Population exposure to environmental noise

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-233-en
Also known as: TERM 005 , CSI 051
Created 09 Dec 2016 Published 22 Feb 2017 Last modified 15 Mar 2017
Noise pollution is a major environmental health problem in Europe. Road traffic is the most widespread source of environmental noise, with an estimated 120 million people affected by harmful levels. Noise from railways, airports and industry are also important sources of noise. The European Union's (EU) Seventh Environment Action Programme sets the objective that by 2020 noise pollution in the EU has significantly decreased, moving closer to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended levels. 

Key messages

  • Noise pollution is a major environmental health problem in Europe.
  • Road traffic is the most widespread source of environmental noise, with an estimated 120 million people affected by harmful levels. Noise from railways, airports and industry are also important sources of noise.
  • The European Union's (EU) Seventh Environment Action Programme sets the objective that by 2020 noise pollution in the EU has significantly decreased, moving closer to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended levels. 

What is the extent of noise pollution in Europe?

Number of people in the EU exposed to noise levels above Lden 55 dB

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This indicator provides an overview of the estimated number of people exposed to levels of environmental noise in Europe that are above the noise indicator levels set by the EU Environmental Noise Directive (2002/49/EC) within and outside urban areas. The major source of noise pollution both inside and outside urban areas is road traffic. Noise from railways and aircraft has a much lower impact in terms of overall population noise exposure, but both remain important sources of localised noise pollution.

It is estimated that more than 120 million people in the EU are exposed to Lden noise levels (annual average day, evening and night period of exposure) from road traffic that are above 55 dB. Night-time road traffic is another major source of noise exposure, with over 83 million Europeans being exposed to harmful Lnight levels above 50 dB. In addition, many people are also exposed to rail, aircraft and industrial noise, particularly in towns and cities. More general impacts of exposure to harmful levels of environmental noise include annoyance, stress reactions, sleep disturbance and an increase in the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease which can lead to premature death. While aircraft noise does not affect a wide geographical area, its documented harmful effects extend beyond health impacts on nearby populations to also impairing the ability of younger generations to concentrate in schools that are affected by aircraft flight paths. 

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator presents the estimated number of people exposed to harmful levels of environmental noise from industry, from 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.

Lnight       Long-term average indicator designed to assess sleep disturbance and defined by the END. 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 land-based 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 Directive 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 Seventh Environmental Action Programme as noise levels for Lden above 55 dB and for Lnight above 50 dB. During the night, high noise levels can cause sleep disturbance, such as body movements and wakening, starting at Lnight levels below 40 dB, and with effects on the cardiovascular system that become apparent above 55 dB. All these impacts can contribute to premature mortality and the WHO has set a Night Noise Guideline level for Europe at 40dB Lnight.

Targets

The European Union’s current Seventh Environment Action Programme 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

No related policy documents have been specified

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

This indicator is based upon 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). Due to gaps in the reported data, a gap-filling routine is used to estimate the total population exposure to high noise levels. A technical note to the EEA on forecasting ENDRM DF4_8 data to 2020, 2030 and 2050 (Extrium 2013) is accessible here.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

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

Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • TERM 005
  • CSI 051
Temporal coverage:

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Colin Nugent

EEA Management Plan

2016 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 5 years
Filed under: ,
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100