Noise Pollution

We often think about pollution in terms of where it can be detected: pollution of air, water or soil. However, there are also some very specific types of pollution that harm people and wildlife.

At least one in five Europeans is currently exposed to road traffic noise levels considered harmful to their health. This number is even higher in urban areas and the problem is widespread across most cities in Europe. Road traffic is by far the top source of noise pollution in Europe, according to a recent EEA noise report that looked at noise from roads, railways, airports and industry. These sources are in line with the Environmental Noise Directive, which does not cover noise from, for example, domestic activities or neighbours, or noise in workplaces.

Noise can be bad for your health

An estimated 113 million Europeans are affected by long-term exposure to day‑evening-night traffic noise levels of at least 55 decibels. In addition, 22 million Europeans are exposed to high levels of noise from railways, 4 million to high levels of aircraft noise and fewer than 1 million to high levels of noise caused by industries.

What many people may not know is that long-term exposure to noise, even at the levels we are used to in urban areas, has significant health impacts. In most European countries, more than 50 % of people living in urban areas are exposed to road noise levels of 55 decibels or higher during the measured day-evening-night period. Long‑term exposure to this level, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is likely to have negative impacts on health.

The EEA estimates that long-term exposure to environmental noise causes 12 000 premature deaths and contributes to 48 000 new cases of ischaemic heart disease every year across Europe. It is also estimated that 22 million people suffer chronic high annoyance and 6.5 million people suffer chronic high sleep disturbance.

According to WHO evidence, these health impacts start to occur even below the 55 decibel noise level for the day-evening‑night period and the 50 decibel noise level for the night period, which are the reporting thresholds set out by the EU’s Environmental Noise Directive. Therefore, these numbers are likely to be underestimated. Furthermore, the information provided by countries under EU law do not cover all urban areas, roads, railways and airports, nor do they cover all sources of noise.