50,000 heart deaths a year caused by traffic noise

Close to half of all Europeans are regularly exposed to traffic noise levels that are potentially dangerous to health, a new study has found.

Noise from rail and road transport is linked to 50,000 fatal heart attacks every year and 200,000 cases of cardio-vascular disease in the EU according to the new research published today by T&E.

The report's findings come as the European Commission is expected to begin legal proceedings against a number of EU member states for failing to fulfil their obligations under the terms of the 2002 EU Directive on Environmental Noise (2).

Meanwhile, new EU legislation has been delayed. A planned revision of rules governing tyre noise has been repeatedly postponed by the European Commission despite an EU deadline of 2004 for a full review. A proposal for a new tyre noise directive is now expected in Summer 2008.

Nina Renshaw, noise policy officer at T&E said: "This research shows that the lack of decent regulation combined with increased traffic and a trend towards bigger, more powerful and noisier vehicles is literally proving to be a lethal combination for Europeans."

"Unlike air pollution, which most major European cities are now starting to tackle, noise has been ignored for decades as the problem has worsened and the negative impacts on society have increased" said Renshaw.

Noise pollution has been getting worse, despite being on the agenda at EU-level for more than thirty years.

The World Health Organisation's threshold for 'serious annoyance' and onset of negative health effects from environmental noise is 55 decibels. The study found that around 210 million citizens of the European Union are regularly exposed to 55 decibels or more of road noise and 35 million to the same level of rail noise.

The study estimates that the full costs to society, including costs to health services, of traffic noise pollution are at least EUR 40 billion per year.

Children exposed to high levels of traffic noise have been shown to suffer from difficulty concentrating; difficulty sustaining attention; difficulty remembering complex issues and poorer reading and general school performance. Costs to business include sick days and lower productivity of staff.

The study also found that poorer people are more likely to suffer from the impact of noise pollution because houses in quiet areas tend to command premium prices.

Based on the new research, T&E says current, available technologies for vehicles, tyres and road surfaces could – if backed by proper standards – combine to make roads five decibels quieter, equal to reducing noise levels by 70%.

T&E is recommending that the EU introduce legislation to reduce tyre noise limits to an effective level of 71 decibels by 2012 with a further reduction by 2016. The EU should also take back responsibility for limiting vehicle noise which it effectively handed over to the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) which has failed to act.

T&E also recommends the introduction of a European standard for road surfaces based on noise performance, and that the EU oblige public authorities to include noise specifications in road contracts.

The study "Traffic noise reduction in Europe: health effects, social costs and technical and policy options to reduce road and rail traffic noise" was commissioned by T&E and carried out by Dutch environmental consultants CE Delft.

Notes to editors:

(1) "Traffic noise reduction in Europe: health effects, social costs and technical and policy options to reduce road and rail traffic noise" (CE Delft). The study and a shorter summary 'Can you hear us?' with policy recommendations can be downloaded from the T&E website:

(2) The European Commission is currently checking Member States' reporting of noise maps for cities, main roads and railways and major airports against the requirements of the Environmental Noise Directive (2002/49/EC). The deadline for noise mapping main European cities and transport axes was July 2007, and Member States' reports should have been submitted to the Commission by December 2007. The vast majority of EU Member States missed the deadline and a large number have still failed to provide any reports, including France, Germany and Spain. Member States have been warned that the Commission will begin legal proceedings for non implementation soon. This could come as early as March. See: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/noise/directive.htm

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Nico Muzi
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