Study Finds Link between Aircraft Noise, Heart Problems

Posted on: October 23, 2013 Topics: Environmental Health

Older people exposed to aircraft noise, especially at high levels, may face an increased risk of being hospitalized for cardiovascular disease, according to a new study by researchers from the BU School of Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health.

In the study, published online in BMJ (British Medical Journal), the researchers found that, on average, people in zip codes with 10-decibel higher aircraft noise had a 3.5 percent higher cardiovascular hospital admission rate.

It is the first major study to estimate the association between residential exposure to aircraft noise and cardiovascular hospitalizations, using data on the nationally representative U.S. population age 65 and older, along with noise data from airports across the country.

“Our study emphasizes that interventions that reduce noise exposures could reduce cardiovascular risks among people living near airports,” said co-author Jonathan Levy, professor of environmental health at BUSPH.

“This can be done through improved aircraft technology and optimized flight paths; by using runways strategically to avoid, when possible, residential areas when people are sleeping; and by soundproofing of homes and other buildings,” he suggested.

The researchers analyzed the relationship between noise from 89 U.S. airports and cardiovascular-related hospitalizations among approximately 6 million study participants for 2009, using data from Medicare, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Census. In their analysis, they adjusted for the effects of socioeconomic status, demographic factors, air pollution, and roadway proximity.

The results showed that the highest levels of aircraft noise had the strongest association with cardiovascular disease hospitalizations.

Overall, 2.3 percent of hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease among older people living near airports were attributable to aircraft noise.

Cardiovascular diseases are the top cause of death globally; in 2008, 17.3 million people died from such diseases, representing 30 percent of all global deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

In speculating about how aircraft noise might be linked to higher rates of cardiovascular hospitalizations, the researchers noted that noise has been previously linked with stress reactions and increased blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

“It was surprising to find that living close to an airport and therefore being exposed to aircraft noise can adversely affect your cardiovascular health, even beyond exposure to air pollution and traffic noise,” said senior author Francesca Dominici, professor of biostatistics and associate dean of information technology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The joint lead authors included Junenette Peters, assistant professor of environmental health at BUSPH; and Andrew Correia, quantitative analyst for Somerville-based NMR Group, Inc.

Support for the study was provided by the Federal Aviation Administration, as part of the Partnership for Air Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction (PARTNER), a multi-university cooperative research organization.