Population exposure to environmental noise

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-233-en
Also known as: TERM 005 , CSI 051
Created 15 Nov 2018 Published 30 Nov 2018 Last modified 30 Nov 2018
6 min read
Noise pollution is a major environmental health problem in Europe. Road traffic is the most widespread source of environmental noise, with more than 100 million people affected by harmful levels in the EEA-33 member countries. Railways, air traffic and industry are also major sources of noise. The European Union's Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) sets the objective that by 2020 noise pollution in the EU will have significantly decreased, moving closer to 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 more than 100 million people affected by harmful levels in the EEA-33 member countries. Railways, air traffic and industry are also major sources of noise.
  • The European Union's Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) sets the objective that by 2020 noise pollution in the EU will have significantly decreased, moving closer to World Health Organization (WHO) recommended levels. 

What is the extent of noise pollution in Europe?

Number of people exposed to average day-evening-night noise levels (Lden) ≥ 55 dB

EEA-33 and EU-28
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
EEA-33
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EU-28
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Table
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Number of people exposed to night-time noise (Lnight) ≥ 50 dB

EEA-33 and EU-28
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
EEA-33
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
EU-28
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Table
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

This indicator provides an overview of the estimated number of people in Europe who are exposed to levels of environmental noise that are above noise indicator levels set by the EU Environmental Noise Directive (2002/49/EC). It covers both urban and non-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 significant sources of localised noise pollution.

It is estimated that approximately 108 million people in the EEA-33 member countries are exposed to Lden noise levels (annual average day, evening and night exposure to noise) from road traffic that are equal to or above 55 dB. Of these, 35 million are exposed to very high noise levels of at least 65 dB Lden. In addition, many people are also exposed to rail, aircraft and industrial noise:

  • railways: more than 19 million people are exposed to Lden ≥ 55 dB;
  • aircraft noise: more than 5 million people are exposed to Lden ≥ 55 dB;
  • industrial noise: approximately one million people are exposed to Lden ≥ 55 dB.

The dominant source of noise at night-time is also road traffic. Night-time noise exposure caused by road traffic affects more than 76 million people in the EEA-33 member countries. More than 14 million are exposed to high night-time noise levels from railways, approximately 1.6 million are exposed to high night-time levels from aircraft and approximately 0.4 million are exposed to high night-time levels of industrial noise. 

The impacts of exposure to high levels of environmental noise include annoyance, stress reactions, sleep disturbance, poor mental health and well-being, as well as negative effects on the cardiovascular and metabolic system. While aircraft noise does not affect a wide geographical area, its harmful effects can extend beyond health impacts on nearby populations to impairing the cognitive performance of children 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, 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

No related policy documents have been specified

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

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:

information.png Tags:
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

Eulalia PERIS AGUILÓ

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year
Document Actions
Filed under:
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100