European News (Sep 2016)

From Science for Environment Policy: How Does Living with Aircraft Noise Affect Well-Being? A Study of UK Airports

Airports are associated with air and noise pollution and may, therefore, reduce the quality of life of local people. This study assessed the link between aircraft noise and subjective well-being, using data from seventeen English airports. The authors conclude that living under flight paths has a negative effect on people’s overall well-being, equivalent to around half of the effect of being a smoker for some indicators.

Air traffic in Europe is expected to increase between 1.4 and 2.2 times by 2030 due to increasing demand for air travel and trade links with emerging international markets. To cope with this increase in demand, proposals for airport expansion have been made. In the UK, for example, three airport expansions have been suggested and are currently being assessed in terms of economic, environmental, and human health impacts. Airport expansion is a contentious issue, with environmental groups and scientists citing the potential climate impacts and local residents fearing economic consequences, such as loss of property value.

This study focused on the impact of aircraft noise on subjective measures of well-being. Transportation noise has been linked to adverse effects on quality of life, well-being, and health due to factors such as stress, anxiety, and raised blood pressure. Noise is a leading environmental complaint in the EU, regulated by the Environmental Noise Directive. Although there are well-established links between noise and physical health, evidence on the link to subjective measures of well-being, such as life satisfaction and happiness, is lacking.

The UK-based researchers assessed how living near airports (or underneath flight paths) explained variation in people’s responses to questions on subjective measures of well-being in a large national survey. They combined household data on subjective well-being (measured by questions on happiness, life satisfaction, sense of worth/purpose in life, anxiety, and positive “affective balance”—based on happiness minus anxiety) with geographical data on airport proximity (within 5 km) and measures of aviation noise in decibels. This is the first time these datasets have been used to study household-level aviation impacts.

The major data source used for the study was the Annual Population Survey, an annual survey of around 155, 000 households and 360, 000 people in the UK. Using postcodes, data from the survey was matched to noise-measurement maps compiled by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and provided by the Cabinet Office. Noise data included daytime and nighttime noise, measured between June and September 2012. In total, the data includes a two-year sample of almost 190, 000 households (over twenty times that of previous similar studies) with information on noise and proximity for seventeen airports in England.

The researchers created models for airport proximity, presence of daytime aircraft noise, and presence of nighttime aircraft noise. Airport proximity was not significantly associated with any of the subjective well-being variables, suggesting that living close to an airport alone (i.e., without noise pollution) does not have a noticeable impact on subjective well-being.

Living within a daytime aircraft noise path (with noise at or above 55 dB), however, was negatively associated with all measures of subjective well-being: lower life satisfaction, lower sense of worth, lower happiness, lower positive affective balance, and increased anxiety. The authors found consistently negative and significant results across all five variables. The researchers could also predict the effect on subjective well-being associated with each decibel increase in noise, which they say has potential for modeling the possible well-being impacts due to changes in aircraft noise.

Although there were consistent negative impacts from daytime noise across all measures of well-being, the magnitude of these associations was small compared to other common drivers of well-being, such as unemployment, poor health, and smoking (the negative effects of which are at least twice that of aviation noise).

The researchers found no evidence that nighttime noise affects subjective well-being. There is a possibility, however, not explored in the study, that the noise had a physiological effect on the individuals. Furthermore, the sample of residences affected by nighttime noise at or above 50 decibels was 50 percent lower than for daytime noise, which may affect the significance of the results.

This is the first study to merge national household-level data with geographic location data on airport proximity and objective measures of noise in England, enabling the authors to assess how aviation influences quality of life on a sample over one hundred times bigger than the most prominent previous study. Based on their results, the researchers concluded that living under air-traffic flight paths may have a negative impact on subjective well-being. These findings support lower real-estate market demand in areas where there is aviation noise.

For more information see

12th ICBEN Conference on Noise as a Public Health Problem to Be Held in Zurich June 18–22, 2017

ICBEN 2017 will take place on the campus ofETH Zurich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), in the heart of the city itself. Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the most important cultural and economic center of the country. The city is also a science hotspot, home to two distinguished universities (one being ETH Zurich, where the congress takes place), and other higher education schools, research facilities, and high-tech start-ups. Zurich is the perfect jump-off place for the typical Swiss postcard landscapes, including mountains, rivers, and blue lakes, which can easily be reached within a short time using the dense Swiss railway network. Zurich’s international airport is a convenient fifteen-minute train ride away from the city center and has direct flights to all major European cities, as well as North and South American, African, Middle Eastern, and Asian destinations.

The chairpersons of ICBEN and the local organizing committee extend a warm welcome to all prospective participants and look forward to meeting you in Zurich in the summer of 2017 to discuss the latest advancements in noise effects research, environmental epidemiology, and noise policies.

Mark Brink, Congress Chairman
Mathias Basner, President of ICBEN
Kurt Eggenschwiler, President of the Swiss Acoustical Society SGA-SSA

From Science for Environment Policy: Does Environmental Noise Lead to Depression and Anxiety?

People who are annoyed by environmental noise are also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, a new, large-scale study from Germany suggests. The results do not prove that noise causes mental health issues but suggest a possible link, which the study’s authors are exploring further. Of all the types of noise considered in the study, aircraft noise was reported to be the most annoying.

Noise, such as traffic and industrial noise, is now recognized as a serious environmental problem and is regulated in Europe under the EU’s Environmental Noise Directive. It is associated with a number of cardiovascular health problems, including heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.

It is also well known that noise can cause annoyance, which can be accompanied by negative, stress-related emotions such as irritability, distress, and exhaustion. However, very little research has considered whether this annoyance and potential stress could lead to mental health disorders. Therefore, this study investigated whether there is a link between noise annoyance and depression and anxiety. It also explored the annoyance levels caused by different sources of noise.

The researchers analyzed questionnaires completed by 14,635 residents, aged thirty-five to seventy-four, in and around the city of Mainz, Germany, between 2007 and 2012. Part of this area is in the flight path of the nearby Frankfurt Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world.

The questionnaires asked the residents how annoyed they had been in recent years (rated on a five-point scale, from “not annoyed” to “extremely annoyed”) by six different types of environmental noise: road-traffic noise, aircraft noise, rail-traffic noise, industrial/construction noise, neighborhood indoor noise, and neighborhood outdoor noise. The results show that 20.7 percent of participants reported no annoyance to the sources of environmental noise; 26.6 percent, slight annoyance; 25 percent, moderate annoyance; 17.3 percent, strong annoyance; and 10.5 percent, extreme annoyance. Of the six types of noise considered, aircraft noise was the most problematic. Nearly 60 percent of the population reported being annoyed by it to some degree, and 6.4 percent were extremely annoyed by it. Results in Table 1 show annoyance levels caused by the noise sources.

Table 1. Annoyance Caused by Six Sources of Environmental Noise Among Study Participants


Note: The study does not relate these figures to noise exposure levels.

The researchers asked the participants to indicate whether they suffered symptoms of depression and anxiety, and then assigned a score for each condition. Participants were also asked if they had ever received medical diagnoses of depression or anxiety. The researchers found that indicators of depression and anxiety increased steadily with levels of annoyance to the noise.

Average depression scores increased from 3.5 (out of a possible total of 27) among the “no annoyance” group to 5.1 for the “extreme annoyance” group.

The percentage of each group with a depression score of 10 or more (a “clinically significant” level of depression) increased from 6.1 percent of the “no annoyance” group through to 12 percent of the “extremely annoyed” group. The percentage of the population with medical diagnoses of depression was also higher with each level of annoyance, for instance, 10.1 percent of the “no annoyance” group and 14.8 percent of the “extremely annoyed” group had been diagnosed with depression by a doctor.

Average anxiety scores steadily increased from 0.7 (out of a possible total of 6) in the “no annoyance” group to 1.1 among the “extreme annoyance” group.

The percentage of each group with a clinically significant anxiety score of 3 or more increased from 4.5 percent of the “no annoyance” group through to 10 percent of the “extreme annoyance” group. 6.3 percent of the “no annoyance” group had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, but the figure was 9.9 percent for the “extreme annoyance” group.

The study did not assess actual noise levels, just personal responses to noise. It also points out the possibility that people who are already depressed or anxious may be more sensitive to noise and, therefore, report higher annoyance; it is not necessarily the case that noise annoyance leads to mental health issues.

However, the association between annoyance and mental health disorders in these data is very strong, and the researchers say their results are “compatible” with the hypothesis that annoyance leads to stress, which in turn can lead to depression and anxiety or worsen existing symptoms. They are, therefore, conducting regular follow-up assessments with the participants to explore the possible relationship between noise and mental health further.