(Cypress Hansen/ Knowable Magazine) — In 2011, Germany’s Frankfurt Airport — the country’s busiest — unveiled its fourth runway. The addition sparked major protests, with demonstrators returning to the airport every Monday for years. “It’s destroying my life,” one protester told Reuters a year later. “Every time I go into my garden, all I can hear and see are planes right above.”
The new runway also channeled dozens of aircraft directly over the house of Thomas Münzel, a cardiologist at the University Medical Center of Mainz. “I have lived close to the German Autobahn and close to inner city train tracks,” he says. “Aircraft noise is the most annoying by far.” Münzel had read a 2009 World Health Organization report linking noise to heart problems, but evidence at the time was thin. Driven in part by concern for his own health, in 2011 he shifted the focus of his research to learn more.
Exposure to loud noise has long been linked with hearing loss. But the ruckus of planes and cars takes a toll beyond the ears: Traffic noise has been flagged as a major physiological stressor, second to air pollution and on roughly equal footing with exposure to secondhand smoke and radon. (…)