Noise pollution takes a toll on health

Southwest Airlines plane
A Southwest Airlines passenger jet makes its final approach to Tampa International Airport May 23, 2008, in Tampa, Fla.

For the first time, the Metropolitan Airports Commission has asked national researchers to study the health effects of noise.

We all know that unwanted noise can annoy us, but recent studies have found that noise can lead to a host of health problems such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease - it can even change the way we speak. In children, disruptive noise can affect long-term memory and cause learning disruptions.

As our world gets louder, we examine what we can do to stay healthy. Lorraine Maxwell, Cornell University associate professor of environmental psychology, said noisy homes can be detrimental to children and their parents.

"We've found that if it's noisy in the home all the time, it causes the adults in these homes to become short-tempered and that affects their children," she said. "Children exposed to chronic noise talk differently and their parents speak differently. These individuals are less likely to speak in complete sentences. It's not even that people notice this about themselves; it's just an involuntary response to being in those situations."

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Minimizing environmental noise from airports and freeways becomes a political issue, Maxwell said.

"The FAA tends to plan flight paths over the area with less money; people with more money get the sound barriers near the highway," she said. "There's also a lack of awareness because where there is awareness people take action."

Richard Neitzel, University of Michigan assistant professor of environmental health sciences, will also join the discussion. The United States is behind when it comes to addressing noise pollution, he said.

"The [European Union] is decades ahead of us in how they address and handle noise," Neitzel said. "It's really a shame that America is where it is in regard to noise pollution."