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In light of the proposed expansion of Bristol airport will damage air quality, increase noise pollution and contribute to climate change, all of which are significant threats to human health. If you live in Bristol and work in health then please consider signing this letter calling on the Council to commit to preventing the expansion of Bristol airport. 

Dear Councillors,

Dear Councillors,

         Re: Bristol Airport, North Side Road, Felton, Wrington BS48 3DP
         Planning application: 18/P/5118/OUT

Medact Bristol is a network of healthcare professionals living and working in the Bristol area. We are writing to express our opposition to the proposed expansion of Bristol Airport. We are deeply concerned that any expansion of the airport would constitute a significant threat to human health.

We call on you to commit to preventing the expansion of Bristol Airport.

We detail specific health concerns below.

1.  Air Quality

Increasing capacity at Bristol Airport will involve increased emissions from aeroplanes and increased emissions from vehicular transport to and from the airport. Together, these will worsen air quality in the Bristol area. We can expect that surface emissions will be increased by 9,500 additional vehicle movements per day. That is 13,000 - 28,000 private vehicle journeys per day to and from the airport.

Premature deaths, of which an estimated 16000 a year globally are attributable to aviation emissions, are mostly due to the PM and ozone released during take off and landing (Yim et al 2013).  For those populations who live within 20km of an airport an estimated 5000 people will suffer a premature death due to aviation emissions.

A recent study by Kings College London examining the Public Health Implications of air pollution from particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide found evidence of decreased life expectancy of children born and growing up in high levels of exposure (Dajnak et al 2019). In adults, exposure to these pollutants is linked to increased risk of heart and lung disease including lung cancer (Pope III 2002), obesity, stroke, asthma and diabetes (RCP & RCPCH 2019). Mental health is also at risk, with a recent meta-analysis concluding that an increase in ambient PM is strongly associated with increased depression risk in the general population (Gu et al 2019), as well as studies showing a link between poor air quality and dementia (Carey 2018).

It has been shown that exposure to air pollution in pregnancy can cause low birth weight, in particular fetal head size (Turner et al 2017). Low birth weight is associated with morbidity later in life such as coronary artery disease, type two diabetes and asthma.

These health effects exert an economic toll for individuals, businesses and health services.  In the UK, the costs due to poor air quality are estimated at more than £20 billion every year (RCP & RCPCH 2019).

2. Noise pollution

Under the planned expansion there would be a flight every three minutes, up to 4000 night flights and thousands of additional residents being ‘flown over’. 
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognise noise as an ‘underestimated threat’ that has significant Public Health effects. They advise decibel (dB) levels of less than 30db(A) in a bedroom for good quality sleep, and less than 35 db(A) in a classroom for effective learning.  The average dB level of an aircraft taking off is in the order of 100dB.

Noise pollution is linked to sleep disturbance and heart disease.  Furthermore it has been shown to have a greater effect on the very young; the WHO states there is “consistent evidence that noise exposure harms cognitive performance; consistent association with impaired well-being and motivation to a slightly more limited extent [and] moderate evidence of effects on blood pressure and catecholamine hormone secretion."

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) list stress, annoyance, sleep disruption, and poor performance at school and work as the recognised effects of noise pollution from airports.

It is therefore clear that the additional noise pollution generated by increased capacity at Bristol Airport would cause morbidity and premature death for the residents of North Somerset and Bristol.

3.  Climate Change

The negative environmental impacts of the proposed expansion of Bristol Airport are far greater, both in terms of CO2 and non-COs gases, than is stated in the planning application (Gibbs 2019) and would therefore contribute significantly to the climate emergency. The advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recently stated the UK's planned increase in aviation needs to be curbed. This expansion directly contravenes this advice.

Climate change is the ‘biggest global health threat of the 21st century’ (Lancet, 2009). The WHO predicts that between 2030 and 2050 there will be an additional 250,000 deaths from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and dehydration due to climate chaos.  Climate change is also linked to more chaotic extremes of not only heat but also rain and therefore flooding. This will lead to more problems with contaminated water sources, diarrhoeal disease and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, as well as contributing to a situation where food is less abundant and more expensive. The UN has also stated that climate change is putting ‘the food security of billions of people at risk’. Furthermore, weather chaos will lead to damage and access difficulties to healthcare bases such as hospitals and GP surgeries, strangling the ability of healthcare workers to deliver efficient care and preventing good access for patients.

These wide ranging issues will have direct and tangible negative effects on local residents. Climate change threatens the health and wellbeing of people in our community on our planet and threatens the very existence of the next generation.

In conclusion, we assert that pursuing airport expansion endangers the health and wellbeing of people in Bristol and North Somerset. We present evidence to show the threats to health caused by 3 mechanisms relating to the proposed expansion; worsening air quality, noise pollution and contributions to climate breakdown. We also point out the significant economic costs of these health impacts. We therefore believe there is a moral obligation and duty of care to residents to act now and oppose airport expansion. 

Many thanks for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Grace Thompson MbChB (Hons), BSC (Hons), MRCGP
Dr Helen Bowers MBChB, MRCGP, MRes (Dist), BSC (Hons)
Dr Lucy Pocock
Dr Patrick Hart


Costello, A et al. (2009)  Managing the health effects of climate change, Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60935-1

Gu, X., Liu, Q., Deng, F., Wang, X., Lin, H., Guo, X., & Wu, S. (2019). Association between particulate matter air pollution and risk of depression and suicide: systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal Of Psychiatry, 215(2), 456-467. doi: 10.1192/bjp.2018.295

Gibbs, A. (2019). Just plane wrong: Bristol Airport’s expansion application [Blog]. Retrieved from http://www.isonomia.co.uk/just-plane-wrong-bristol-airports-expansion-ap...

Huang, I., Mak, D., Cheung, P., Abraham, M., Clemens, T., & Turner, S. (2019). A systematic review of associations between maternal exposures during pregnancy other than smoking and antenatal fetal measurements. Environmental Research, 173, 528-538. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.04.005

Yim, S., Stettler, M., & Barrett, S. (2013). Air quality and public health impacts of UK airports. Part II: Impacts and policy assessment. Atmospheric Environment, 67, 184-192. doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2012.10.017

Carey IM, Anderson HR, Atkinson RW, et al. Are noise and air pollution related to the incidence of dementia? A cohort study in London, England. BMJ Open 2018;8:e022404. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2018-022404

Pope III, C. (2002). Lung Cancer, Cardiopulmonary Mortality, and Long-term Exposure to Fine Particulate Air Pollution. JAMA, 287(9), 1132. doi: 10.1001/jama.287.9.1132

RCP & RCPCH. (2019). Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution. RCP policy: public health. Retrieved from https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelo...

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