The South Metro Airport Action Council (SMAAC) notes that new studies confirm adverse impacts of airport noise, especially aircraft overflights at comparably low altitudes, on schoolchildren. SMAAC follows the effects of airport operations in or near cities.
Recent news reports, including a syndicated Cox News story by Bill Hendrick (June 26th), told about airport noise causing children who live or attend school near a major airport to have a harder time learning to read and memorize than children in a less noisy area. Stephen Stansfeld of the University of London and colleagues found that airport noise increased stress in youngsters and made learning more difficult.
The study strongly supports the idea that schools are not a compatible use of land near busy airports. The study report urges airport and educational officials to more seriously consider the stress on children's cognitive development caused by frequent jet overflights.
In 2003, SMAAC publicized a milestone study by Peter Rabinowitz, Yale University School of Medicine, on its website, www.quiettheskies.org <http://www.quiettheskies.org,/> and in its News Letter. However, neither the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) nor the Legislature responded to several requests to consider the adverse effects on schools near Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) airport. MAC specifically refused to consider any criteria except modeled noise over a threshold set years ago as precipitating "incompatible use" of properties neighboring MSP.
Stansfeld‚s study, mentioned above, followed more than 2,800 children in 89 primary schools located near 3 major airports in England, Holland, and Spain. Rabinowitz‚ study compared the progress of 326 German schoolchildren after the old Munich airport was replaced. German children attending school near the old airport improved their reading scores and cognitive memory performance as the airport shut down; children in school near the new airport had decreased test scores as use increased.
According to news reports, the University of London scientists found that the development of basic reading skills was delayed as long as two months for children exposed to the sounds of aircraft overflights. This study also found that steady noise did not have a measurable effect on development of reading skills. SMAAC believes that intermittent loud noise events disrupt classes or individual study, while more constant noise can be "tuned out".
In Australia, the impact of overflights is denoted by the number of flights per day and the audible sound intensity difference compared to levels before and after the flight. SMAAC finds the evidence compelling: the intensity level and the number of events, not average intensity, correlates with adverse impacts including poor learning, lost productivity, and increased accidents (on the ground).
The U.S. standard has been average noise intensity for over 30 years. Years ago, psychological tests of individuals at work showed a relatively high undifferentiated1 sound level is tolerable for individual tasks, and a much lower sound level interferes with group tasks. But, tests clearly show that performance suffers if random noise distracts a person at work, and a moderate intensity sound interruption often is a safety issue at work.
These conclusions, based on an industrial setting and frequently disputed by unions, are misapplied to transportation noises, but were mightily supported by the aviation industry to avoid the cost of buffer zones around airfields or sound insulation. Noise lawsuits claiming damages of various kinds, which became frequent as flights increased following WW II, were resolved, to the air transportation industry‚s relief, when Congress modeled Federal regulation after the National Environmental Protection Act and assigned technical responsibility to the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA).
Airlines and airport managers, as usual, have prominent roles in writing, applying, and enforcing FAA regulations on noise. At least here and recently, the most-impacted public is pretty much ignored. In 2004, new take-off profiles were instituted at MSP that increased noise near the airport and allowed flights over previously undisturbed areas, including several schools in South Minneapolis. Flights off the new MSP runway will fly directly over Eagan‚s Black Hawk Middle School about 200 times each day during school hours if the planned runway use system proves safe and feasible.