Environmental noise pollution relates to ambient sound levels beyond the comfort levels as caused by traffic, construction, industrial, as well as some recreational activities. It can aggravate serious direct as well as indirect health effects, for example damage to hearing or sleep and later mental disorder, as well as increasing blood pressure. Noise effects can trigger premature illness and, in extreme cases, death. Night-time effects can differ significantly from day time impacts. The largest impact of environmental noise is on annoyance and sleep disturbance, health effects of noise to which more than 30% of EU population may be exposed.
The external costs of noise in the EU amounts to at least 0,35% of its GDP, but much higher values may be found as new findings become available. In general it is considered amongst the most relevant environment & health problems, just behind the impact of air quality, but potentially becoming more relevant, if no action will be taken. First conservative and partial estimates show that at least 1.600.000 Disability Adjusted Life Years are lost every year in the EU, mostly due to road traffic.
The Environmental Noise Directive (2002/49/EC) is one of the main instruments to identify noise pollution levels and to trigger the necessary action both at Member State and at EU level. The Commission has published a first implementation report (COM(2011) 321 final of 1 June 2011) which summarises the implementation progress and outlines possible ways forward to improve implementation and enhance effectiveness of EU's environmental noise policy. A stakeholder event was organised and an on line consultation was launched to gather views of public authorities and private citizens on possible changes to be introduced in the Directive.
Still, EU-wide action to reduce environmental noise has traditionally had a different priority compared to environmental problems such as air and water pollution because solutions were often considered best handed at the national or local levels (i.e. subsidiarity). In the 20th century, EU regulations on noise management were based on internal market objectives. These were mainly focusing on setting harmonized noise limits for motor vehicles, household appliances and other noise-generating products. As more information about the health impacts of noise became available, and as it has become clear that global measures are the most cost-effective, the need for a higher level of protection of EU citizens through EU-wide measures became more imminent.
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