EarthTalk: What are the health and environmental
issues associated with the noise and air pollution at airports?
-- John Cermak, via e-mail
Researchers have known for years that exposure to excessively-loud
noise can cause changes in blood pressure as well as changes
in sleep and digestive patterns--all signs of stress on the
human body. The very word “noise” itself derives
from the Latin word “noxia,” which means injury
On a 1997 questionnaire distributed to two groups--one living
near a major airport, and the other in a quiet neighborhood--two-thirds
of those living near the airport indicated they were bothered
by aircraft noise, and most said that it interfered with their
daily activities. The same two-thirds complained more than
the other group of sleep difficulties, and also perceived
themselves as being in poorer health.
Perhaps even more alarming, the European Commission, which
governs the European Union (E.U.), considers living near an
airport to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease and
stroke, as increased blood pressure from noise pollution can
trigger these more serious maladies. The E.U. estimates that
20 percent of Europe’s population--or about 80 million
people--are exposed to airport noise levels it considers unhealthy
Airport noise can also have negative effects on children’s
health and development. A 1980 study examining the impact
of airport noise on children’s health found higher blood
pressure in kids living near Los Angeles’ LAX airport
than in those living farther away. A 1995 German study found
a link between chronic noise exposure at Munich’s International
Airport and elevated nervous system activity and cardiovascular
levels in children living nearby. And a 2005 study published
in the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, found
that kids living near airports in Britain, Holland and Spain
lagged behind their classmates in reading by two months for
every five decibel increase above average noise levels in
their surroundings. The study also associated aircraft noise
with lowered reading comprehension, even after socio-economic
differences were considered.
Living near an airport also means facing significant exposure
to air pollution. Jack Saporito of the U.S. Citizens Aviation
Watch Association (CAW), a coalition of concerned municipalities
and advocacy groups, cites several studies linking pollutants
common around airports--such as diesel exhaust, carbon monoxide
and leaked chemicals--to cancer, asthma, liver damage, lung
disease, lymphoma, myeloid leukemia, and even depression.
CAW is lobbying for the clean up of jet engine exhaust as
well as the scrapping or modification of airport expansion
plans across the country.
Another group working on this issue is Chicago’s Alliance
of Residents Concerning O’Hare, which lobbies and conducts
extensive public education campaigns in an effort to cut noise
and pollution and rein in expansion plans at the world’s
busiest airport. According to the group, five million area
residents may be suffering adverse health effects as a result
of O’Hare, only one of four major airports in the region.
CONTACTS: Alliance of Residents Concerning
U.S. Citizens Aviation Watch Association, www.us-caw.org.
COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES
cork wine stoppers are the best environmental choice because
their harvesting keeps the world’s relatively small
population of cork oak trees alive.
What is better for the environment, cork wine
stoppers, or plastic or screw tops? -- Susan Wolniakowski,
Though you might be surprised, natural cork wine stoppers
are the best choice, primarily because harvesting the real
stuff is an age-old practice that keeps the world’s
relatively small population of cork oak trees, which can live
for hundreds of years, alive. These scattered pockets of cork
oaks, mostly in Portugal and Spain, thrive in the hot, arid
conditions of the southern Mediterranean, sheltering a wide
array of biodiversity and helping to protect the soil from
In addition, some wildlife depends upon cork oak forests for
their survival, including the Iberian lynx and the Barbary
deer, as well as rare birds such as the Imperial Iberian eagle,
the black stork and the Egyptian mongoose. As wine producers
switch to other types of wine stoppers, the cork oak forests
could be abandoned and the trees and the myriad plants and
animals that depend on them could die out.
While 70 percent of wine bottles still contain natural cork
stoppers, plastic and glass alternatives have been coming
on strong in recent years. Indeed, more and more winemakers
around the world are switching to alternatives, citing benefits
including the avoidance of cork mold that can taint wine and
the ability to more easily re-close opened bottles. In Australia
and New Zealand--both promising upstarts on the global wine
scene--the majority of wine producers use screw caps, mainly
because they can make them cheaply instead of paying the relatively
high price of importing the natural cork.
But the increasing popularity around the world of screw caps
and plastic stoppers has cork producers and environmentalists
alike worried. In a recent report, “Cork Screwed,”
the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) predicts that, at the current
rate of adoption by wine producers, screw caps and other synthetic
non-cork wine stoppers will dominate the market by 2015, calling
into question the future of Mediterranean cork forests. In
order to stem the tide, the organization is supporting efforts
by Portuguese cork producers to certify their practices as
sustainable by the non-profit Forest Stewardship Council (FSC),
which promotes sustainable, economically-viable forestry practices
around the world.
“Cork oak forests rank among the top biodiversity hotspots
in the Mediterranean and in Europe. At the same time, they
are the backbone of an entire economy,” says Nora Berrahmouni,
coordinator of WWF's Cork Oak Landscapes program. “FSC
certification will reinforce the already environmentally friendly
characteristics of the cork economy, leading to new opportunities
in cork markets,” she adds.
Public opinion will undoubtedly be what calls the day, and
producers of plastic stoppers and metal screw caps are working
hard to overcome the stigma associated with using their products,
as most consumers still associate non-cork stoppers with cheap
wine. For now, the world’s premiere winemakers in Europe
are still bullish on the cork reserves in their own backyards.
And wine enthusiasts everywhere can do their part to help
the environment by choosing wines with natural cork stoppers.
CONTACTS: Forest Stewardship Council, www.fsc.org/en/whats_new/news/news_notes/23;
“Cork Screwed,” http://assets.panda.org/downloads/cork_rev12_print.pdf.