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Key Action 4 : Environment and Health
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines noise as 'unwanted sounds'. Generated by road, rail and air traffic, industry, and other activities, noise can be a serious nuisance and a health hazard. Noise
Case Studies

Is it the noise... ...or is it something more?

Noise can interfere with communication, cause sleep disturbance and cardiovascular effects, affect mental health, reduce performance, causes annoyance responses, and can alter social behaviour. At sufficiently high levels, it can impair hearing. In addition, it seems to affect children's ability to learn (see Children’s health and the environment).

It is hard to estimate the exact impact of noise on health because it is often accompanied by other environmental hazards such as air pollution or exposure to chemicals. Research under Key Action 4 will shed light on noise-related health effects and provide scientific evidence for establishing noise limits in the EU.


Case Studies

Is it the noise... ...or is it something more?

In Europe, an estimated

  • 113 million people are exposed to noise levels high enough to have serious health consequences;
  • 10 million people are exposed to ambient noise levels that can lead to hearing loss;
  • 30 million people are exposed to occupational noise that endangers their hearing.

The Nopher project(1) comprises workshops and working parties in which European scientific, technical, and medical experts are tackling numerous problems related to research on noise pollution and its adverse effects on health. It aims to determine the health effects of chronic exposure to transport noise, to develop strategies for pharmacological protection against noise trauma, to determine effects of combined chemicals and noise exposure on hearing and balance (see Noisechem, below), to devise ways to identify those individuals vulnerable to noise damage, and to develop a 'noise and health' information system.

The fact that loud noise causes hearing impairment is well documented. So, when a person exposed to a noisy working environment develops hearing problems, the effect is readily blamed on the noise level. Yet exposure to chemical solvents can also affect hearing, and such effects are probably underestimated. It is notably unclear whether loud noise and exposure to solvents can potentiate each other's effects.

The Noisechem project(2) aims to clarify this by:

  • developing tests for evaluating noise- and solvent-caused damage to the hearing and balance systems;
  • determining dose/effect relationships among 2 000 workers exposed to different solvent-noise combinations;
  • using tests on humans and animal models to see where and how solvents and noise exert their effects; and
  • developing hearing conservation schemes taking both factors into account.
(1) Noise Pollution Health Effects Reduction: QLK4-1999-01287.

(2) Noise and Industrial Chemicals: Interaction Effects on Hearing and Balance: QLK4-2000-00293.

Contact for both projects:

Prof. Deepak Prasher
Institute of Laryngology and Otology
University College London (UK)