The Effects of Night Flights on the Human Body and Psyche

This interview with Drs. Doering and Tuetten-berg, specialists in dermatology and allergies, appeared in a German newspaper on Noise Awareness Day (1999).

Q: Dr. Doering, Dr. Tuettenberg, what do allergies have to do with noise at the Cologne-Bonn Airport?

D: Particularly in patients living to the southeast of the airport, we have detected a high susceptibility to allergies. In the area of Lohmar, up to 50% of the children are suffering from allergenic illnesses.

Q: Why do you blame air traffic for that?

D: Noise is a psychological pollutant. Just like ultra-violet light, sound is converted into chemical signals. If they reach high levels, the immune system is weakened and general resistance decreases.

T: We have studies from Graz (Austria) where people have been exposed to high levels of noise. They showed a strong increase in adrenaline, the stress hormone.

D: Exposure to noise has hormonal and somatic-nervous effects. During the day the body has defence mechanisms to resist stressful noise -- the somatic nervous system is in a phase of production or performance in which the body disregards disturbances.

Q: And what happens during the night?

T: During sleep, during the Vagus phase of the somatic nervous system, the body deals with everything 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, dreaming is essential.

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. To put it simply, the cells cannot regenerate, the brain 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. (...) We know of scientific studies in the U.S.A. which were carried out in the area around the Los Angeles Airport. There, the cases of fatal heart and circulation disorders in elderly people rose by 18%. And in the 45-54 age group, there was a 100% increase in the frequency of suicide.

D: Aircraft noise is quite different than other traffic noise, because it is much more difficult to protect oneself from it. It carpets a large area and is unavoidable in that area. And comes on top of other sources of noise.

T: Many people have no (health) problems while they're on vacation. Why? Because they have quiet. Back at home they feel worse again. Imagine your telephone ringing 3 or 4 times a night. How would you feel the next morning?

Q: What has to change?

D: Our job as medical professionals is to work with the patients and tell them that they have to defend themselves from noise. Health damage from aircraft noise, especially during the night, is objectively demonstrable. Legal steps can be taken by patients' associations.

From an article in the Koelner Anzeiger and Leverkusener Anzeiger (Germany), April 21, 1999. Translation by Hans Schmid.

Right to Quiet, Fall 1999

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