Indicator Assessment

Exposure of Europe's population to environmental noise

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-233-en
  Also known as: TERM 005 , CSI 051
Published 29 Nov 2017 Last modified 11 May 2021
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  • Noise pollution is a major environmental health problem in Europe.
  • Road traffic is the most widespread source of environmental noise, with an estimated 100 million people affected by harmful levels in the EEA-33 member countries. Noise from railways, airports and industry are also important sources of noise.
  • The European Union's Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) sets the objective that by 2020 noise pollution in the EU has significantly decreased, moving closer to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended levels. 

Number of people exposed to noise levels above Lden 55 dB

EEA-33 and EU-28
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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 100 million people in the EEA-33 member countries are exposed to Lden noise levels (annual average day, evening and night period of exposure) from road traffic that are above 55 dB. Of these, 32 million are exposed to very high noise levels above 65 dB LdenIn addition, many people are also exposed to rail, aircraft and industrial noise, particularly in towns and cities in the EEA-33:

  • railways: 19 million people exposed above 55 dB Lden;
  • aircraft noise: more than 4.1 million people exposed above 55 dB Lden;
  • industrial noise: approx. 1.0 million people exposed.

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 impairing the ability of younger generations to concentrate in schools that are affected by aircraft flight paths. 

Supporting information

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.


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.


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.


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



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

Other info

DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • TERM 005
  • CSI 051
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled once per year
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage



Filed under:
Filed under: noise
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