Noise pollution: not only an environmental hazard but also links to mental health

Noise pollution: not only an environmental hazard but also links to mental health
© iStock/Tero Vesalainen

WHO released Environmental Noise Guidelines showing strong evidence that noise pollution is a top environmental hazard to both physical and mental health.

The document released in the European Region, identifies levels at which noise pollution has significant health impacts and recommends actions to reduce exposure. Moreover, a rigorous and comprehensive framework was applied to develop the recommendations in reducing the environmental hazard, which had never been done before.

Details of the guidelines

An independent peer-reviewed development process took place when formulating the guidelines. Whereby two independent group of experts from the environmental noise community adhered to a new, rigorous, evidence-based methodology.

The systematic reviews were based on several health outcomes:

  • Cardiovascular and metabolic effects
  • Annoyance
  • Effects on sleep
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Hearing impairment and tinnitus
  • Adverse birth outcomes
  • Quality of life and
  • Mental health and well-being.

The effectiveness of interventions in reducing noise exposure and negative health impacts played a significant role in the review.

How has noise pollution become an environmental hazard?

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe says: “Noise pollution in our towns and cities is increasing, blighting the lives of many European citizens.”

“More than a nuisance, excessive noise is a health risk – contributing to cardiovascular diseases, for example. We need to act on the many sources of noise pollution – from motorized vehicles to loud nightclubs and concerts – to protect our health,”

“The new WHO guidelines define exposure levels to noise that should not be exceeded to minimize adverse health effects and we urge European policy-makers to make good use of this guidance for the benefit of all Europeans.”

What do the new guidelines entail?

“These guidelines have been developed based on the growing body of evidence in the field of environmental noise research.” explains Professor Stephen Stansfeld, Chair of the Guidelines Development Group.

“They aim to support public health policy that will protect communities from the adverse effects of noise, as well as stimulate further research into the health effects of different types of noise.”

Targeted at decision-makers and technical experts, the new guidelines aim to support legislation and policy-making at local, national and international level.

The global relevance of the environmental hazard

Although the guidelines focus on the European Region and provide guidance consistent with the European Union’s Environmental Noise Directive, they also have global relevance. The large body of evidence underpinning the recommendations was derived not only from noise effect studies in Europe but also from extensive research in other parts of the world, such as America, Asia and Australia.

“Through their potential to influence urban, transport and energy policies, the Environmental Noise Guidelines contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and support our vision of creating resilient communities and supportive environments in the Region.” Concludes Jakab.

Furthermore, the guidelines highlight data and research gaps to be addressed in future studies.

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