Exposure of Europe's population to environmental noise

Indicator Specification
Indicator codes: TERM 005 , CSI 051
Created 09 Dec 2016 Published 22 Feb 2017 Last modified 21 Nov 2019
4 min read
This indicator presents the estimated number of people exposed to harmful levels of environmental noise from industry, roads with more than 3 million vehicles per year, railways with more than 30 000 railway movements per year, airports with more than 50 000 air traffic movements per year and in urban areas with more than 100 000 inhabitants.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)

Rationale

Justification for indicator selection

Exposure to environmental noise can lead to annoyance, stress reactions, sleep disturbance, poor mental health and well-being, and cognitive impairment in children, as well as negative effects on the cardiovascular and metabolic system. Long-term exposure to environmental noise is estimated to cause 12 000 premature deaths and to contribute to 48 000 new cases of ischemic heart disease per year in the European territory. It is estimated that 22 million people suffer chronic high annoyance and 6.5 million people suffer chronic high sleep disturbance. As a result of aircraft noise, 12 500 schoolchildren are estimated to suffer learning impairment in school. The WHO has identified noise as the second most significant environmental cause of ill health in western Europe, the first being air pollution. The EU 7th EAP includes the objective of significantly decreasing noise pollution by 2020, moving closer to WHO recommended levels.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

This indicator presents the estimated number of people exposed to harmful levels of environmental noise from industry, roads with more than 3 million vehicles per year, railways with more than 30 000 railway movements per year, airports with more than 50 000 air traffic movements per year and in urban areas with more than 100 000 inhabitants.

Units

Lden: Long-term average indicator designed to assess annoyance and defined by the Environmental Noise Directive (END). It refers to an annual average day, evening and night period of exposure with an evening weighting of 5 dB(A) and a night weighting of 10 dB(A). 

Lnight: Long-term average indicator defined by the END and designed to assess sleep disturbance. It refers to an annual average night period of exposure.

dB: Shortened reference to the decibel, a unit of measurement for sound.  

Policy context and targets

Context description

The END is the main EU instrument through which noise emissions are monitored and actions developed. It defines environmental noise as 'unwanted or harmful outdoor sound created by human activities, including noise emitted by means of transport, road traffic, rail traffic, air traffic and from sites of industrial activity'. It places an obligation on EU Member States to assess noise levels by producing strategic noise maps for all major roads, railways, airports and urban areas. Based on these noise-mapping results, Member States must prepare action plans containing measures that address noise issues and their effects for those areas where the specific END indicators (i.e. 55 dB averaged across the day, evening and night periods (Lden) and 50 dB averaged across the night period (Lnight)) have been exceeded. The END neither sets limit values for noise exposure, nor prescribes measures for inclusion in the action plans. Finally, Member States are required to select and preserve areas of good acoustic environmental quality, referred to as quiet areas, in order to protect the European soundscape.

High noise levels are defined in the 7th EAP as noise levels for Lden above 55 dB and for Lnight above 50 dB. During the night, environmental noise starting at Lnight levels below 40 dB can cause negative effects on sleep to occur such as body movements, awakenings, self-reported sleep disturbance and, in addition, effects on the cardiovascular system that become apparent above 55 dB. All these impacts can contribute to a range of health outcomes, including premature mortality. The WHO has set a Night Noise Guideline level for Europe at 40 dB Lnight.

Targets

The EU's current 7th EAP contains the objective that by 2020 noise pollution in the EU will have significantly decreased, moving closer to WHO recommended levels. In order to achieve this objective, an updated EU noise policy aligned with the latest scientific knowledge must be implemented along with measures to reduce noise at source, including improvements in city design. 

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • Directive 2002/49/EC
    European Directive relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise.

Key policy question

What is the extent of noise pollution in Europe?

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

This indicator is based on data reported by EEA member countries in accordance with Directive 2002/49/EC. 

Methodology for gap filling

The indicator is based on data officially reported by countries under the EU Environmental Noise Directive (2002/49/EC). Because of gaps in the reported data, a gap-filling routine is used to estimate the total population exposure to high noise levels. 

Methodology references

Data specifications

EEA data references

Data sources in latest figures

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

Lack of a common assessment methodology means that comparability between datasets is not guaranteed. 

Data sets uncertainty

Data reported in accordance with Directive 2002/49/EC may not be complete.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Eulalia PERIS AGUILÓ

Ownership

European Environment Agency (EEA)

Identification

Indicator code
TERM 005
CSI 051
Specification
Version id: 2

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year

Classification

DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

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