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William Meecham, 77; Studied Effects of Airport Noise

March 17, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

William C. Meecham, a UCLA expert on airport noise and its effects on human health and longevity, has died. He was 77.

Meecham died Tuesday in Santa Monica of heart failure.

After joining the UCLA faculty in 1967, Meecham became chairman of what is now the mechanical aerospace engineering department and from 1970 on concentrated his research on acoustics, particularly in relation to airport noise.

In the late 1970s and in 1982, Meecham conducted studies showing that people living near Los Angeles International Airport suffered increased mortality from suicides, homicides, heart disease and strokes because of increased tension, anxiety and fear.

He also linked the constant noise exposure to hearing loss and increased mental illness and cirrhosis of the liver from excess drinking of alcohol.

"All of us have been under incoming flights. It's exciting the first few times," he told the media in 1983, "but if you don't anticipate it, it elicits a mixed reaction of fear and anger, a kind of animal reaction, to noise so deafening over and over again day and night."

Meecham's testimony in court and in administrative hearings over noise complaints helped lead to reforms at LAX -- such as relocating schools out of flight paths and reversing landing patterns at night so that planes flew in from the ocean.

He was active in the No-Noise Committee, part of the Acoustical Society of America, and from 1990 to 1992 served on the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Los Angeles Airport Commission.

Influential in reforms at several major airports as well as LAX, Meecham was a consultant to several aerospace companies and government agencies, including TRW, General Electric, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and NASA.

He is survived by his wife, Della; a son, William, and a daughter, Janice.

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