How many people are subject to unhealthy sound pollution generated by vehicles in Europe? As per recent figures, this stood at about 60 million. The figures as stated finds mentioned in a study by a team of researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation.
The study concentrated in 749 European cities and the Environment International published the findings. Road traffic is the main source of environmental noise. Previous research has linked environmental noise to a range of adverse healthconditions such as sleep disturbance, annoyance, cardiovascular and metabolic disease, adverse birth outcomes, cognitive impairment, poor mental health and well-being, and premature mortality. Long-term exposure can cause a sustained stress reaction, which results in the release of stress hormones and increases in heart rate, blood pressure and vasoconstriction, eventually leading to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety disorders.
The researchers looked into the data on European cities from the Urban Audit 2018 dataset. Road traffic noise exposure was estimated using noise maps produced by countries and cities under the current European legislative framework (Environmental Noise Directive) or available from local sources (eng. city governments and research institutions). For cases in which city-level data were not available, country-specific predictive models were developed and applied to estimate exposure to road traffic noise. Data on different causes of mortality for the year 2015 were retrieved from the Eurostat database.
The researchers found that more than 48 per cent of the 123 million adults (aged 20 years or older) included in the study were exposed to noise levels exceeding the WHO-recommended threshold. Specifically, the WHO recommendation states that the average noise level recorded over a 24-hour period should not exceed 53 decibels.
The researchers maintained that more than 3,600 deaths each year could be prevented from ischaemic heart disease alone in compliance with WHO guidelines.
The report points out that more than 11 million adults were highly annoyed by road traffic noise. Annoyance was defined as the repeated disturbance of everyday activities, such as communicating, reading, working and sleeping. ISGlobal researcher and lead author Sasha Khomenko said, “Our results provide, for the first time, a comprehensive picture of European cities and a clearer understanding of why transport-generated noise is the second major environmental cause of adverse health outcomes in western Europe, after airborne particulate matter.”
However, the author cautions that the true health impact of traffic noise was much greater. Moreover, Khomenko said that the available data only allowed to analyse the population exposed to more than 55 dB Lden.
Meanwhile, head of the Air Pollution and Urban Environment programme at ISGlobal Mark Nieuwenhuijsen said “the European directive on environmental noise made strategic noise mapping mandatory, but it did not set out a specific methodology or guidelines, so the results have been mixed.”
Consult Data for All 749 Cities
This study forms part of the European Urban Burden of Disease Project, which so far has produced rankings of mortality associated with air pollution and green space, respectively, in European cities. However, due to differences in methodologies and sources of traffic noise data, the results obtained for the various cities analysed are not considered to be comparable. As a result, a road-noise ranking was not produced, although all data have been posted on the project website, where values for all 749 cities can be consulted.