Much of our beautiful area is now a dumping ground for noise from National Airport. For too long we have allowed the promises of "progress" and "convenience" to numb us to what was happening to our capital and its surrounding neighborhoods.

The Mall, where we show off our monuments to the nation and the world, is awash in aircraft noise and an embarrassment to visit. The many wonderful parks that were intended for the recreation of the weary city dweller and the delight of our visitors are hardly the stress-free retreats to nature they were meant to be. The C&O Canal, a national treasure, would provide a serene and contemplative escape were it not for the ear-shattering, nearly continuous roar of jets overhead. For longtime residents of the area, the situation is especially sad, for we remember the amenities of a city with concerts on the river on summer nights, Shakespeare in the Park and being able actually to hear the program in summer activities on the Mall.

But there is more. The sanctity of our homes has been violated by this noise, so there is no escape. Waking from sleep in the morning, coming home from a busy day, working outdoors in the yard or sitting with family and friends for a moment of conversation, we are subjected to the grinding roar of jet overflights. At night, our sleep is disturbed by the supposedly "quiet" aircraft allowed to operate at National between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. And shortly after 7 a.m. on every weekend morning, as well as every Wednesday morning, the thunder in the sky begins again as another air-traffic jam forms above us.

Many adverse physiological and emotional effects of excessive noise have been reported in the scientific literature. Our bodies are responding to the noise and frequency of overflights whether we are conscious of it or not. Damage to health and to human relationships is a direct consequence of excessive and continuous noise. Our hospitals, churches, schools and playgrounds all are adversely affected by jet overflights. Children, the ill and senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of speech and sleep interruption.

It's time for Washington-area residents to express themselves, putting forth a clear call for a healthy and livable environment. National Airport must not be allowed to continue to saturate the area with unacceptable noise and frequent flights. A plan directed toward this goal must be developed and implemented. An absolute nighttime curfew must be established. Studies should be made of reduced -- not expanded -- levels of air traffic at National. The great bulk of airport modernization funding should be devoted to improving and expanding Dulles. Investment at National should be directed toward its evolution to a ceremonial gateway to the capital and not to a role as a major commercial airport. A "noise budget" should be established for National Airport, which can be met only by a combination of a night curfew, a reduction in traffic and use of quieter aircraft.

The major capitals of the Western world have built airports approximately the same distance from their central cities as is Dulles Airport from Washington. The close-in airports are no longer used for commercial purposes in London, Paris, Rome or Madrid.

Surely the needs of the 500,000 citizens affected by National Airport noise are as worthy and the reasons for moving commercial jet operations out of the central city are as compelling here as they are in other world capitals. -- Annette Davis and Helen Popenoe are co-presidents of Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise.