Noise pollution from road, rail and aircraft traffic needs to be reduced to help prevent heart disease, sleep disturbance and public annoyance, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report led by Queen Mary University of London academics.
The new WHO Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region provide strong evidence that noise is one of the top environmental hazards to both physical and mental health and well-being in Europe.
The report recommends reducing road traffic noise levels to below 53 decibels (dB). Putting this into context, people are regularly exposed to over 55 dB of road traffic noise, with motorway traffic generating 70 dB of noise.
Professor Stephen Stansfeld from Queen Mary’s Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, who was Chair of the Guidelines Development Group at the WHO, said: “These guidelines have been developed based on the growing body of evidence in the field of environmental noise research. They aim to support public health policy that will protect communities from the adverse effects of noise, as well as stimulate further research into the health effects of different types of noise.”
Compared to previous WHO guidelines, this latest version contains stronger evidence of the cardiovascular effects of environmental noise. It also includes new noise sources like wind turbine noise and leisure noise, such as nightclubs, pubs, live sporting events, concerts and listening to loud music through personal listening devices.
After reviewing the available scientific evidence, the group strongly recommended:
Based on weaker evidence, the group also made conditional recommendations that they said required further debate. These were:
Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said: “Noise pollution in our towns and cities is increasing, blighting the lives of many European citizens. More than a nuisance, excessive noise is a health risk – contributing to cardiovascular diseases, for example. We need to act on the many sources of noise pollution – from motorised vehicles to loud nightclubs and concerts – to protect our health.
“The new WHO guidelines define exposure levels to noise that should not be exceeded to minimise adverse health effects and we urge European policy-makers to make good use of this guidance for the benefit of all Europeans.”
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