BY LYNN EDMONDS
Airplane noise is not just annoying, it is hazardous to our health, President of Quiet Skies Len Schaier told Community Board 8 last Wednesday.
Schaier, whose organization advocates at the federal level to reduce airplane noise, said that their number one agenda was to lower the noise threshold that is currently accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA is required to act to mitigate noise for properties where the airplane noise level goes above the threshold.
Advocates seek to lower the threshold for allowable noise from 65 Day/Night Level to 55 DNL. DNL is a metric based on the average airplane noise decibel level across an entire day and night, with an added penalty for noise during late night and early morning hours.
The 65 DNL level was determined based on research from the early 1970s that found most people were not annoyed by sound at that level, which is quieter than a conversation at home, but louder than a conversation in a noisy restaurant.
Schaier said that research has found 55 or 53 decibels is a noise level that is both less annoying and less hazardous to our health.
Because the decibel system is not linear, 65 decibels is not just 18 percent louder than 55 decibels. It is in fact about twice as loud.
Many, including State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) argue that the 65 DNL threshold, is based on outdated research.
“It is easy to dismiss airplane noise a non-issue if you are not one of the thousands of families being affected day in and day out,” Stavisky said in a statement. “But we now know the current threshold of 56 DNL is obsolete.”
She sent a letter to U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand asking them to support a change to the 55 DNL level.
Many countries and organizations, including the Environmental Protection Agency, and the World Health Organization, use 55 as their threshold, based on health research.
“The rest of the world thinks about health and wellness. We are still thinking about the annoyance,” Schaier said.
“The same planes land in Europe, how can we justify a different standard?”
Health risks to airplane noise or proximity to airport include cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and sleep loss and its attendant risks of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease as well as accidents.
A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that for every 10 decibels of airplane noise, risk of cardiovascular hospitalization rose 3.5 percent. It also found that while there was a correlation between ZIP codes with high airplane noise and heart-related hospitalizations, that correlation ceased to exist with noise levels below 55 DNL.
In the LaGuardia area, 5,209 individuals are estimated to live in households where the DNL is greater than 65.
That number is 32,085 around JFK Airport.
Across the country, 29 congressional representatives signed a letter to the FAA to change the DNL threshold from 65 to 55.
But Schaier said he wanted New York’s elected officials to do more.
“Schumer and Gillibrand have just been out of the picture,” he said.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana