Elderly people exposed to aircraft noise may be at an increased risk of being hospitalized for cardiovascular disease, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health and Boston University School of Public Health.
The researchers found that, on average, zip codes with a 10-decibel or higher aircraft noise had a 3.5 percent higher hospitalization rates than those not living close to an airport. There was some evidence that suggests those living above 55 decibels were at an even higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
According to accplanning.org, Hill Air Force Base's baseline decibel level is 65. F-16s in various aspects of flight generate 81 to 95 decibels, the planning documents say. The next generation F-35, coming to Hill within a few years, will generate 84 to 116 decibels.
"There have been a number of studies that have looked at how aircraft noise can affect things like blood pressure or stress or sleep deprivation, and all these things can influence cardiovascular health," said Jonathan Levy, co-author of the study. "So we were interested if we saw an association with cardiovascular hospitalization."
The research was published alongside another study from Imperial College of London which showed an increased risk in strokes, coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease among 3.6 million residents living near London Heathrow airport. Levy's study analyzed data from the Federal Aviation Administrations concerning aircraft noise emitted from 89 airports in the United States. He and his team gathered information on cardiovascular hospitalization rates of around six million people on Medicare living close to these airports.
"It was surprising to find that living close to an airport, and therefore being exposed to aircraft noise, can adversely affect your cardiovascular health, even beyond exposure to air pollution and traffic noise," said Francesca Dominici, senior author of the study.
More people die from cardiovascular disease every year than from any other cause, according to the World Health Organization. Approximately 9 million people die every year from cardiovascular related diseases and that number is expected to reach 23.3 million by the year 2030.
Dr. Philip Dattilo, a cardiologist at McKay-Dee Hospital, said the study seems plausible. However, he hasn't seen any patients connected with the concern.
"Hard to know what to do with this kind of data. Generally speaking, telling someone to move doesn't have much impact," he said.
Given the results of the study, researchers say they hope residents as well as transportation officials will consider taking precautionary measures in order to reduce the potentially harmful effects aircraft noise may have on people.
"Our study was not meant to evaluate interventions, but I think there are clearly things that can be done to reduce exposures to aircraft noise, such as soundproofing of homes that are close to airports, measures that can be taken by the FAA or others to reduce the noise of their aircraft," Levy said. "This certainly could be a beneficial health measure."