The Who: Noise is the second biggest environmental health risk

The Who: Noise is the second biggest environmental health risk

The WHO estimates that 1.6 million healthy years are lost annually as a result of excessive levels of traffic noise in Western Europe. The organisation states that noise is one of the major environmental causes of death in the EU, surpassed only by air pollution.

Noise negatively affects several health parameters and is crucial to general health. People are exposed to noise from a variety of sources ranging from traffic noise to gyms with loud music, air traffic, train traffic, windmills, frequent use of headphones with high volume and construction.

According to the WHO, 1.6 million healthy years are lost annually due to noise exposure. This involves both people who die prematurely, but also people who go from being healthy to living a disabled life with consequential damage due to noise.


Noise can lead to serious consequences

The consequences of being exposed to noise vary widely. The most obvious consequences of noise exposure are hearing impairment and tinnitus. In addition, you may also experience elevated levels of stress if you are exposed to high levels of noise over a longer period of time. In turn, high levels of stress lead to numerous other physical and mental health consequences.

The WHO points out that noise is associated with obesity and that even small increases in noise exposure enhance the risk of getting blood clots. Therefore, it is worth considering whether your bedroom should be facing the railroad or located at the other end of the house where there is not any noise coming in through the window.

Because while you may not notice it or wake up from it, noise exposure during the night is harmful for your sleep. A healthy sleep rhythm is important for many health parameters and if we are exposed to noise during the night, our sleep can become restless.


Lots of action, but few results

The EU has tried to combat the issue for many years. As early as in 1993, the EU launched an action plan that was meant to ensure that no Europeans would live with noise levels that were harmful to their health. Twenty-six years later, the WHO concludes that 100 million Europeans still live under these conditions, which is equivalent to a fifth of the European population, so the work is far from complete.

In 2010, the WHO surveyed almost 30,000 Europeans about their noise experiences. Eight out of ten respondents said they thought they were exposed to noise levels that were harmful to their health. The results also showed that 15 percent of the respondents rated noise in their top five over environmental risks that they were most concerned about.

The WHO points out that it is only air pollution that exceeds noise when it comes to environmental factors that negatively affect our health.


Road safety may prevent noise reduction of cars

The increased focus on the climate and environment in recent years has led to an increasing interest in replacing noisy petrol and diesel cars with electric cars.

This will make a significant difference in noise levels especially in metropolitan areas seeing as electric cars are not nearly as noisy as fossil-fuelled vehicles. However, the Danish Road Safety Council points out that reduced car noises can be risky because people may then be unaware of when a car is coming if they cannot hear it.

As a result, the EU has also decided that by July 1, 2019, a system must be installed in all electric cars which ensures that the cars emit a "false" engine noise of 56 decibels when driving above 20 km/h. The decision has been met with some criticism.

Some studies indicate that people already suffer when being exposed to noise levels at 55 decibels. In this way, the concern for road safety might increase the risk of suffering injury due to noise.



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