23rd February 2013
Airports and health: experts call for stronger action
In an editorial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) today Professor Jangu Banatvala and Professor Mala Rao give a stark warning once again about the direct health impacts of aviation arising from noise, pollution and the spread of communicable disease and the indirect health impacts arising from greenhouse gas emissions and their effect on climate change.
Professor Banatvala, as well as being an eminent virologist, is medical adviser to Stop Stansted Expansion. Professor Rao is a Professor of International Health with a particular interest in the effects of climate change.
The impact of noise is well documented. In particular it results in poor performance at work from interrupted sleep and impaired learning development in primary school children living near airports. The Government persists, however, in using a completely inappropriate method of measuring ‘significant community annoyance’ and in setting the standards too low. Professors Banatvala and Rao say action on this is ‘well overdue’.
They also emphasise the dangers of air pollution – the probable association with cardiovascular disease and the effects on climate change, all the greater because the impact of emissions from jet aircraft is about twice that from land-based sources.
Stressing the importance of Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) before any policy decisions are made on major developments, so making sure that profits do not take precedence over health, Professors Banatvala and Rao say that the Government’s record on airports is ‘disappointing’, the only HIA being one conducted at Stansted by the owner, BAA. In 2007 the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that HIAs should be mandatory, and should be subject to independent review. ‘Expert Committees may occasionally produce inconvenient truths; the Commission has been disbanded and not replaced.’
The editorial now calls on the Department of Health and the newly designated Public Health England to make their voices heard. ‘So far they have not.’
The chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion, Peter Sanders, welcomed the editorial. “Now that airport expansion is being considered once again, it is essential that the Department of Health and Public Health England pay close and urgent attention to this editorial’s recommendations.”