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Photo credit: Manfred Irmer from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

In my recent paper, “Impact of Noise on Health: The Divide Between Policy and Science,” I stressed that research on the adverse impacts of noise on health is plentiful but not enough was being done, especially in the U.S., to lessen noise. Many years earlier, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed the data linking noise to health were strong. In a booklet it published in August 1978, “Noise: A Health Problem,” it said “[i]t is finally clear that noise is a significant hazard to health.”

With respect to lessening noise, Russell Train, the then EPA Administrator, stated at a 1976 Inter-Noise Conference that with respect to lessening aircraft noise, which adversely affects millions of residents, “We really know what needs to be done. We have simply lacked the will to do it. Let’s get on with the job.”

Now fast forward to 2018 and you can readily understand the frustration and pain of the many U.S. groups fighting aircraft noise knowing the data supporting the harmful effects of aircraft noise are strong but the “will” to remedy the situation is still lacking. One of the reasons that the Federal Aviation Administration has lagged behind in remedying the noise problem is that the agency insists on using outdated methods to measure noise. The agency claims that the Day-Night Average Sound level of 65 dBA is the level at which sound becomes intrusive, but this metric has long been viewed as too high. Additionally, averages do not speak to the singular disturbing overhead jet sounds that come in at 6 a.m. or late at night, and the agency relies on modeling and simulations to determine impacts rather than actual measurements.

Community groups have informed themselves about the dangers of aircraft noise and have learned about the changes the FAA must make to more accurately measure noise levels, which in turn can lead to better methods to abate noise. These groups have shared this information to legislators with whom they have formed partnerships to design legislation that can better address aircraft noise pollution. A number of New York legislators, including representatives Joe Crowley, Grace Meng, Greg Meeks, Hakeem Jeffries, and Kathleen Rice, formed a coalition known as the New York Quiet Skies Caucus. One of the members, Congressman Joe Crowley, wanting data to strengthen his request for improved methods to measure noise levels, secured a federal grant to conduct a study yielding such data. I was one of the authors of that study, which is discussed in “Airport-Related Air Pollution and Noise.”

Thus, it is with some satisfaction that I can now share the following press release from Rep. Grace Meng announcing that the New York Quiet Skies Caucus has “secured a provision in the newly enacted omnibus appropriations bill which directs the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to examine new methods of measuring aircraft noise in order to reduce the impact of excessive airplane noise over their districts.”

I wish to thank our members of congress for their hard work in getting this legislation passed and join them in their hope that this first step will lead to quieter skies.