Noise as a hazard: Medical professionals talk about the effects of night-flights on the psyche and body of a human being.
interview is from an article about noise, published in the
"Koelner Anzeiger" and "Leverkusener Anzeiger" (Germany) on Wednesday,
April 21, 1999, the 4th International Noise Awareness
Day. It was translated by Hans Schmid, Right to Quiet
Q: Dr. Doering, Dr. Tuettenberg, what do allergists have to do with noise at the Cologne-Bonn-Airport?
D: In our office we observe this development with concern, because particularly in patients living to the south-east of the airport we have detected a high susceptibility to allergies. This is especially happening in the area of Lohmar. In this area there are already up to 50% of the children suffering of allergenic illnesses.
Q: But why do you make the air traffic responsible for that?
D: Noise affliction is a psychological pollutant (detriment). Just as ultra-violet light, sound is being converted into chemical signals. If they reach high levels, the immune system is being weakened and the general resistance decreases.
T: We have studies from Graz (Austria) where people have been exposed to high levels of noise. There was a strong increase of the stress-hormone adrenaline measured, for example.
D: Exposure to noise has hormonal and somatic-nervous effects. During the day-time the body has defence mechanisms to resist stressful noise. Then, the somatic nervous system is in a phase of production or performance in which the body is used to work and disregard what disturbs.
Q: And what happens during the night?
T: While sleeping, during the Vagus phase of the somatic nervous system, everything is being done that was put aside or left over from the day.
D: During the night the waste material of the cells (cell garbage) is being processed, mental as well as physical. Because of that, dream phases are indispensable.
T: Sleep occurs in specific cycles and nocturnal aircraft noise chops up these cycles.
Q: What does that mean?
D: The recycling work is being blocked or simply said: the cells cannot regenerate, the head is not decongested. Garbage piles up. This leads to disorders of the heart and blood circulation system, the metabolism, the lipids, the immune system and the digestive functions.
T: In people who are chronically exposed to noise the risk of a noise-induced myocardial infarction is 10 times higher than the generally known health risk of cancerous air pollutants. Furthermore, aircraft noise can also lead to considerable hormone shifts and disorders in pregnant women.
Q: There still were no comprehensive studies done in the area surrounding the Cologne-Bonn-Airport to prove this thesis.
T: Certainly not. However, we are in contact with other colleagues in other places who confirm our observations, particularly with regard to the high rate of troubled immune systems in children. We know of scientific studies in the USA which were carried out in the area surrounding the Los Angeles Airport. There, the cases of fatal heart and circulation disorders in elderly people rose by 18%. And in the age-group of 45 - 54 years an increase in the suicide frequency of over 100% was observed.
D: Aircraft noise is of quite a different quality than other traffic noise, because it is much more difficult to protect oneself from it. It covers a large area like a carpet which one cannot avoid. And that is added to other sources of noise.
T: Many people have no problems while away on vacation. Why? Because they have quiet. When they return after 4 weeks they feel clearly worse again here. Imagine your telephone rings 3 or 4 times a night. How do you feel then the next morning?
D: When something like that occurs frequently it is called telephone terror and any sensible person would call the police and engage the prosecutor's office.
Q: What has to change?
T: It won't work without an essential period of quiet at the airport.
Q: But this seems not to be politically achievable presently. Can something else be done?
D: Our job as medical professionals is to work with the patients and also to tell them that as the immediately afflicted they have to defend themselves. Health damage from aircraft noise, especially during the night, is objectively demonstrable. Legal steps can then be taken by patients' associations.