Noise a Factor in Airport Expansion
The Herald News, Wednesday, November 29, 2000
A large crowd turned out Tuesday night to hear a consultant talk about the proposed runway expansion at New Bedford Regional Airport and its economic and environmental impact on the surrounding area.
Jason Cortell of Cortell Associates of Waltham addressed residents, many concerned about potential noise from large planes and jet fume pollution. Cortell Associates is doing a $2.5 million environmental study, financed by the Massachusetts Aeronautics Administration and the City of New Bedford.
Part of the New Bedford Airport Commission's master plan is to extend the primary runway to about 6,800 feet and develop an air cargo facility to accommodate and service larger planes. Cortell said,"We're in the process of analyzing the environmental impact of the expansion of the airport."
At the same time, he said, a primary goal is for the airport to be an "economic generator for the New Bedford region with its surrounding communities, including Fall River." He said there is concern to have the airport become integrated in the New England airports system. With that in mind, he noted, it was determined that the "best service this airport could be is as a cargo facility."
Cortell said the New Bedford airport "has a role to play as a cargo system. A role that would have a positive economic benefit to the area, providing jobs and opportunity for businesses in the area, to ship goods more frequently and on a better schedule." As far as noise concerns from larger planes, Cortell noted, "We have the most speculation on this subject."
Putting noise levels in the form of decibels (measure of noise), Cortell used comparisons of aircraft to things everyone is more familiar with. A jet overfly at 1,000 feet would be 105 decibels; a diesel truck at 50 feet is 90 decibels; a vacuum cleaner at 10 feet is 70 decibels, he said.
Demonstrating noise profiles during a slide presentation, Cortell said the Boeing 727 cargo plane caused the most noise over the largest area. "That's an aircraft that's going to cause a lot of problems, particularly in Dartmouth," he said. That plane is operated by the Federal Express. He said United Parcel Service has completely revamped the Boeing 727 (same plane, different engine), and that aircraft's noise profile stayed mostly within the airport's boundaries. Calling that plane a "much quieter" aircraft, Cortell said, "This is the aircraft we're designing runways for in the future."
Cortell reminded that there will be a series of meetings on noise analysis in the future, including use of a noise generator provided by the FAA to demonstrate noise caused by the aircraft that would be using the extended runway.
In addition to cargo planes to the Azores and Miami also are envisioned for the future.
As for the environmental issues, he said a runway extension plan was reached that has minimal impact on wetland areas - about 17 acres. George Leontire of New Bedford Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr.'s office said, "The mayor would like to see the airport runway extended to bring economic value to the area without burdening the surrounding communities." Leontire said Kalisz sees a 7,000 foot runway as "probably inappropriate " as the aircraft needed to land and rake off from such a runway are "soon becoming obsolete."
Noise Pollution Clearinghouse
The FAA is revising its Aviation Noise Abatement Policy. The last revision occurred in 1976, so it is likely that we will be stuck with this new policy for 25 more years. And this document is nothing to be stuck with.
The policy has a number of problems. The draft:
In addition, the Policy is loaded with the agenda of the airline industry and its release in late summer was timed to discourage public participation since many people are on vacation.
For more information, go to www.nonoise.org
Plagued by noise
A "quality of life" telephone poll conducted last month on behalf of Rudolph Giuliani, the Mayor of New York, received more complaints about noise than any other nuisance-crime included. And in Britain, a survey carried out two years ago by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) found that the home life of one in three people was blighted by noise from traffic or neighbors. The erosion of silence is dismissed by some as an inevitable nuisance or our modern age. But for years scientists and doctors believed noise was only a problem if it was loud enough to damage hearing. Now there is increasing evidence that exposure to relatively low levels of noise for long periods can affect our health, raising blood pressure, disrupting cognitive development in children, disturbing sleep and prompting psychiatric disorders. "Noise does not have to be loud to cause health problems," says Nancy Nadler, director of the Noise Center of the League for the Hard of Hearing in New York. She warns that governments still fail to recognize noise as a health hazard.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has revised its guidelines on safe noise levels in the light of fresh research. The new guidelines reduce the recommended night-time average level of noise suitable for undisturbed sleep from 35 to 30 dB(A) - the commonest way of describing how loud noise is. For the first time, the guidelines also include a peak night-time maximum of 45 dB(A).
The report's editor, Birgitta Berglund of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the department of psychology at Stockholm University, says governments should adopt its recommendations "using the precautionary principle. Even where it has been difficult to gather absolute proof of links between noise and health effects, governments should be concerned. Most of all, they should consider children and those people who are most sensitive to noise." In research published late last year in Psychological Science, Gary Evans of the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, New York, and his colleagues found evidence of stress among children living near Munich's international airport. They found that both blood pressure and the level of the hormone adrenaline, which is linked to stress, were considerably higher in children living near the airport than among children living in quieter areas of the city. They also found that the reading skills and long-term memory of the children living near the airport were impaired. "Chronic noise exposure may diminish working memory span," the researchers concluded. "In young children, more complex, higher-order skills, such as reading, problem-solving, and comprehension of difficult materials, appear vulnerable to adverse environmental conditions.
While Evans and his colleagues were carrying out their research, the old airport was closed down and another one opened. This summer, the team published a follow-up paper on the effects of noise at both sites before and after the changeover of airports. They concluded that the affected children's memories and reading deficiencies recovered two years after the aircraft noise stopped. But they also found that children living near the new airport had developed cognitive problems.
Some governments are beginning to take seriously the link between health and noise pollution. In the Netherlands, it is illegal to build houses in areas where 24-hour average noise levels exceed 50dB(A). such as near main roads or airports. A survey carried out by the BRE in 1990 found that for 7% of homes in Britain, noise levels outside the building were more than 68dB(A). The British government has recently set up an advisory committee as part of its Noise Research Program. The committee consists of officials from the departments of health, environment, transport and industry as well as academics. "There is a ground swell of feeling that something should be done, but the emphasis is on targets rather than legislation," says a spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment. But such targets could one day become mandatory in the ECU: last week the European Commission adopted a green paper on how to reduce noise pollution. The Noise Network, a campaign group in Britain, says that any legislation or targets must be aimed at those who are most vulnerable. "Some people are more affected by noise pollution than others, just as air pollution can hit asthma sufferers and leave others unaffected," says Valerie Gibson, who runs the network, although she points out that there is no clinical definition of sensitivity to noise. She says that people suffering from depression and pregnant women are likely to be among the most vulnerable. A study last year of 1500 pregnant nurses by Barbara Luke at the University of Michigan found that high noise levels stimulated stress hormones, which invariably led to premature contractions. Britain's new Noise Act, which becomes fully enforceable next April, gives local authorities powers to fine people who create excessive noise at night in most cases set at more than 35dB(A) and confiscate noisy equipment.
Some campaigners believe that "neighbor noise" can only be discouraged by giving police more powers. Noise from transport, however, can be cut by new technologies, such as quieter aircraft engines and anti-noise road surfaces. "Quiet" road surfaces are expensive, but they are available. The most popular, porous asphalt, cuts traffic noise by up to 5 dB(A), which is equivalent to halving the traffic flow. In the Netherlands, any road carrying more than 35,000 vehicles a day must be made of porous asphalt, and the Dutch government is resurfacing about 500 kilometers of busy roads with it every year. Many major roads in Austria and Belgium are built with "whisper concrete", a kind of aggregate. Swedish scientists have developed a new paving surface from pulverized rubber tires bonded together with polyurethane.
Modern aircraft are far quieter than older jets. A plan adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization in 1990 to phase out old, noisy aircraft has encouraged the use of quieter planes. But a report published last month by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an American environmental group, warned that the growth of air travel threatened to cancel out any gains in noise control.
The NRDC also warns that the noise threshold set by the Federal Aviation Administration in the US for homes near airports-a 24-hour average of 65dB(A) measured outside a building-is not only too high, but misleading as well. "It is based on the averaging of noise, rather than the loud spikes of noise from takeoffs and landings that are most troublesome to airport communities," says Jennifer Stenzel, the main author of the NRDC's report. The organization wants the FAA to replace the 10% domestic ticket tax with a levy on aviation fuel that "would provide an incentive for airlines to replace aging and inefficient aircraft."
While tougher controls should help make noisy areas quieter, the number of truly quiet places in North America and Western Europe will continue to shrink.