Adam Scott, Principal Acoustics Engineer
Part one: noise pollution, a 'neglected pollutant'
On 19 July, the Science and Technology Committee (Lords) published a substantial report entitled ‘The neglected pollutants: the effects of artificial light and noise on human health’ and stressing that light and noise pollution are health hazards that have been ignored for too long. It calls for the creation of advisory groups to tackle these pollutants which, it has been found, may increase risk of heart disease and premature death.
In this two-part insight series, our Acoustics and Lighting teams dive into the findings and share the main points to mull over. First up, Principal Acoustics Engineer Adam Scott’s top takeaways from the report, in terms of noise pollution.
We have been underestimating the impacts of noise.
Noise pollution is detrimental to human health and wellbeing. Based on new research, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has concluded that the negative health effects caused by prolonged exposure to environmental noise likely occur at lower noise level thresholds than previously thought. This implies that better management of noise would considerably benefit the UK population.
The impacts of noise are widespread.
It was estimated in 2018 (by the UK Health Security Agency) that 130,000 healthy life years were lost in the UK that year due to noise pollution. Every year, noise contributes to thousands of new cases of heart disease and premature deaths across Europe and millions of people suffering chronic high annoyance and/or high sleep disturbance, according to estimates by the WHO and European Environment Agency.
Even the small effects from noise can be significant, and this needs to be better defined.
The health impacts of noise are well established. However, estimates for the disease burden need refining. Reviews are also required of emerging evidence linked to noise impacts, such as effects on the metabolic system, to see if the evidence warrants policy action. Aggregated over the whole population, even small effects on the individual can be a significant public health concern.
Simply measuring noise levels over time is not enough.
Context matters, so collaboration is key.
Simply measuring noise levels over time is not enough. Context and the characteristics of the noise are just as crucial. Given the range of complex factors, an interdisciplinary approach is warranted to properly understand noise impacts. As one example; little evidence exists about indoor versus outdoor noise exposure at a population level. Thus, socioeconomic gaps in housing quality may influence the levels of external noise that are experienced inside.
Noise pollution spans government departments. Therefore, better interdepartmental coordination is warranted.
Policy should specific, practical, and based on human outcomes.
The existing Noise Policy Statement for England (NSPE) provides a good framework, but it needs to be re-emphasised. The Government should collect data to determine if planning authorities and other relevant parties make use of the NPSE, to see how that interacts with local policy.
To enable cost-effective action, a specific noise exposure reduction target should be in place for the next five-year Environmental Improvement Plan cycle, though it is acknowledged that strict simplified decibel limits are impractical. Interventions to address noise pollution should focus on measuring human outcomes, rather than merely reducing noise levels.
Policy should be futureproofed.
The Government should take steps to ensure that the implications of the technological shifts required for net zero and adapting to climate change for noise (and light) pollution are understood and addressed early on.
In part two, we look at the findings in terms of shaping our light pollution response, going forward.