Environmental noise has several effects on health, albeit heavily dependent on intensity and duration of exposure and individual sensitivity to noise.
They affect many people and may include annoyance, sleep disturbance and cardiovascular problems linked to chronic exposure to road and air traffic noise. Special attention should be paid to the more vulnerable groups in society, including children, whose ability to learn can also be impaired.
In 1996, a Commission green paper on a future EU noise policy identified 3 areas where action should be taken. Subsequently, the Environmental Noise Directive (“Directive 2002/49/EC on the assessment and management of environmental noise”) was adopted on 25 June 2002. This directive aims to:
- define a common approach intended to avoid, prevent or reduce the harmful effects, including annoyance, due to exposure to environmental noise
- preserve areas where ambient noise quality is good
- provide a basis for developing EU measures to reduce noise emitted by the major sources.
To comply with this Directive, competent authorities in EU countries have to draw up strategic noise maps, using common indicators, to inform the public about noise exposure and its effects, and to implement action plans to manage ambient noise. The first noise maps and action plans (June 2007, July 2008) focus on 155 agglomerations with more than 250,000 inhabitants as well as 80,000 km of major roads, 12,000 km of major railways and 76 civil airports of the EU.