The European Environment Agency has released a guide for governments wishing to identify and maintain quiet areas, to give citizens respite from noise pollution.
Long exposure to background noise has been shown to cause negative health effects, such as heart diseases, and to aggravate existing conditions.
Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA’s executive director, said on the release of the recommendations: “When we think about noise pollution, we often think about loud music or a neighbour’s barking dog. But in most cases, the real health problems are caused by long-term exposure to noise from road traffic, railways, airports or industry. Quiet areas are important because they can provide respite from noise, ultimately improving quality of life.”
Environmental noise causes annoyance to and disturbs the sleep of as much as 30% of the EU population, according to the European Commission. The EU green paper, or public consultation, stated that about 20% of the population suffers from noise levels that health experts consider unacceptable.
“Future noise policy,” was published in 1996, but with the level of traffic volume rising, and an estimated 75% of Europeans living in cities, where noise pollution is greatest, the issue is now all the more pressing.
The 2002 Environmental Noise Directive defines “environmental noise” as unwanted or harmful outdoor sound created by human activities. This does not include noises that are usually deemed pleasurable, such as running water, or birdsong. This means a quiet area cannot be defined by measuring decibels, the EEA said.
The report notes a number of “good practice” examples across the European Union. In Dublin, Ireland, the City Council combined noise modeling and measurement to identify long term average noise levels below the areas that harm health, leading to the designation and protection of eight areas in the city.
In Oslo, authorities contacted people with knowledge of potential quiet areas and then mapped noise levels in those areas. This led to the identification of 14 such areas.
30 April marked the 19th International Noise Awareness Day, an initiative launched by the American Centre for Hearing and Communication in 1995, a non-profit organisation, to raise awareness of the dangers of the long-term exposure to noise.