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Noise

Noise pollution is a major environmental health concern in Europe. It is caused by noise coming from a variety of sources and is widely present not only in the busiest urban environments but increasingly in once natural environments. The adverse effects on those exposed to noise pollution include threats to the well-being of human populations, the deteriorating health and distribution of wildlife on land and in the sea, the decreased abilities of our children to learn properly at school and the high economic price society must pay as a result.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified traffic noise, including road, rail and air traffic, as the second most important cause of ill health in Western Europe, behind only air pollution caused by very fine particulate matter1,2

Prolonged exposure to environmental noise can lead to negative cardiovascular and metabolic effects, reduced cognitive performance in children as well as severe annoyance and sleep disturbance3. 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, 12500 schoolchildren are estimated to suffer learning impairment in school.

EU Policy     

Emissions of noise at source have been regulated in the EU for many years. Maximum noise limits for motor vehicles, household appliances and outdoor equipment date back to the 1970s. More recently, measures to control noise from operations and airports, and the regulation of industrial facilities’ noise levels have broadened the control of environmental noise.

The introduction of the Environmental Noise Directive (END) in 2002 sought to monitor the effectiveness of EU emission controls by requiring the assessment of environmental noise at Member State level. The Directive introduced two key indicators for annoyance and sleep disturbance, which, if exceeded, require action plans to be drawn up that are designed to reduce exposure and protect areas not yet polluted by noise.

WHO recommends that long-term exposure to noise from road traffic should not exceed 53dB during the day-evening-night period and 45dB during the night to avoid adverse consequences on health. The recommended values for rail are 54dB during the day-evening-night period and 44dB during the night, and for aircraft they are 45dB during the day-evening-night period and 40dB during the night.

Given the negative impacts on human health and the large number of people affected, environmental noise is therefore a significant concern for citizens and policy makers. Reducing environmental noise is a key objective under the Zero Pollution ambition and the Environmental Noise Directive (END). One of the headline targets of the zero pollution action plan is to reduce the number of people chronically disturbed by transport noise by 30% by 2030 compared with 2017.

 

EEA Activities

Noise emissions is a priority work area in the mandate of the EEA. Most of the current activities relate to data reporting and assessment as required by the END.

The EEA devised an electronic noise data reporting mechanism in 2007 in order to facilitate the reporting of noise data in line with the principles set out in the Shared Environmental Information System for Europe and in accordance with the specifications for a spatial data infrastructure for Europe. Recently a new noise data reporting mechanism has been implemented following the new END reporting requirements outlined in the Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2021/1967 of 11 November 2021.

In assisting with the implementation of the END, the EEA works closely with the European Topic Centre on Human health and the environment and with EEA's country network, Eionet.

Data on noise exposure and associated action plans reported in accordance with the END are used to make regular assessments of environmental Noise in Europe.

The same data are available for download via the EEA data service and can be viewed interactively on the EEA Noise Observation and Information Service for Europe, which also presents noise contour maps for major sources and cities in Europe.

Country specific fact sheets illustrating END data and estimating the likely health impacts due to noise in EEA member countries have also been published.

The EEA has also used END data to make an assessment of the likely extent of areas yet to be affected by noise pollution in a report entitled Quiet Areas in Europe.

The EEA published an Outlook to 2030 to explore the feasibility of reaching the noise objective outlined in the EC zero pollution ambition.

 

References

1. Hänninen, O., et al., 2014, ‘Environmental Burden of Disease in Europe: Assessing Nine Risk Factors in Six Countries’, Environmental Health Perspectives 122(5), pp. 439-446 (DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1206154).

2. WHO and JRC, 2011,Burden of disease from environmental noise — quantification of healthy life years lost in Europe, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland accessed 5 May 2014.

3. WHO, 2018,WHO environmental noise guidelines for the European region, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen accessed 7 December 2018.

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