Image: Incoming plane: Paul Pimenta/ Lusa

Airports authority fails to sound-proof homes

Noise pollution over Lisbon flightpaths “off the scale”

ANA airports authority has not just failed in a pledge to start soundproofing over 500 homes and 23 ‘sensitive buildings’ over flightpaths in and out of Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport, it is nowhere near prepared to act on it.

The Plano de Ação Ruido 2018-2023 (Action Plan against Noise) was approved by APA (the Portuguese environment agency) “after various vetoes, almost three years later than expected. But nothing has happened until now, and no-one knows when the work to be undertaken by ANA/ VINCI will begin”, says Expresso – stressing how various schools and university buildings are affected to the point no-one can talk or hear as planes go over.

Considering flights are back (after the crisis suffered by the airline industry due to the pandemic) operating every three minutes, noise has returned to seriously affecting lessons/ lectures, and the concentration of all those taking part in them.

The Action Plan Against Noise was meant to play out in two phases. The first, taking in 46 apartment blocks in which 800 people reside; the second targeted including 12,000 more residents – just the tip of the iceberg of people affected by noise pollution as a result of living close to flightpaths.

In other words, the 500 homes and 23 sensitive buildings (meaning crèches, health centres, hospitals and clinics) are just a proportion of phase one.

APA has estimated a total of 57,000 people are affected by noise pollution due to Lisbon air traffic – and right now, all these residents are experiencing decibel (db) levels far superior to both legal and health limits.

For example, nighttime noise from aircraft exceeds 65db for many people living in the Loures area, when the legal limit during the day is 55db (and only 45db for ‘sensitive buildings’). The World Health Organisation however would prefer to see this even lower (45db during the day, 40db at night).

The problem with prolonged exposure to noise pollution is that it seriously impacts on people’s health, principally affecting sleep patterns, humour, stress and blood pressure levels, capacity for concentration, even ability to work. Noise pollution also causes headaches, explains Expresso.

Lisbon is the second worst European capital for exposure to noise from air traffic, according to environmental association ZERO”, the paper adds. 

ZERO’s president Francisco Ferreira said the inaction on sound-proofing homes “reveals the total ineptitude of authorities (both ANA and APA) with the collusion of local municipalities and the government.

“All promises made have been purely and simply broken”, he said – “and now we are on the cusp of another summer with flight movements forecast at being equal or more than in 2019”.

This isn’t the only area in which ANA has broken its promises. The airports authority has also committed to creating an online platform for property owners to candidate for finance towards double-glazing and other forms of sound-proofing so that decibels heard in the home can be kept below 50 – as well as a webtrak platform with realtime information charting the number of flights coming in and out of the capital, and the decibels their movements are likely to cause.

Regarding webtrack, ANA has told Expresso “it is in the final phase”, stressing that “significant work has been done, although it is not visible”.

As the paper stresses, the delays in all these improvements to the lives of thousands of citizens are being blamed on the pandemic/ the crisis in the aviation sector – and the need to actually work out how to pay for them.

“ANA affirms that it is identifying sources of finance to comply with the polluter pays principle broadly defined in national and community legislation. The idea is to apply a tax on the noisiest flights that reverts to a fund that pays for the planned interventions”, says Expresso.

No word on study that highlighted ‘real health risks posed by jet planes’

Expresso’s story this weekend did not refer to the report, released very quietly in 2019 that concluded that people who “work, live or spend any form of prolonged period of time” near Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport “are exposed to high concentrations of ultrafine particles of such magnitude that constitutes a considerable risk to their health”.

Lead investigator Margarida Lopes – who developed the study within the Sciences Technology and Environmental Engineering Faculty of the New University of Lisbon- explained that some of these particles are “700 times less dense than a strand of hair”, yet they can precipitate problems that range from “neurological disorders to fetal development and cognitive problems in children”.

The report came out in the context that the government and ANA at the time were pushing for the construction of yet another airport to service the city in Montijo, another high-density residential area.

The ‘nanoparticles’ were found to float about within a radius of at least one km, and they were particularly found on airplane descent paths in busy commercial areas like Amoreiras.

Lopes stressed that “until a few years ago, no one even suspected that particles so minuscule could have such a large impact on health”. Their measurement – and recognition of their prejudicial effects on public health – is “recent” and there is a “growing preoccupation, due to their direct absorption by the body, through the respiratory system”.

Nanoscience is very new, TSF radio concluded in its text on the study, and while it is now clear that these particles affect people’s health, there is still no law setting limits on levels of exposure.

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