Federal Airport Noise Contour Maps Fail Communities

Noise mapping is when community noise is measured to find areas with unhealthy noise levels. The goal is to end the international public health crisis from transportation noise damage. Federal governments around the world are responsible for transportation, e.g. traffic, airplanes, railways. Airports, including aircraft flight paths, are the highest noise damage risk. Federal airport noise contour maps are done regularly. But when there’s zero noise control action, noise contour maps fail communities.

For this blog, I’ve included mostly airport noise contour map levels for different places including:

  • London England
  • Dublin Ireland
  • EU
  • Montreal Canada
  • Sydney Australia
  • USA

In 2002, a European Union Directive on Environmental Noise required EU member states, including UK, to do noise mapping every 5 years, and use the results to establish action plans to control and reduce noise damage from road traffic, railways, major airports, and industry. Noise mapping has happened about every 5 years as required for transportation noise.

Noise data is usually shown as noise contours overlaid on city or geographical maps. The noise contour maps show noise levels at increasing distances from the source, and how many people are exposed inside each noise contour area. Some of the maps have filters so you can organize by type of transportation, noise level, day/night, etc.

I started at government websites and clicked through mazes of different pages and internal links to find maps. It took hours. They’re not easy to find or use.

Photo Credit: Defra 2008 noise contour map of London

Are these noise contour maps the data communities need to fight airport related noise damage and protect public health?

 WHO Outdoor Public Health Limits: Outside Dwelling 

 (night = 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. local time)

Day = 55 dB LAeq or softer

Night = 40 dB LAeq or softer

 

England – Transportation Noise Maps

2008: Noise maps from Defra (Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) were open to the public online for the first time. Noise levels >75 dB were found within a few miles radius of airports, roadways, and railways; this is much higher than WHO day-night public health limits.

In 2008, Environment Minister Jonathan Shaw said the maps would be used to “draw up action plans to reduce noise where practical from major roads and railways, as well as from urban areas…We need to look at what further practical steps we can take to make people’s lives more tranquil.” As far as I can tell, no noise control action ever happened for airports or flight paths.

2012 England Noise Map Viewer from Defra for railroad and traffic noise:

  • search by city or location.
  • day/night noise differences
  • noise measured from 55 dB to 75 dB
  • all higher than WHO public health limits.

2015 London airports: noise exposure contours on Ordnance Survey maps

These maps were prepared for Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports by the Civil Aviation Authority on behalf of the Department for Transport Note dBA Leq is same thing as dB LAeq.

  • All Airports, day: 57-72 dBA Leq actual contours average mode summer 2015
  • All Airports, night: 48-66 dBA Leq actual contours average mode summer 2015
  • Heathrow night noise contour stretches from Clapham to Windsor
  • Gatwick, night noise contour stretches from Sludgwick to well past Dormansland
  • How many more people are within a disturbed sleep 40-47 dBA Leq night noise contour area around these airports?
  • All higher than WHO public health limits

2040 Heathrow Projected Noise with Third Runway

  • Windsor will suffer aircraft noise of nearly 60dB
  • Still higher than WHO public health day-night limits

2021 Experts estimate quiet electric or electric hybrid aircraft can be in commercial operation on regional routes with quiet electric or electric hybrid long range airliners in commercial operation by 2050.

European Environment Agency Noise Observation and Information Service for Europe

  • Day/night noise maps for roads, railways, airports
  • Noise levels and number of people exposed in communities
  • Night noise limit listed as 50 dB instead of WHO 40 dB limit.
  • Either way, noise higher than WHO public health limits

Ireland – Transportation Noise Map

Takes a bit of clicking around to figure out how to use this map. Under tools layers you can scroll down to turn on day/night noise indicators for airports, railroads or roads. Then if you make that layer come to the top, and click on the noise contour colour on the map, the measurements come up.

  • Dublin airport night: 60 – 64 dB
  • Dublin airport day: 70-74 dB
  • All higher than WHO public health limits

Countries Outside EU

In other countries, major airport websites usually have noise contour or noise maps. There are the same problems with airport and flight path noise levels much higher than WHO day-night public health limits.

Australia – Sydney Airport Noise Index Reports

  • Maps how many aircraft noise events >70 dBA happened on average, daily
  • Not Factual: “70 dB(A) is generally considered to be the external sound level below which no difficulty with reliable communication from radio, television or conversational speech in a typical room with windows open is expected. (Reference -Department of Transport and Regional Services, 2000, Expanding Ways to Describe and Assess Aircraft Noise, pp23-35).”
  • July 1, 2017-September 30, 2017 Noise Index Report p. 32 Attachment F
  • In contour closest to airport, 200-300 daily average noise events over 70 dBA
  • All higher than WHO public health limits

Canada – Montreal Trudeau International Airport Soundscape Statistics

  • p. 10: Average annual community noise levels mostly >55 dBA at noise monitoring stations
  • No day-night breakdown
  • Not Factual: “minus 21 dBA reduction for home insulation must be considered”
  • Not Factual: Soundscape maps are not for noise pollution; soundscapes map community emotional reactions to sounds, usually sounds with positive impact on community, e.g. bustling outdoor market, voices of people chatting, children playing at a playground
  • Noise higher than WHO public health limits

USA – National Transportation Noise Map

At first I was excited to find all these maps with all this data showing international transportation noise much higher than WHO public health limits. But then I started wondering. The EU has been noise mapping for almost 20 years. Why is noise pollution getting worse? This is where noise contour maps fail communities.

The EU Environmental Noise Directive that requires noise mapping states authorities should address local noise issues by drawing up action plans and long term strategies to reduce noise where necessary. But the directive:

  • does not set any noise limit values
  • does not prescribe action plan measures
  • action plan left to discretion of the “competent authorities”
  • if feasible or practical

Obviously authorities haven’t been competent. They say noise is just a “nuisance.” There are no noise limit values set to protect public health. There are no noise control action plans. Only plans to expand airports. Airport website noise pages blame community noise for the high levels; if communities were quieter, everything would be fine. Not factual. The airport related noise damage is the problem.

Denial, scientific double talk and legalistic hokum are the device of the managerial protest [about noise damage]. Wood (1953)

Without noise control and prevention actions, communities are left with:

  • Hearing, mental, and physical health damage
  • Adverse health effects include baby language and learning delays, and child-teen-young adult rising epidemics of high blood pressure, anxiety & depression, obesity, diabetes, hearing loss & dementia
  • It can’t be a coincidence that all these epidemics are rising together with noise pollution epidemic
  • Most vulnerable are babies, children, pregnant women, elderly, shift workers, people with pre-existing illness
  • Risk highest for night noise causing disturbed sleep
  • Highest risk for low income, minority and segregated communities

I’m not an environmental noise control or public health expert. I’m just an audiologist and human very concerned about what’s happening—or not happening—to protect public health from transportation noise damage that comes with air pollution and climate change. In communities without noise and air pollution, kids would feel good playing outside and get the exercise they need to stay healthy.

The question I’m left with is: how do communities get action happening? There are no easy answers. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • No new runways unless 100% of aircraft and airliners using it are electric or electric hybrid and quiet enough to fall below WHO public health day-night guidelines.
  • Better media coverage of crisis: community noise damage from airports and transportation noise like traffic and railways, based on noise map data and WHO scientific public health limits
  • Noise events with media, e.g. gather community members including babies, children, pregnant women, elderly, shift workers, people with pre-existing illness
  • Get community leaders and experts involved, e.g. worship or business leaders, principals, teachers, police, doctors, nurses, audiologists, ENTs, celebrities, schools, parents, families, workers, noise experts, scientists, etc.
  • Transportation noise protest marches
  • Vote for competent city and federal authorities who will set safe public health noise limits and mandatory noise control, including long term noise reduction and prevention planning
  • Class action lawsuits against airport noise pollution, like the one filed by people living under flight paths of Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, Canada
  • No airport expansion until quiet aircraft are in regional commercial operation. Set a timeline for airlines to convert regional fleets. After deadline, not allowed to use runways if they’re noisy.
  • With quiet regional flights, tlight paths of long range noise damaging airliners could be changed so they don’t fly over communities. Set a timeline for airlines to convert long range fleets; after deadline, not allowed to use runways if they’re noisy.
  • What ideas do you think might work? Please share in comments.

As Dr. Daniel Fink of The Quiet Coalition writes, Noise kills. Cities, federal governments and the transportation industries can’t keep adding to the noise pollution public health crisis. We have the right to live in safe, healthy communities. Our generation, our children’s generations, and future generations deserve better than learning problems, unhealthy lives, and early death from noise damage. If we don’t end transportation noise damage, what will we tell the children when they get old enough to ask, “Why didn’t we protect them?”

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Feature Photo by John Cobb on Unsplash

Protest Photo by Monica Melton on Unsplash

Jan L. Mayes MSc Aud(C) RAud is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author, audiologist, and hearing healthcare educator. She specializes in tinnitus, hyperacusis, noise-induced hearing system damage, and darkly disturbing, macabre horror fiction.

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