Noise, a hidden health threat
Noise is the second biggest environmental health threat in Europe, according to the World Health Organization. While current EU legislation is broadly ‘fit for purpose’, Member States are not doing enough to implement it. Noise reduction measures are cost-effective, but awareness of the problem and implementing solutions to it remain a challenge.
One in four Europeans suffers from potentially harmful noise levels. Loss of sleep, poor concentration and high stress are classical complaints. But noise pollution can also cause diabetes, stroke and heart attack.
EU Environment Commissioner
People have always known that noise is bad for you, said Commissioner Karmenu Vella at a conference dedicated to ‘Noise in Europe’ earlier this year. He went on to explain that the the Environmental Noise Directive is largely fit for purpose in identifying and curbing noise where people live, work, and play. But it has not lived up to its full potential. Member States need to do more to apply it fully, in line with the 7th Environment Action Programme goals, and accommodate the ‘polluter pays’ principle to ensure a level playing field.
While noise-reduction measures are cost-effective, awareness of the problem and implementing solutions to it remain a challenge. “It is only through building greater understanding and awareness of the noise issue, focusing on the right projects – backed up by legislation – that we can hope to tackle the issue of noise in transport,” added Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc. Road traffic is the largest source of noise pollution in Europe, according to the European Environment Agency.
The Commission’s Environmental Implementation Review can help Member States identify any gaps in their application of EU laws, and find and share innovative solutions to fill them. Tangible projects, like NEREiDE and ENOVAL, are fostering new thinking on how to curb harmful noise. Solutions range from rubber-dampened road surfaces to large, yet clean and quiet aircraft engines, to alternative urban-planning addressing transport noise.
Local authorities, especially in urban areas, need extra support. Here, initiatives such as the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities and the EU’s Urban Agenda are helping by raising awareness and tackling the most harmful effects of noise on Europeans.