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Noise Pollution

Noise – the Silent Pollutant

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What if we were to tell you that there is a pollutant out there, that we come into contact with every single day, that has a huge impact on our mental and physical health? It is a pollutant that, at best, reduces concentration levels and increases stress levels when you are exposed to it. It makes it hard to communicate with others, and can cause a lack of sleep. Not only that, but long term exposure can lead to heart problems, can reduce your brain’s cognitive function, and can result in hearing loss.

It is a pollutant that has been extensively studied and its impacts are known. Transport is a major source of it, and you probably noticed its absence during the recent national lockdown. Yet despite this, there are no national targets to reduce it, and no data is collected on it and made available.

That pollutant is noise. But it’s just noise, right? Every now and then we all have to deal with loud noises from lorries and roadworks, but otherwise its just something in the background that we don’t notice. Except we do. Research from WHO has shown that unlike other senses, hearing is always on. Even when we are asleep. Ever wondered why you get awoken when something goes bump in the night? That is because your hearing has told your brain to wake you up because of that sudden noise. It is the same principle with traffic noise.

Transport is a big part of the noise issue in urban areas. In London, research by the CPRE has found that a third of London parks are severely affected by noise pollution, with 18% of them having noise levels of over 55 decibels throughout the entire park (about the same noise that you get from standing next to your dishwasher).

Noise pollution has a very significant impact. Schools next to busy roads have their students suffer from poorer academic performance and they are less satisfied with school. Around 50000 people die prematurely in the EU every year due to issues brought about by exposure to traffic noise. We wrote more about noise pollution: what it is and how to reduce it in a recent post.

But unlike air pollution, the noise pollution data is patchy at best. London has some data on noise pollution sourced from road and rail. There is also some data from the Quietness Suitability Index for Europe (apparently, if you want some peace, head to Iceland or northern Norway). But apart from that, there is very little.

In our view, this data gap is unacceptable. Why should there be such a gap when the impacts of noise pollution are well-researched and well-known? We know the impact that noise pollution has on reducing healthy lives. We also know that noise pollution law exists to help councils protect communities from loud and irritating noise. And with the level of noise pollution complaints on the rise following lockdown, we believe its time to take action.

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