Airport Proximity Leads to More Hospitalizations

Boston scientists investigate the negative medical implications of living near airports.

Airplane takeoff image via shutterstock

Airplane takeoff image via shutterstock

Bad news for people living near Logan. Boston area researchers recently conducted a study that shows that increased noise pollution—like that experienced by living near an airport—directly resulted in higher risk for heart attack and stroke.

In the study, which was published in the British Medical Journal this week, researchers from the NMR Group in Somerville, Boston University’s School of Public Health, and Harvard’s School of Public Health looked at the Medicare records of 6 million senior citizens living near 89 different airports across the country.

Researchers discovered that with every 10 decibel noise increase, the seniors’ rate of hospitalization for heart disease increased by 3.5 percent. Noise pollution, the study says, causes hypertension, chronic stress, and poor sleep habits which all contribute to increased risks of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

The researchers suggested that reducing airport noise pollution to 45 decibels, which is the humming noise of a typical office, from the standard 63 decibels would reduce risk of these diseases by 2.3 percent. Reducing air pollution in the areas around airports as well could reduce hospitalizations due to heart complications by 10 percent.

While neither the Boston-based study, or the corresponding British study were able to definitively establish noise levels as the primary cause for this increased risk for heart and stroke related hospitalization, researchers from both say that airport noise levels in combination with air pollution and road traffic noise levels contributed to this increased risk.

Still, the Boston researchers advocate sound-proofing for homes around airports. Massachusetts Port Authority has sound-proofed thousands of residences and schools near airports in the past to help reduce noise pollution. The Federal Aviation Administration has established regulations for the level of noise residents can be regularly exposed to before sound-proofing should be considered necessary. The level the FAA says is safe is 65 decibels, two more decibels than the 63 that London researchers found in homes close to Heathrow, and considerably louder than a close conversation, according to the study.

Boston has reacted to irritating noises before—Brookline residents hate leafblowers early in the morning and made their feelings known last summer—so maybe Logan-adjacent residents will be next to implement rules for airport noise, in the interest of their health.