For too many of our constituents, noise from aircraft, cars and truck, and a variety of other sources is a constant source of torment. Like air or water pollution, noise pollution is a very real problem for millions of Americans across the country.
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 25 million Americans are exposed to noise levels that can lead to psychological and physiological damage, including cardiovascular problems, strokes, and nervous disorders. Another 40 million people are exposed to noise levels that cause sleep deprivation and work disruption. Unfortunately, for more than 15 years the federal government's role in addressing noise pollution has been virtually dormant.
As population growth continues to lead to increased and air and vehicular traffic, noise pollution will become an even greater problem. The well-being of our constituents demands that the Environmental Protection Agency, the lead federal agency for the protection of public health and welfare, once again assume a role in combatting noise pollution.
Last year, I introduced the "Quiet Communities Act," which would re-ignite the war on noise pollution by reauthorizing the EPA's Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC). ONAC was established under the Noise Control Act of 1972, but has not received funding since 1981. My bill would authorize $5 million annually (increasing to $8 million in FY 2000) for ONAC to coordinate federal noise abatement activities, provide technical assistance to local communities, update or develop new noise standards, and promote research and education on the impacts of noise pollution. The bill would also direct the EPA to conduct a study of the impact of aircraft noise on major metropolitan areas and recommend new measures the Federal Aviation Administration could implement to mitigate these impacts. The Natural Resources Defense Council has endorsed my legislation.
The time has come to re-establish the Environmental Protection Agency's role in combatting noise pollution. If you would like to cosponsor the "Quiet Communities Act of 1997," please contact Tod Preston at extension 56506.
Current cosponsors: Shays, Yates, Morella, Frost, Skaggs, Nadler, Schumer, Pallone, Lewis (GA), Sabo, Vento, Maloney, Jackson-Lee
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Background: The FAA is primarily responsible for studying noise around airports for a variety of purposes, including the development of compatible land use plans and noise abatement programs. Unfortunately, it uses a methodology and threshold (an average noise measurement and threshold summarized as 65 Ldn) for measuring noise impacts that is flawed in two significant respects: (1) as an average noise measurement, the Ldn methodology masks the tremendous single-events of noise that are the most significant aspect of aircraft noise, and (2) by setting a threshold of 65 Ldn, the FAA presupposes the level at which people are annoyed or impacted by aircraft noise and ignores evidence that would require more thorough analysis and mitigation on a case-by-case basis.
EPA involvement in aircraft noise: In the 1970 Clean Air Act, Congress authorized the establishment of the Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC). ONAC was established to study noise and its effects on public health and welfare, and to consult with other federal agencies on noise-related issues. Among ONAC's responsibilities were to determine noise effects at various levels, to project growth in noise levels over time, and to determine the psychological effects of noise on humans. Although $30 million was authorized for these purposes, no funds have been appropriated for ONAC since 1981.
Why EPA should study aircraft noise: The absence of EPA in the airport noise debate is striking in many respects. FAA's mandates involve overseeing the operation of the national aviation system, while EPA is more traditionally responsible for matters of public health. Each year, new studies show potential links between extremely high noise levels and health and quality of life, ranging from sleep disturbance and task interruption to a variety of potential cardiovascular and psychological impacts. More study is certainly necessary. Nevertheless, EPA has consistently differed with FAA - and advocated stricter measures - on the selection of noise measurement technologies, on the threshold of noise at which health impacts are felt, and on the implementation of noise abatement programs at airports around the nation. Unfortunately, without adequate funding to conduct independent research, EPA has been largely unable to rebut FAA arguments. Ongoing inter-agency debate is stifled by the FAA's near-monopoly over federal noise research.