Joint Research Centre - European Commission

The European Commission's in-house science service
European Commission

Cars, train, plane

Noise exposure from rail, road, air traffic and industry is a serious problem© EU, 2012

How does noise impact on our health?


New guidance to assess the health impact of noise is now available to national and local authorities across Europe. The step-by-step guidance on how to calculate the burden of cardiovascular diseases and sleep disturbance from noise is the result of a 2-year study conducted by a group of international experts from World Health Organisation (WHO), the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the European Environment Agency.

Published today, it provides each European country a hands-on technical tool to assess their citizens’ years of life lost due to premature death or poor health and disability. It is a step forward from the Burden of disease from environmental noise published by WHO and JRC in 2011. The 2011 publication concluded that at least one million healthy years of life are lost in the urban population of the European Union due to noise, placing noise as the second most dangerous environmental hazard to people’s health after air pollution. It complemented the 2009 Night noise guidelines for Europe informing surveillance and control of night noise.

Noise pollution is considered a threat to public health and one of the most frequently perceived environmental health issues in Europe. One in three individuals is annoyed during the daytime and one in five suffers disturbed sleep at night because of traffic noise. Evidence indicates that those chronically exposed to high levels of noise have an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction. Urbanisation, economic growth and motorized transport are the major driving forces for exposure to environmental noise and its effects on health.

An Environmental Noise Directive (END) for the management of environmental noise has been in place since 2002. It provides a basis to developing measures in the EU to reduce the noise emitted by major sources, in particular road and rail vehicles and infrastructure, aircraft, outdoor and industrial equipment and mobile machinery. In accordance with it, most EU countries have produced strategic noise maps and action plans on environmental noise. The just released WHO-JRC publication will help them using the data on noise exposure obtained from those maps to calculate noise-related years of life lost and will provided strong health-based arguments to policy-makers for stringent control of noise pollution.

This study has been complemented by a report on the Assessment of needs for capacity-building for health risk assessment of environmental noise (case studies).

The JRC has recently also published the Common Noise Assessment Methods in Europe (CNOSSOS-EU). This common set of noise assessment methods developed by the JRC is the basis for comparable data on noise exposure in Europe, a prerequisite to set up EU policies to reduce noise pollution.