Climate change is on everyone’s mind these days and pollution in our community is about to get worse. Through its planned expansion, Heathrow is planning an additional 700+ flights per day over our densely populated London, and it will become a local issue as a change to flight paths means these flights may go directly over an expanded area of London.

Much has been written about the adverse effects of both air and noise pollution on anyone living in effected areas, but it will be children who are particularly at risk.

Aircraft Noise pollution:

The WHO Guidelines for maximum aircraft noise are 40 dB (night time) to 45 dB (daytime). The noise impact as a result of Heathrow’s proposed new flight paths are 51-70 dB across a much increased area of London exceeds the WHO guidelines, and will start as early as 5am- disrupting sleep.

The WHO has stated that to reduce health effects of noise, it strongly recommends that policy-makers implement suitable measures to reduce the exposure to aircraft noise among the population who are exposed to levels above the guideline values. The WHO suggests that specific interventions are introduced such as changes in infrastructure to reduce aircraft noise levels and exposure.

Stephen Stansfeld is the emeritus professor of psychiatry at Queen Mary University of London and considered one of the world’s leading noise experts. He advised the WHO when it drew up its report into the health implications of noise. “This is not scaremongering,” he says. “The WHO guidelines took more than five years to publish. They are evidence-based and they are health-based.”

Professor Stansfeld explains why noise can harm humans, not just at night-time when sleep is disturbed, but during the day too. “It seems most likely to be a stress response, where people get physiologically aroused by the noise,” he says. “Our brains are programmed to respond to noises. In evolutionary terms, noises were potentially a source of danger. Over a long period, if you are stressed, that can put up your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart attacks.”

The Times recently published an article, outlining the psychological and physiological effects to health generated by noise. It referenced a study that assessed the impact of noise on schoolchildren, including those in London, which revealed the impairment to memory and reading abilities for those located under flight paths.

An example of noise pollution impact on school children:

A study by the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) identifies that over 460 schools around Heathrow are already exposed to aircraft noise levels that can impede memory and learning in children.

If Heathrow is allowed to proceed with their plans for expansion and additional flight paths, the number of schools and pupils in London directly affected by unacceptable noise levels will significantly increase.

Air pollution

2.6 million children in 6,500 schools across Britain attend school in areas where levels of dangerous airborne particles exceed WHO limits.

  • Research from the Health and Environment Alliance found that exposure to toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was close to the legal limit in some schools. NO2 is one of the major air pollutants capable of causing severe health hazards such as pulmonary and coronary artery diseases, as well as stroke.
  • Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is linked to reduced academic performance, headaches, dizziness and poor concentration, were found to be up to three times higher than the threshold for healthy indoor air.
  • In addition the British Heart Foundation, The British Lung Foundation, Unicef UK and Asthma UK have written to the government asking it to adopt the WHO limits for Fine Particle Matter (PM) which is the most dangerous form of air pollution due to its microscopic size which allows them to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream. (Currently the UK has legal limits more than twice as high as those recommended by the WHO).
  • These sources of air pollution are generated by a number of sources including aviation. A new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology confirms the adverse impact of long term exposure to aviation related ozone and fine particulates (specifically PM2.5, the smallest particles) The study considered the health impact of near airport, regional and global emissions, estimating that ‘cruise altitude’ emissions were the most significant contributor to health impacts world-wide, but that emissions from the landing and take-off aircraft cycle were also found to have significant pollution related health impacts for communities living closest to airports.

An example of air pollution impact on school children:< /u>

  • In Westminster 85 out of the 87 schools are located in areas that break the annual limit for NO2;
  • Westminster Council has announced plans for a £1million fund to improve air quality arounds schools and is addressing some of the road surface generated air pollution through the ULEZ and No Idling schemes.

Whilst Westminster Council and other London Councils are starting to take action to address road surface generated air pollution, they are not taking proactive steps to protect our city from the hugely increased aviation generated air and noise pollution. We need the Councils to take decisive action now to prevent the increase in air pollution which would be a direct consequence of the planned Heathrow expansion and the proposed Independent Parallel Approaches over most of London including Westminster.

Heathrow’s expansion plans can still be stopped – and a growing group of head teachers, teachers and parents are looking to do this.

Stop Heathrow Expansion. It is not a done deal. ACT NOW. Sign the petition.

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