WHO and JRC release new guidance to calculate the impact of noise on people’s health in Europe

New guidance to assess the health impact of noise is now available to national and local authorities across Europe. WHO/Europe, supported by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), has released step-by-step guidance on how to calculate the burden of cardiovascular diseases and sleep disturbance from noise. This is the result of a 2-year study conducted by a group of international experts from WHO, the European Commission and the European Environment Agency.

Along with this methodological guidance, another publication addresses capacity-building and transfer of knowledge requirements in countries to assess the impact of noise pollution on their people’s health. It looks at human and economic resources needs in the form of case studies.

These two new publications will provide each European country with hands-on technical tools to assess their citizens’ years of life lost due to premature death or poor health and disability, and builds on the “Burden of disease from environmental noise” published by WHO and JRC in 2011. The 2011 publication concluded that at least one million healthy years of life are lost in the urban population of the European Union (EU) due to noise, thus placing noise as the second most dangerous environmental hazard to people’s health after air pollution. It complements the “Night noise guidelines for Europe” on surveillance and control of night noise, published in 2009.

Noise in Europe

In modern times, noise pollution is as a threat to public health and one of the most frequently perceived environmental health issues in Europe. One in three individuals is annoyed during the daytime and one in five suffers disturbed sleep at night because of traffic noise. Evidence indicates that those chronically exposed to high levels of noise have an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction. Urbanization, economic growth and motorized transport are the major pressures on exposure to environmental noise and its effects on health.

An Environmental Noise Directive (END) for the management of environmental noise has been in place since 2002. It provides a basis for developing measures in the EU to reduce the noise emitted by major sources, in particular road and rail vehicles and infrastructure, aircraft, outdoor and industrial equipment and mobile machinery. In accordance with the Directive, most EU countries have produced strategic noise maps and action plans on environmental noise. The newly-released WHO-JRC publications will help countries to use data on noise exposure obtained from END maps to calculate noise-related years of life lost and will provided strong health-based arguments to policy-makers for stringent control of noise pollution.

In the framework of the new European health policy Health 2020, this work will help countries implement their commitment to noise reduction as enshrined in the 2010 Parma Declaration and contribute to protecting the population of Europe from the adverse health impacts of noise pollution.