By Seth Daniel
After demanding a noise study be conducted using City funds, a Boston University School of Public Health commissioned noise study has revealed in writing what everyone in Chelsea already knew anecdotally – that the airport is driving everyone crazy.
“Overall, it is clear that Chelsea residents are exposed to higher noise levels attributed to aviation relative to many comparison communities and that those noise levels have been increasing in recent years at higher rates than in many other communities,” read the report conclusion. “These exposures have increased over the past five years, and they have increased at a faster rate in Chelsea than in many surrounding communities. Further, unlike East Boston and Winthrop, Chelsea does not fall within the FAA-defined 65 dB DNL contour required for soundproofing eligibility. Given this fact and the age of the housing stock in Chelsea, residents of Chelsea may have among the highest actual exposures to airport-related noise in the region.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino delivered the study to the Council on Monday night at its meeting, with the results being exactly what sponsoring Councillor Dan Cortell and Roy Avellaneda expected.
“Everyone who lives here know there are more flights and they are louder,” said Cortell, who represents the Admiral’s Hill area. “Now it’s time to put full-court pressure on the airport and the federal agencies we’re dealing with here. Someone in Washington, D.C., is sitting in an office looking at a map of Chelsea and making decisions and they don’t understand topography. They don’t understand we have planes on Admiral’s Hill skimming buildings.”
Said Avellaneda, “I hope this starts a dialog or plan of action for what I feel is a negative impact on our community. We definitely face disadvantages…This is not a battle between one councillor or two councillors. The whole Council and the whole community have to win…This report just proves everything we have been saying for the last few years.”
The report was called for earlier this year, and it was undertaken on behalf of the City by the Center for Research on Environmental and Social Stressors in Housing Across the Life Course (CRESSH), which is a division of the BU School of Public Health. Those involved in the study included Jonathan Levy, Claire Schollaert and Madeleine Scammell (a Chelsea resident).
The two chief questions being asked where airport noise ranked in Chelsea compared to other nearby communities, and also how high were airport-related noise exposures compared to other nearby communities.
The study looked at noise levels by Census block for the years 2007 to 2015. The finding showed Chelsea had an average decibel level in 2015 that was one of the highest among comparison communities.
“Taken as a simple average, only Winthrop and East Boston had higher average noise levels,” read the report. “Additionally, within Chelsea, neighborhoods that are closer to the 33L (runway) flight path are exposed to higher noise levels than those that are farther away from the flight path. Looking at noise levels between 2011 and 2015, there has been a general increase in all communities investigated, with Chelsea, East Boston, and Everett having the largest increases in average airport- related noise as measured in DNL. These communities are located directly beneath the 33L departure flight path.”
One of the chief reasons for that is researchers found that flights have nearly doubled between 2012 and 2014 under the Runway 33L flight path, which is Chelsea’s main source of airplane traffic.
“The sharpest increase in annual average estimated airport-related noise levels occurred between 2013 and 2014, with Chelsea, East Boston, and Everett showing the most significant increases among communities investigated,” read the report. “Flight activity on 33L almost doubled between 2012 and 2014, and this timing also aligned with the implementation of the NextGen satellite-based navigation program that concentrated flight paths into and out of Logan Airport.”
NextGen is a frequently reviled innovation in airplane navigation technology in communities where flight paths are concentrated. The technology came on in recent years and it uses GPS technology to pinpoint flight paths and eliminate deviation. That serves to concentrate jet noise to one corridor over and over, rather than spreading it out over a wider area.
The study also sought to look at some health indicators in Chelsea, and showed that the city’s annual average age-adjusted rates of hospital admissions for heart attacks is the highest by far of the comparison communities between 2007 and 2012.
There were 44 hospitalizations per 10,000 people age 35 and over, with the nearest community being Hull with 37 and Everett with 36.
“To be clear, this does not imply that the noise or air pollution from Logan Airport is the cause of these disease patterns,” read the report. “Rather, this increased cardiovascular health burden among Chelsea residents, related to a number of different factors, indicates that Chelsea may be particularly vulnerable to increased noise exposures as a result of aviation activity.”
The Council agreed to hold a Committee on Conference in the near future to discuss the report and generate a plan. Councillors are calling for more of the City to get mitigation measures like soundproofing and parks – as well as a sensitivity to Chelsea’s predicament from MassPort that some councillors believe is missing.
“Chelsea has a lot of fourth and fifth generation residents who have been here since the late 1800s,” said Councillor Matt Frank. “I am one. Councillor Murphy is another. When the airport says we were here before you, that’s not exactly true. It’s kind of insulting.”