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ARTICLES Table of Contents   
Year : 2004  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 22  |  Page : 65-67
Special assessment of aircraft noise effects during night by the Council of Experts for Environmental Questions of FRG

Institute and Outpatient Clinic for Occupational and Social Medicine of the Carl Gustav Carus Medical Faculty, Technological University of Dresden, FRG

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The "Special Assessment of Environment and Health" (SAEH) by the Council of Experts for Environmental Questions of Federal Republic of Germany is presented regarding to it's statements concerning the consequences of aircraft noise during night. Considering the issue of sustainability it is emphasized that lower limit values of the validity of scientific results need to be accepted. As the discussion of the literature shows the statements of the Council are rather vague and warily. This is a question of used parameters of noise effects during the night as well as its interpretation. It seems necessary to utilize a hierarchical structure of limit values and with interpretation of the term "threshold" as normal physiological reactions. More investigations are necessary in this field.

Keywords: aircraft noise, night, health disturbances

How to cite this article:
Scheuch K. Special assessment of aircraft noise effects during night by the Council of Experts for Environmental Questions of FRG. Noise Health 2004;6:65-7

How to cite this URL:
Scheuch K. Special assessment of aircraft noise effects during night by the Council of Experts for Environmental Questions of FRG. Noise Health [serial online] 2004 [cited 2023 Mar 31];6:65-7. Available from: https://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?2004/6/22/65/31671
I have received the unenviable task of presenting a report on a subject you are all well acquainted with, the "Special Assessment of Environment and Health" (SAEH) by the Council of Experts for Environmental Questions (1999). I will attempt to highlight some of the problems which from my point of view are relevant to the subject of our workshop.

In 1994 the Environmental Council made an attempt to supplement the guiding principle of sustainability with preventive health protection. Up till then, sustainability had consisted exclusively of considerations of ecological and economic resources. From my point of view, the extended rule, steering the activities of the guiding principle of sustainable environmental development, was also applied to noise in the assessment of 1999. This assessment provided a general contribution to estimation and evaluation of environmental risks. Among other aspects it pursues the question as to whether scientific uncertainty - lack of knowledge of causal associations - had been adequately accounted for in the methods of risk estimation. In this process, the assessment firmly abides by the reasoning behind risk estimation and evaluation, but also adopts the position of "accepting a lower degree of certainty in scientific knowledge for pragmatic reasons if necessary, and of taking a provisional risk evaluation as starting point for preventive measures" (SAEH 1999, P. 1). As I see it, the expression "if necessary" most certainly applies in large measure to regulations limiting night-flight noise.

The Council of Experts for Environmental Questions assumes that considerable need of counseling exists in our society on the subject of noise. The council is of the opinion that health impairment by noise tends to be more than underestimated by the public and in politics. From my point of view, however, this concerns not only a need for counseling but above all for research, since we have to note a considerable deficit in knowledge on a series of problem areas of noise effects. Disregarding a few concrete results derived from the new formulation of laws, e.g. the German Aircraft Noise Protection Act, one cannot recognize an adequate weighting of noise problems in our society as far as I can tell.

Section of the SAEH "Impairment of sleep by noise" (SAEH, Pp. 174 -179) is characterized by lack of harmonization in comparison to other subjective topics. The Environmental Council seems to be having difficulties in arriving at a decision and devising its own proposals on the basis of the available data. The results cited are mainly without reference to any specific position.

A literature study by Maschke et al. (1997) on behalf of the Federal Environmental Agency takes up an essential part of this section. Reference is made to 35 studies, of which only 5 are specifically concerned with aircraft noise, and 2 with road traffic and aircraft noise. The table was shown by Maschke to this colloquium (see contribution by Maschke). As I see it, the data is too differential for generalization of these investigation results, the individual items are hardly comparable either.

In [Table - 1] these results are arranged by me under the aspect of significant changes. This precedes the large number of indicators, where the same designations are mostly based on different parameters. For this reason it comes as no surprise that the number of genuinely significant changes recorded in these publications is also small. In addition to this, only a few nights were recorded in some of this work, a series of these articles cover laboratory studies, levels and frequencies fluctuate considerably. The time of night at which noise occurs with a different influence on its effects - unity exists on this point - were only taken into account in a few contributions. The characteristics of individuals play a subordinate role, some of the time only those sensitive to noise were chosen.

Nonetheless, Maschke et al. have derived response thresholds from this literature survey, between 35 and 45 dB(A) for equivalent persistent sound levels, with L max between 45 and 55 dB(A). Response thresholds also include the normal physiological reactions to stress by living beings. In the first instance they only predict that a human being also reacts. The reactions fail to materialize if the human being is sick.

The decisive question, however, is which of the parameters presented in MASCHKE's table and in my table are in fact relevant to health. The Council of Experts for Environmental Questions also confirms that more specifically it has not been clarified "whether and to what extent the immediate reactions to exposure of long duration are responsible for danger to health" (SAEH P. 179/444 ).

Our state of the art today is characterized in that we are unable to make any statement about which of the effects induced by the noise perceived in normal life or in the laboratory may in fact have a negative influence on health. According to Jansen et al. (1999) the awakening reaction is to be viewed as a possible pathophysiological inducement. The Council of Experts for Environmental Questions quotes Jansen that "the criteria L max = 60 dB(A) for the awakening threshold and six times 60 dB(A) for noise induced awakening by dissonance with low informational content can be held to until clarification of the interconnection between physiological immediate reactions and danger to health".

These criteria refer to maximum indoor levels which should not occur frequently or consistently, and whose levels are clearly, i.e. more than 20 dB(A), above the basic value.

However, the different concepts of the consequences of sleep induced noise effects are not only linked to the lack of clarity in the pathophysiological processes and in the meaning of the perceptible noise induced changes. An essential role is also played in that different viewpoints are jumbled together, both in noise effects research and the discussion on noise. "Threshold effects on immediate reactions" are mingled with "favorable conditions for sleep", "the effects of disturbance by noise at night" with "factual impairments of health". A hierarchical way of observing physiological processes at the threshold through to possible health impairments could not only bring uniformity into the discussion on noise, but could also avoid the generation of risks for those affected by irresponsible interpretation of thresholds.

In terms of the effects of noise in sleep the Council of Experts for Environmental Questions has come to the conclusion that "it cannot be excluded that the sleep disturbances observed may cause damage to health and performance capacity in the long run".

In referring to protection from risk, ranging from "proven" through "assumed" to "probably assumable" or "possible", the expression "cannot be excluded" presents an image of the most insufficient feature of our knowledge with regard to sleep induced noise effects. Science has to evaluate the state of knowledge in terms of facts. A succession of questions posed by the physicians of the association to the noise effects researchers at this colloquium has had to be left unanswered at the moment - and that must be said out loudly. It does not, however, absolve science from the responsibility of activity in accordance with the principle of preventive care referred to at the outset, even if scientific insight is not fully secured.[3]

  References Top

1.SAEH: Der Rat von Sachverstandigen fur Umweltfragen (1999): Umwelt und Gesundheit - Risiken richtig einschatzen. Sondergutachten, Metzler-Poschel Stuttgart.  Back to cited text no. 1    
2.Jansen G., Notbohm G., Schwarze S. (1999): Gesundheitsbegriff und Larmwirkungen. Metzler-Poschel Stuttgart.  Back to cited text no. 2    
3.Maschke C., Truba M., Pleines F. (1997): Kriterien fur schadliche Umwelteinwirkungen: Beeintrachtigungen des Schlafes durch Larm - Eine Literaturubersicht - Umweltbundesamt, Forschungsbericht 97 - 105 101213/07.  Back to cited text no. 3    

Correspondence Address:
K Scheuch
Institute and Outpatient Clinic for Occupational and Social Medicine of the Carl Gustav Carus Medical Faculty, Technological University of Dresden, FRG

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 15070531

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