EU Sees Little Progress on Noise Pollution, With 1 in 5 Affected

(CN) — In a report that links 12,000 premature deaths and four times as many cases of heart disease to long-term noise pollution, the European Environment Agency reported Thursday that the bloc is on track to miss 2020 objectives.

The European Council and Parliament adopted the so-called END directive back in 2002, saying the EU would focus on reducing “noise emitted by major sources, in particular road and rail vehicles and infrastructure, aircraft, outdoor and industrial equipment and mobile machinery.”

ESRI powers this map for the European Environment’s Noise Observation & Information Service. The dots show the number of people exposed to noise from roads above 75 dB (in purple), above 65 dB (in red), and above 55 dB (in orange)

Instead of reductions, however, Thursday’s 104-page report from the EEA says noise pollution in Europe is projected to rise in both rural and urban areas over the next decade thanks to urban growth and increased demand for mobility.

Rail, aircraft and industry remain leading sources of noise pollution, but road traffic is the biggest source, according to the report, which says 1 in 5 Europeans are exposed to harmful noise levels.

The report studies trends from 2012 to 2017, building on a 2014 assessment, with the understanding that long-term exposure to noise levels over 55 decibels is high.

“An estimated 113 million people are affected by long-term day-evening-night traffic noise levels of at least 55 decibels,” researchers found. “In most European countries, more than 50% of inhabitants within urban areas are exposed to road noise levels of 55 dB or higher during the day-evening-night period.”

The report emphasizes that human impacts — creeping from annoyance to sleep disturbance — are not the only consideration.

“Noise pollution is also a growing threat to wildlife both on land and in water,” a summary on the report states. “Noise can reduce reproductive success and increase mortality and the fleeing of animals to quieter areas.”

Researchers found that EU member states have made some progress in mapping and reporting areas of high noise, but that overall policy objectives remain out of reach.

(Credit: EEA)

“More than 30% of data required under the EU directive is still not available after the legally set 2017 reporting deadline,” the report summary states. “Significant delays suggest that countries may not have taken the necessary steps to address noise pollution.”

Touting what’s working at least in terms of reducing noise levels, if not improving health outcomes — a difficult benefit to track — the EEA says some cities have been replacing older paved roads with smoother asphalt, keeping better management of traffic flows and reducing speed limits to 30 km per hour, or 18 mph.

“There are also measures aimed at raising awareness and changing people’s behavior in using less-noisy modes of transport like cycling, walking or electric vehicles,” the report summary states. “A significant number of countries, cities and regions have also put in place so-called quiet areas, most of which are parks and other green spaces, where people can go to escape city noise.”

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