BWI Marshall Airport neighbors in Glen Burnie to receive $4 million in federal funds to mitigate airplane noise

Residents living near BWI Marshall Airport will receive $4 million in federal funding to mitigate the effects of jet noise, U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes announced Tuesday.

People living in more than 220 homes in Glen Burnie will be able to use the money, which comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program, to install insulation that muffles the sound of airplanes passing overhead.

Beginning in 2015, when the FAA implemented new flight patterns at BWI under the Next Generation Air Transportation System, some people living below the planes’ paths have complained of unrelenting noise.

The changes, which were meant to save airlines money and cut down on delays, led to airplanes flying lower over residences in Anne Arundel and Howard counties than they had previously.

Through the DC Metroplex BWI Community Roundtable, which acts as a liaison between communities and the FAA, residents have pushed for changes that would address the increased noise pollution. A state bill the group supported that would have created a commission to study the airport’s health impacts failed in the General Assembly this spring.

BWI Roundtable member and former chair Mary Reese was pleased about the newly announced mitigation funds but said the majority of Maryland residents who have raised concerns about BWI flight noise live farther from the airport itself.

“I’m very happy for anyone to get noise mitigation, but the amount of people impacted by NextGen, a good portion of them are located outside of Glen Burnie,” Reese said, including areas that historically had never dealt with jet noise, unlike towns located next to BWI.

In 2021, BWI received more than half a million noise complaints, according to the Maryland Aviation Administration. The communities that have submitted the most out of the nearly 200,000 complaints made so far this year are Ellicott City, Columbia and Severn.

A shortcoming of home noise mitigation is that it only works while people are inside, Reese said.

“If you want to have any outdoor enjoyment, open your windows, then that mitigation is not going to allow you to have peaceful enjoyment of your entire property,” she said.

Dr. Zafar Zafari, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, has studied the health and economic impacts of aviation noise, which has been linked to health problems.

“The hard endpoints that have been mostly quantified have been cardiovascular diseases, including coronary heart disease, anxiety, depression, sensitivity to noise,” Zafari said.

A long-term study on BWI that Zafari expects to present to the Maryland Department of Transportation by the end of the summer models the long-term health and economic effects of plane noise, including potential productivity losses and higher insurance burdens.

Zafari also co-authored a 2017 study on the cost-effectiveness of installing sound insulation in homes to protect residents from aircraft noise. Using LaGuardia Airport in New York as a case study, the researchers found the cost of noise mitigation measures was well worth the health benefits.

While Zafari says he believes funding for noise mitigation is a good thing, he wonders whether alternative flight patterns might better address the root cause of noise complaints.

“The very first question is if there is a way to avoid the problem in the first place,” he said, by creating an air traffic system that takes into account public health outcomes. “You not only optimize your paths, you optimize the public health.”