Warning of Third Runway Impact on Schoolchildren
A third runway at Heathrow could place thousands more children at risk of sleep, reading and memory problems
Teddington Action Group (TAG), campaigning against Heathrow expansion, has written to all headteachers in London to alert them to the findings of a report published by the Airports Commission, which admits that thousands of extra children could experience sleep, reading and memory problems as a result of a third runway at Heathrow.
TAG’s letter, which coincides with the start of the new school year, highlights the findings of the report “Aircraft noise effects on health”, which was published on 1 July 2015 by the Airports Commission. The report points to evidence of the health and educational effects on children of aviation noise, which include:
• sleep disturbance and changes in sleep structure
• decreased quality of life
• decreased reading performance
The report estimates that an additional 24 schools will suffer from aircraft noise above the maximum levels recommended by the World Health Organisation if a third runway is built. The national average school size is 220 pupils per primary school and 950 pupils per secondary school, so this would result in somewhere between 5,280 to 22,800 extra children at risk of decreased educational attainment.
Incredibly, this document was only published on 1 July as a separate addendum to the Airports Commission’s final report. Its content does not feature within the main body of the Commission’s report and its content was not subject to public consultation.
TAG’s letter urges headteachers to write to the Secretary of State for Education, asking her to ensure that the effects of airport expansion on children are given appropriate consideration by the Government when it decides whether to accept the Airports Commission’s recommendation to build a third runway at Heathrow.
A spokesperson for TAG said:
“Any parent will be very concerned about the findings of this latest research. The fact that they hardly get a mention in the Commission’s 342 page final report shows how little weight the Commission placed on the human cost of airport expansion. This report highlights that it will be the younger generations that will pay the highest price of expansion.”
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1. The report “Aircraft noise effects on health” was prepared by Dr Charlotte Clark, a respected researcher at Barts & the London School of Medicine. The report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/…/noise-aircraft-noise-effects-on-health…
2. The report was only published on 1 July 2015, alongside the Commission’s final report and it provides an assessment of impacts of aircraft noise of the three shortlisted runway options. Interested parties did not have the opportunity to comment on its content as part of the Airport Commission’s consultation process.
3. Dr Clark’s report summarises the current evidence on the health and educational impacts of aviation noise, acknowledging that:
• Evidence for children concluded that there were associations between aircraft noise and high blood pressure, which may have implications for adult health (p.2);
• Children aged 9-11 years of age living near London Heathrow reported annoyance for aircraft noise exposure at school and at home (p.9);
• Night-time noise is associated with sleep disturbance and changes in sleep structure. Aircraft noise exposure during the evening and early morning also has relevance for the health and sleep quality of the local population, and may be particularly relevant for children (p.18).
• Based on current evidence, aircraft noise might be associated with decreased quality of life (p.19);
• Many studies have found effects of aircraft noise exposure at school or home on children’s reading comprehension or memory skills. One study, which included 9-10 year old children from schools around London Heathrow, found that aircraft noise was associated with poorer reading comprehension and poorer recognition memory. The same study indicated that as aircraft noise exposure increased, reading performance decreased (p.19).
• The development of cognitive skills such as reading and memory is important, not only in terms of education but also subsequent life chances and adult heath (p,19).