World Health Organization WHO Guidelines for Community Noise - A complete, authoritative guide on the effects of noise pollution on health

1. Introduction

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Guidelines

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Community noise (also called environmental noise, residential noise or domestic noise) is defined as noise emitted from all sources, except noise at the industrial workplace. Main sources of community noise include road, rail and air traffic, industries, construction and public work, and the neighbourhood. Typical neighbourhood noise comes from premises and installations related to the catering trade (restaurant, cafeterias, discotheques, etc.); from live or recorded music; from sporting events including motor sports; from playgrounds and car parks; and from domestic animals such as barking dogs. The main indoor sources are ventilation systems, office machines, home appliances and neighbours. Although many countries have regulations on community noise from road, rail and air traffic, and from construction and industrial plants, few have regulations on neighbourhood noise. This is probably due to the lack of methods to define and measure it, and to the difficulty of controlling it. In developed countries, too, monitoring of compliance with, and enforcement of, noise regulations are weak for lower levels of urban noise that correspond to occupationally controlled levels (>85 dB LAeq,8h; Frank 1998). Recommended guideline values based on the health effects of noise, other than occupationally-induced effects, are often not taken into account.

The extent of the community noise problem is large. In the European Union about 40% of the population is exposed to road traffic noise with an equivalent sound pressure level exceeding 55 dBA daytime; and 20% is exposed to levels exceeding 65 dBA (Lambert & Vallet 19 1994). When all transportation noise is considered, about half of all European Union citizens live in zones that do not ensure acoustical comfort to residents. At night, it is estimated that more than 30% is exposed to equivalent sound pressure levels exceeding 55 dBA, which are disturbing to sleep. The noise pollution problem is also severe in the cities of developing countries and is caused mainly by traffic. Data collected alongside densely traveled roads were found to have equivalent sound pressure levels for 24 hours of 75–80 dBA (e.g. National Environment Board Thailand 19 1990; Mage & Walsh 19 1998).

In contrast to many other environmental problems, noise pollution continues to grow, accompanied by an increasing number of complaints from affected individuals. Most people are typically exposed to several noise sources, with road traffic noise being a dominant source (OECD-ECMT 19 1995). Population growth, urbanization and to a large extent technological development are the main driving forces, and future enlargements of highway systems, international airports and railway systems will only increase the noise problem. Viewed globally, the growth in urban environmental noise pollution is unsustainable, because it involves not simply the direct and cumulative adverse effects on health. It also adversely affects future generations by degrading residential, social and learning environments, with corresponding economical losses (Berglund 1998). Thus, noise is not simply a local problem, but a global issue that affects everyone (Lang 1999; Sandberg 1999) and calls for precautionary action in any environmental planning situation.

The objective of the World Health Organization (WHO) is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. As the first principle of the WHO Constitution the definition of ‘health’ is given as: "A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". This broad definition of health embraces the concept of well-being and, thereby, renders noise impacts such as population annoyance, interference with communication, and impaired task performance as ‘health’ issues. In 1992, a WHO Task Force also identified the following specific health effects for the general population that may result from community noise: interference with communication; annoyance responses; effects on sleep, and on the cardiovascular and psychophysiological systems; effects on performance, productivity, and social behavior; and noise-induced hearing impairment (WHO 1993; Berglund & Lindvall 1995; cf . WHO 1980). Hearing damage is expected to result from both occupational and environmental noise, especially in developing countries, where compliance with noise regulation is known to be weak (Smith 1998).

Noise is likely to continue as a major issue well into the next century, both in developed and in developing countries. Therefore, strategic action is urgently required, including continued noise control at the source and in local areas. Most importantly, joint efforts among countries are necessary at a system level, in regard to the access and use of land, airspace and seawaters, and in regard to the various modes of transportation. Certainly, mankind would benefit from societal reorganization towards healthy transport. To understand noise we must understand the different types of noise and how we measure it, where noise comes from and the effects of noise on human beings. Furthermore, noise mitigation, including noise management, has to be actively introduced and in each case the policy implications have to be evaluated for efficiency.

This document is organized as follows. In Chapter 2 noise sources and measurement are discussed , including the basic aspects of source characteristics, sound propagation and transmission. In Chapter 3 the adverse health effects of noise are characterized. These include noise-induced hearing impairment, interference with speech communication, sleep disturbance, cardiovascular and physiological effects, mental health effects, performance effects, and annoyance reactions. This chapter is rounded out by a consideration of combined noise sources and their effects, and a discussion of vulnerable groups. In Chapter 4 the Guideline values are presented. Chapter 5 is devoted to noise management. Included are discussions of: strategies and priorities in the management of indoor noise levels; noise policies and legislation; environmental noise impact; and enforcement of regulatory standards. In Chapter 6 implementation of the WHO Guidelines is discussed, as well as future WHO work on noise and its research needs. In Appendices 1–6 are given: bibliographic references; examples of regional noise situations (African Region, American Region, Eastern Mediterranean Region, South East Asian Region, Western Pacific Region); a glossary; a list of acronyms; and a list of participants.


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