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Hearing Loss and Hypertension

The National Academy of Sciences Committee on Hearing, Bioacoustics, and Biomechanics (CHABA) identified 75 dB as the minimum level at which hearing loss may occur.

“It is more likely that noise-related general ill-health effects are due to the psychological annoyance from the noise interfering with normal everyday behavior, than it is from the noise eliciting, because of its intensity, reflexive response in the autonomic or other physiological systems of the body.” Psychological stresses may cause a physiological stress reaction that could result in impaired health.

Near an airport in Stockholm, Sweden, the prevalence of hypertension was reportedly greater among nearby residents who were exposed to energy averaged noise levels exceeding 55 dB and maximum noise levels exceeding 72 dB, particularly older subjects and those not reporting impaired hearing ability (Rosenlund, et al. 2001). A study of elderly volunteers who were exposed to simulated military low-altitude flight noise reported that blood pressure was raised by Lmax of 112 dB and high speed level increase (Michalak, et al. 1990).

A 1999 study conducted on Portuguese aircraft-manufacturing workers from a single factory reported effects of jet aircraft noise exposure that involved a wide range of symptoms and disorders, including the cardiac issues on which the Ponce School of Medicine study focused. The 1999 study identified these effects as VAD.

"Consequently, one comes to the conclusion that establishing and enforcing exposure levels protecting against noiseinduced hearing loss would not only solve the noise-induced hearing loss problem, but als any potential nonauditory health effects in the work place.” (von Gierke 1990) Although these findings were specifically directed at noise effects in the workplace, they are equally applicable to aircraft noise effects in the community environment.

Effects on our Children

In the recent release (2002) of the “Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools,” the American National Standards Institute refers to studies that suggest that loud and frequent background noise can affect the learning patterns of young children.

The studies referenced by ANSI to support the new standard are not specific to jet aircraft noiseand the potential effects on children. However, there are references to studies that have shown that children in noisier classrooms scored lower on a variety of tests.

Research on the impacts of aircraft noise, and noise in general, on the cognitive abilities of schoolaged children has received more attention in recent years. Several studies suggest that aircraft noise can affect the academic performance of schoolchildren.

Specifically, elementary school children attending schools near New York City’s two airports demonstrated lower reading scores than children living farther away from the flight paths (Green, et al. 1982). Researchers have found that tasks involving central processing and language comprehension (such as reading, attention, problem solving, and memory) appear to be the most affected by noise (Evans and Lepore 1993; Hygge 1994; and Evans, et al. 1995). It has been demonstrated that chronic exposure of first- and second-grade children to aircraft noise can result in reading deficits and impaired speech perception (i.e., the ability to hear common, low frequency [vowel] sounds but not high frequencies [consonants] in speech) (Evans and Maxwell).

As a measure of stress response to aircraft noise, authors have looked at blood pressure readings to monitor children’s health. Children who were chronically exposed to aircraft noise from a new airport near Munich, Germany, had modest (although significant) increases in blood pressure, significant increases in stress hormones, and a decline in quality of life (Evans, et al. 1998). Children attending noisy schools had statistically significant average systolic and diastolic blood pressure (p<0.03). Systolic blood pressure means were 89.68 mm for children attending schools located in noisier environments compared to 86.77 mm for a control group. Similarly, diastolic blood pressure means for the noisier environment group were 47.84 mm and 45.16 for the control group (Cohen, et al. 1980).

Effects Upon Animals

Mammals in particular appear to react to noise at sound levels higher than 90 dB, with responses including the startle response, freezing (i.e., becoming temporarily stationary), and fleeing from the sound source. Many studies on domestic animals suggest that some species appear to acclimate to some forms of sound disturbance (Manci, et al. 1988). Some studies have reported such primary and secondary effects as reduced milk production and rate of milk release, increased glucose concentrations, decreased levels of hemoglobin, increased heart rate, and a reduction in thyroid activity.

One such study, conducted in 1983, suggested that 2 of 10 cows in late pregnancy aborted after showing rising estrogen and falling progesterone levels. These increased hormonal levels were reported as being linked to 59 aircraft overflights.

A similar study reported abortions occurred in three out of five pregnant cattle after exposing them to flyovers by six different aircraft (U.S.Air Force 1994b). Another study suggested that feedlot cattle could stampede and injure themselves when exposed to low-level overflights (U.S. Air Force 1994b).

Studies of terrestrial mammals have shown that noise levels of 120 dBA can damage mammals’ ears, and levels at 95 dBA can cause temporary loss of hearing.

High-noise events (like a low-altitude aircraft overflight) may cause birds to engage in escape or avoidance behaviors, such as flushing from perches or nests (Ellis, et al. 1991). These activities impose an energy cost on the birds that, over the long term, may affect survival or growth. In addition, the birds may spend less time engaged in necessary activities like feeding, preening, or caring for their young because they spend time in noise-avoidance activities.