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ZERO calls for urgent closure of Lisbon airport, citing noise pollution

Claims “accumulated damage to people’s health” has cost almost €9 billion

Portuguese environmental association ZERO is calling for the urgent closure of Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado Airport, which, from 2015 to the present day, “has accumulated damage to people’s health from noise exposure totalling almost €9 billion”.

ZERO hopes that, following the Strategic Environmental Assessment currently underway (to determine the capital’s airport future), “the countdown to the urgent and definitive closure of Humberto Delgado Airport will begin, putting an end to its unaffordable social costs once and for all.” 

The association’s statement, issued today, makes no mention of a report conducted pre-pandemic that highlighted the considerable risks to the health of everybody who ‘works, lives or spends any form of prolonged period of time” near the airport (see below).

But it goes into the costs of damage caused by noise pollution, suggesting this “would pay for at least two new airports in a suitable location with the least possible impact on human health.

“The approximate costs accumulated over this period of 7 years and 10 months, at current prices, are more than €8.75 billion, which means, excluding the years of the pandemic when airport activity was atypical, we are looking at a loss of around €1.3 billion per year, which is equivalent to more than €3.5 million per day”.

The estimate revealed by ZERO for the total of 24 hours a day was made using a counter on its website (https://zero.ong/) that shows in real time the accumulated damage to people from chronic exposure to noise since 2015, when the airport should have closed, according to the 2006 opinion of the Environmental Assessment Commission for the infrastructure development plan.

The NGO says that excessive noise has an impact on 380,000 inhabitants of Lisbon, Loures and Almada.

“Prolonged exposure to airplane noise in the affected areas of greater Lisbon has several adverse consequences for health, first and foremost sleep disturbances, interfering with the quality and quantity of rest needed for the body to function healthily,” notes Zero.

It also increases stress levels and contributes to cardiovascular problems such as hypertension and heart disease, as well as damaging mental health, which can lead to anxiety and depression.

ZERO also points out that aircraft noise has an impact on the property market in Lisbon and Loures.

“(…) Properties close to the airport or under the flight path generally have lower prices compared to other areas of the city. This undervaluation of property will have cost €167 million in 2019,” the NGO explains.

In ZERO’s analysis, the social cost was quantified using a methodology found in international studies which is based on “dose-effect relationships” from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The costs associated with sleep disturbances, discomfort, ischaemic heart disease, hypertension, loss of productivity and the undervaluation of real estate were quantified – these last two factors were not assessed by the working group for the study, and assessment of night-time traffic.

“ZERO estimates that the costs of noise from Humberto Delgado Airport, when calculated according to WHO recommendations, will be significantly higher than the costs calculated according to national legislation.” 

The association recalls that when the airport closes, “the total amount will add up to dozens of millions of euros in irrecoverable damage for the citizens affected”.

And this is before one quantifies the study, released very quietly in 2019, on ‘real health risks posed by jet planes’ due to high concentrations of ultrafine particles expelled into the air.

According to Margarida Lopes, who developed the study within the Sciences Technology and Environmental Engineering Faculty of the New University of Lisbon – 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”.

These ‘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 at the time, and while it is now clear that these particles affect people’s health, there is still no law setting limits on levels of exposure. ND