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All shook up near BWI Jet noise: Anne Arundel neighborhood beset by new annoyance, low-frequency vibrations.


WHEN PEOPLE think of airport noise, they typically think of the piercing high-frequency screech of jet engines.

Residents of the Allwood neighborhood, just east of Baltimore-Washington International Airport in northern Anne Arundel County, find they are disturbed more by the low-frequency variety, which rattle and shake their houses several times an hour.

Unfortunately for about 80 Allwood families, until recently most airport noise suppression programs were oriented only toward the high-frequency sound waves. Just last year, acoustical engineers documented that low-frequency waves from jets taking off are responsible for Allwood's noise problems. As a result, a previous $25-million noise mitigation program for neighborhoods near the airport had failed to account for these families. State and federal officials are attempting to determine methods of diminishing the effects of the low-frequency sound waves that roll off departing airplanes.

Allwood was not included in the airport's original 11,000-acre noise zone but was added in 1993. As airlines have added quieter planes, this noise zone has shrunk. Residents who have moved to Allwood in the past decade or so have the additional problem that they forfeited their rights to sue BWI Airport or the Federal Aviation Administration by yielding "aviation easements" in purchasing their homes.

Residents whose home-ownership predated the growth of the noise problem, however, are legitimately worried that the matter will be swept under the rug because of the high cost. Engineers estimate it may take about $30,000 each to soundproof the Allwood houses. The problem is not confined to BWI, either. If engineers determine that low-frequency noise requires special attention, residents living in the flight paths of other airports may be eligible for soundproofing. The FAA might be liable for an estimated $100 million in claims.

If low-frequency sound is disturbing Allwood, its long-time residents should be treated no differently than others who suffered from the effects of high-frequency sound in the shadow of the burgeoning public airport known as Friendship International when it opened 47 years ago. Although the sources of the disturbance are different, the decline in the quality of life for residents is as significant.

Pub Date: 12/26/96

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