Federal grant will fuel Penn research on health impact of air traffic noise

    A group of University of Pennsylvania researchers will receive part of a $40 million federal grant to study the impact of air traffic noise on health.

    The team of scientists, headed by Mathias Basner of  Penn’s Department of Psychiatry, will focus on the effects of airplane noise on sleep patterns.

    “There are more and more studies coming out now showing that long-term aircraft noise exposure — and not just aircraft but road and rail noise exposure — that that may have consequences on health,” said Basner, an assistant professor of sleep and chronobiology.

    He said research has pointed to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as incidents of hypertension and heart attacks in people that are exposed to aircraft noise for several years.

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    “These studies demonstrate that the aircraft noise exposure at night seems to be especially important for the link between noise exposure and health,” Basner said.

    With the help of the federal grant, Basner’s team will try to determine how much loud noise is too much.

    “This is not black and white — in that the tiniest bit of noise has such an effect that we have to stop the noise overall — but the question is: At what point does the noise exposure exceed a certain level that is not tolerated any more and that could lead to long-term health effects?” he explained.

    Basner hopes that a better understanding of how much noise the human body can tolerate during sleep will lead to better informed policies about where and at what times planes and rail-traffic be allowed.

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