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Long-term exposure to noise from transport has negative effects on health. Based on data reported in 2017 under the Environmental Noise Directive, it is estimated that at least 18 million people are highly annoyed and 5 million are highly sleep disturbed by long-term exposure to noise from transport in the EU. The EU’s zero pollution action plan aims to reduce the share of people affected by noise from transport by 30% relative to 2017 levels by 2030. Achieving this will require a decline in the number of people highly annoyed and highly sleep disturbed by transport noise of 5.4 million and 1.5 million, respectively.
Chronic exposure to environmental noise significantly affects physical and mental health and well-being. It can lead to annoyance, stress reactions and sleep disturbance, and cognitive impairment in children, and can have negative effects on the cardiovascular and metabolic systems . A key target of the European Commission’s zero pollution action plan is to reduce, by 2030, the number of people chronically disturbed by noise from transport in the EU by 30%, compared with 2017 .
Noise annoyance and sleep disturbance are the most prevalent health effects of exposure to noise from transport sources. In 2017, it was estimated that more than 18 million people were highly annoyed by environmental noise and 5 million were highly sleep disturbed . Since some people can already be highly annoyed or sleep disturbed at noise levels below the END reporting thresholds, the number of highly annoyed and highly sleep disturbed is likely to be underestimated. Based on baseline data from 2017, the numbers of people highly annoyed and highly sleep disturbed by noise in the EU would need to be reduced by 5.4 million and 1.5 million, respectively, to achieve the aim of reducing the number of people chronically disturbed by transport noise by 30% by 2030.
Road traffic noise is the most prevalent source of environmental noise and contributes the most to the overall effects of noise on health. A large proportion of people highly annoyed and highly sleep disturbed by transport noise live in urban areas of more than 100,000 inhabitants. A large share of the population chronically disturbed by noise is exposed to noise levels below 60 dB during the day (Lden) and 55 dB during the night (Lnight). Therefore, to achieve the zero pollution action plan’s goal, measures need to target populations living not only in noise hotspots but also in areas of lower noise, by focusing on better urban and transport planning and reducing the use of motorised transport.
Additional health impacts from transport noise are presented in available here in table form. The zero pollution action plan also proposes monitoring the impacts of transport noise on human health using disability adjusted life years (DALYs) , with 1 DALY corresponding to 1 year of healthy life lost, attributable to morbidity, mortality or both. Because of the large number of people affected, high annoyance and high sleep disturbance due to environmental noise are important drivers of the total burden of disease.
It is difficult to make comparisons between countries of the number of people per 100,000 highly annoyed and highly sleep disturbed by noise from road, rail and air traffic, because of the different noise-mapping methodologies used (particularly in urban areas, as some countries map all streets in cities while others map only the busiest streets). However, it is clear that in most countries in Europe a large proportion of the populations suffer from negative health effects due to noise. Road traffic is the main source contributing to high annoyance levels due to noise across countries, while rail traffic is particularly relevant at night in countries with large railway networks, contributing to sleep disturbance.