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Public Health (27-06-2008)

SCENIHR Scientific Committee consultation on health risks from exposure to noise

Noise-induced hearing damage above 80-85 decibels is a known phenomenon. Such damage can be prevented to a large extent by reducing the noise exposure levels and duration, and measures to this effect have already been introduced to ensure occupational health and safety. The European Commission now considers the potential risk of noise-induced hearing damage beyond the workplace and in particular among children and adolescents who are frequent users of personal music players and mobile phones at high acoustic levels.
Given the rapid technological and market changes over recent years, it is estimated that the number of young people with social noise exposure has tripled since the early 80's and reaches 12 million EU users daily. A European standard already exists restricting the noise level of this type of music player to 100 dB, but there is increased concern over hearing damage from excessive exposure to such sources.
The Commission asked for an opinion of the independent Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). SCENIHR has released its preliminary report and this goes now for public consultation before the Committee finalises its opinion after the summer.
While the opinion is still at the draft stage, there are indications that there is cause for concern. In the preliminary report, the Scientific Committee highlights that users of MP3 players would exceed the occupational health limits if listening for one hour per day each week at high volume (exceeding 89 decibels). Users listening for longer periods risk a permanent hearing loss after 5 or more years (approximately 5-10% of the listeners).
Following the public consultation and on the basis of the final opinion, the Commission will consider whether measures at Community level such as strengthening safety standards are required.
The background, regulatory framework, as well as the exact questions that the SCENIHR has been asked to answer can be found on the Commission's website:
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