the ill.

The national president of the Doctors Reform Society, Dr Con Costa, has also pointed to the likely worsening of respiratory complaints, particularly asthma in children, as a result of the fumes given off by planes.

In calling for a comprehensive study to be conducted, Dr Arline Smith, a medical practitioner in the inner-city suburb of Leichhardt, cited a number of abstracts of other international medical studies.

One such study conducted in Los Angeles in the decade 1970-1980 found that people living near Los Angeles International Airport suffer a 5% increase in mortality rates. There was an 18% increase in cardiovascular deaths for people over 75 in areas around the airport. The number of suicides in the age bracket 45-54 was increased by over 100%.

A series of studies in the London area reported small increases in the mental hospital admissions in noise-affected populations. Another study, while finding no increase in psychiatric disorders, showed increases in sleep disturbances, irritability and depression, swollen ankles, minor accidents and tinnitus and other ear problems.

Strong evidence has been reported on the effects of noise on children's concentration, motivation and cognition. Children were also found to be reading below their expected level, and this increased as the noise level increased. Another study found an increase in birth defects in a noise-affected area. Low birth weight was demonstrated to be related to noise in a Japanese study.

The Doctors Reform journal, New Doctor, in a 1990 article states that an Australian study was conducted around Kingsford Smith in 1979 but that poor methodology prevented any conclusions being drawn. It called, in the period when the third runway was being hotly debated, for a comprehensive study to be carried out. Several years later and with the planes roaring overhead, this has still not been done.

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