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FAA to poll some airport-area residents on noise effects

A large passenger jet passes over the home

A large passenger jet passes over the home of Mary-Grace Tomecki Thursday, May 1, 2014, one of the homes and streets in Floral Park directly in the path of jets landing at JFK airport's runway 22L. Tomecki has been working for years to get officials at the FAA and the Port Authority, which operates the airport, to reduce aircraft noise. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The Federal Aviation Administration will survey thousands of residents living near 20 U.S. airports about how airplane noise affects their lives, officials said.

In the FAA's ongoing effort to re-evaluate the way it measures aircraft noise, the agency this summer will begin sending about 10,000 questionnaires in the mail to individuals around selected airports and contacting another 2,000 by telephone.

The names of the 20 airports, however, are a secret.

"To preserve the integrity of the study, the FAA cannot disclose which communities will be polled," according to its news release Thursday.

Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the FAA, said Monday the agency also won't release questions that will be posed in the surveys, other than to say that they were generated based on the latest recommendation from the International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise. "These questions seek to understand a person's reaction to aircraft noise on a 5-point scale," Brown said.

In 1981, the FAA established the noise metric it uses -- called day-night average sound level, or DNL -- and deems a noise level at 65 DNL or higher in residential neighborhoods as excessive.

The FAA has made federal funding available for soundproofing and other noise mitigation measures to communities exposed to aircraft noise at 65 DNL and above. DNL is a weighted average of all decibel levels in a given 24-hour period. An average vacuum cleaner's noise is 70 decibels. The 70 DNL unweighted equivalent would be listening to the vacuum cleaner continuously for 24 hours.

The FAA, Brown said, is re-evaluating that guideline to determine whether a noise threshold other than 65 DNL should be used.

If the FAA lowers the standard to 55 DNL, as Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and a dozen of his colleagues are calling for, thousands more residents around airports would be eligible for the soundproofing money.

Critics of the current metric, however, said DNL is problematic because it doesn't capture the actual impact noise has on individuals.

"It's not an accurate measure of the pain it causes a person who can't sleep at night," said Kendall Lampkin, executive director of the Town-Village Aircraft Safety & Noise Abatement Committee.

Lampkin and others point out that the current metric only gauges an individual's reaction to aircraft noise and doesn't take other factors into consideration such as the impact on people's health and students' concentration.

For example, a nationwide study conducted by scientists at Harvard University School of Public Health and at Boston University School of Public Health found that people 65 and older who live near airports and under flight paths have a higher risk of being hospitalized for cardiovascular disease. For every 10-decibel increase in airplane noise, the researchers found that hospital admission rates increased 3.5 percent.

"We would like to see the FAA be as concerned about the safety of people on the ground as they are about the safety of people in the air," said Len Schaier, president of, a local advocacy group working to reduce aircraft noise over parts of Nassau County.

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