Skip to content

New reports on noise and health but no new policies proposed

A report has been sponsored by DEFRA called Environmental Noise and Health in the UK. It was published by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) on behalf of an ad hoc Expert Group on the Effects of Environmental Noise on Health and addresses all kinds of environmental noise, including aircraft noise.

The study, states the HPA’s website, “has been produced in response to increasing public concern about possible adverse effects of noise on health. It was prepared by an ad hoc group of experts at the request of the Department of Health and funded by the Department of Health and Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This is the most recent officially sponsored report dealing with the effects of environmental noise on health in the UK.”

The report (99 pages, with an executive summary) provides a summary and synthesis of existing work and data. While there has not been any new research, the report does highlight the extent of the noise problem.

“Environmental noise is a problem in the UK today”, it finds, “and many people are concerned about its possible effects on health. In terms of wellbeing we have little doubt that a significant number of people are adversely affected by exposure to environmental noise. If it is accepted that health should be defined in such as way as to include wellbeing then these people can be said to suffer damage to their health as a result of exposure to environmental noise. There is increasing evidence that environmental noise, from both aircraft and road traffic noise is associated with raised blood pressure and with a small increase in the risk of coronary heart disease. Evidence that environmental noisedamages mental health is, on the other hand, inconclusive.”

On the same web page there is also reference to another report: “New Defra research on noise and human health. Defra commissioned research, on behalf of the Interdepartmental Group on Costs and Benefits (IGCB), to quantify human health impacts of environmental noise. This work is the first step to monetise the effects of noise.”

This second report is called Estimating Dose-Response Relationships between Noise Exposure and Human Health Impacts in the UK.

“Across Europe”, writes Defra, “attention is increasingly turning to the detrimental impacts of noise pollution. The rapidly growing literature surrounding noise pollution highlight a wide range of detrimental impacts including annoyance, adverse health impacts, slower learning rates in children, irritation and effects on local ecology.

In August 2008 Defra, on behalf of the IGCB(N), commissioned Dr Bernard Berry and Dr Ian Flindell, renowned experts in this area, to undertake a review of research into the links between noise and health. The four key aims of this research were:
• Identify a comprehensive list of potential adverse health impacts from noise and review the current state of evidence for each of the impacts;
• Where a robust evidence base exists, to recommend quantitative links (dose-response functions ) for the impacts of noise on health which could be applied in the UK;
• Identify any emerging adverse health impacts that should be kept under review for future consideration in evaluation; and
• Identify any structural challenges to developing and maintaining strong quantitative links between noise and health outcomes.”

This report represents ‘Phase 1’ of the project. Phase 2 will concentrate on two aspects:
* Cardiovascular disease
* Sleep awakening

The value of such research will, of course, depend on whether the findings are taken up by policymakers. We are still waiting to see the conclusions of the ANASE study reflected in updated noise policy.