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

5. Noise Management



  1. Stages in Noise Management
  2. Noise Exposure Mapping
  3. Noise Exposure Modeling
  4. Noise Control Approaches
    1. Mitigation measures (Road traffic noise, Railway noise and noise from trams, Aircraft noise, Machines
      and Equipment, Noise control within the sound transmission path, Noise protection at the receiver’s site
    2. Precautionary measures (Land use planning, Education and public awareness)
  5. Evaluation of Control Options
  6. Management of Indoor Noise
    1. Government policy on indoor noise
    2. Design considerations
    3. Indoor noise level control
    4. Resolving indoor noise problems
  7. Priority Setting in Noise Management
    1. Noise policy and legislation
    2. Examples of noise policies
    3. Noise emission standards have proven to be inadequate
    4. Unsustainable trends in noise pollution future policy planning
    5. Analysis of the impact of environmental noise
    6. Cost-benefit analysis
    7. Review of standard setting
    8. Enforcement of noise standards: Low-noise implementation plans
  8. Conclusions on Noise Management

The goal of noise management is to maintain low noise exposures, such that human health and well-being are protected. The specific objectives of noise management are to develop criteria for the maximum safe noise exposure levels, and to promote noise assessment and control as part of environmental health programmes. This is not always achieved (Jansen 1998). The United Nations´ Agenda 21 (UNCED 1992), as well as the European Charter on Transport, Environment and Health (London Charter 1999), both support a number of environmental management principles on which government policies, including noise management policies, can be based. These include:

  1. The precautionary principle . In all cases, noise should be reduced to the lowest level achievable in a particular situation. Where there is a reasonable possibility that public health will be damaged, action should be taken to protect public health without awaiting full scientific proof.
  2. The polluter pays principle . The full costs associated with noise pollution (including monitoring, management, lowering levels and supervision) should be met by those responsible for the source of noise.
  3. The prevention principle . Action should be taken where possible to reduce noise at the source. Land-use planning should be guided by an environmental health impact assessment that considers noise as well as other pollutants.

The government policy framework is the basis of noise management. Without an adequate policy framework and adequate legislation it is difficult to maintain an active or successful noise management programme. A policy framework refers to transport, energy, planning, development and environmental policies. The goals are more readily achieved if the interconnected government policies are compatible, and if issues which cross different areas of government policy are co-ordinated.

5.1 Stages in Noise Management

A legal framework is needed to provide a context for noise management (Finegold 1998; Hede 1998a). While there are many possible models, an example of one is given in Figure 5.1. This model depicts the six stages in the process for developing and implementing policies for community noise management. For each policy stage, there are groups of ‘policy players’ who ideally would participate in the process.

A model for noise policy
Figure 5.1. A model of the policy process for community noise management (Hede 1998a)

When goals and policies have been developed, the next stage is the development of the strategy or plan. Figure 5.2 summarizes the stages involved in the development of a noise management strategy. Specific abatement measures 19 are listed in Table 5.1.

Stages for development of noise abatement strategy
Figure 5.2. Stages involved in the development of a noise abatement strategy.

Table 5.1. Recommended Noise Management Measures (following EEA 1995)

Legal measures


Control of noise emissions

Emission standards for road and off-road vehicles; emission standards for construction equipment; emission standards for plants; national regulations, EU Directives

Control of noise transmission

Regulations on sound-obstructive measures

Noise mapping and zoning around roads, airports, industries

Initiation of monitoring and modeling programmes

Control of noise immissions

Limits for exposure levels such as national immission standards; noise monitoring and modeling; regulations for complex noise situations; regulations for recreational noise

Speed limits

Residential areas; hospitals

Enforcement of regulations

Low Noise Implementation Plan

Minimum requirements for acoustical properties of buildings

Construction codes for sound insulation of building parts

Engineering Measures


Emission reduction by source modification

Tyre profiles; low-noise road surfaces; changes in engine properties

New engine technology

Road vehicles; aircraft; construction machines

Transmission reduction

Enclosures around machinery; noise screens

Orientation of buildings

Design and structuring of tranquille uses; using buildings for screening purposes

Traffic management

Speed limits; guidance of traffic flow by electronic means

Passive protection

Ear plugs; ear muffs; insulation of dwellings; façade design

Implementation of land-use planning

Minimum distance between industrial, busy roads and residential areas; location of tranquillity areas; by-pass roads for heavy traffic; separating out incompatible functons

Education and information


Raising public awareness

Informing the public on the health impacts of noise, enforcement action taken, noise levels, complaints

Monitoring and modeling of soundscapes

Publication of results

Sufficient number of noise experts

University or highschool curricula

Initiation of research and development

Funding of information generation according to scientific research needs

Initiation of behaviour changes

Speed reduction when driving; use of horns; use of loudspeakers for advertisements

The process outlined in Figure 5.2 can start with the development of noise standards or guidelines. Ideally, it should also involve the identification and mapping of noise sources and exposed communities. Meteorological conditions and noise levels would also normally be monitored. These data can be used to validate the output of models that estimate noise levels. Noise standards and model outputs may be considered in devising noise control tactics aimed at achieving the noise standards. Before being enforced, current control tactics need to be revised, and if the standards are achieved they need continued enforcement. If the standards are not achieved after a reasonable period of time, the noise control tactics may need to be revised.

National noise standards can usually be based on a consideration of international guidelines, such as these Guidelines for Community Noise, as well as national criteria documents, which consider dose-response relations for the effects of noise on human health. National standards take into account the technological, social, economic, political and other factors specific for the country.

In many cases monitoring may show that noise levels are considerably higher than established guidelines. This may be particularly true in developing countries, and the question has to be raised as to whether national standards should reflect the optimum levels needed to protect human health, when this objective is unlikely to be achieved in the short- or medium-term with available resources. In some countries noise standards are set at levels that are realistically attainable under prevailing technological, social, economic and political conditions, even though they may not be fully consistent with the levels needed to protect human health. In such cases, a staged programme of noise abatement should be implemented to achieve the optimum health protection levels over the long term. Noise standards periodically change after reviews, as conditions in a country change over time, and with improved scientific understanding of the relationship between noise pollution and the health of the population. Noise level monitoring (Chapter 2) is used to assess whether noise levels at particular locations are in compliance with the standards selected.

5.2 Noise Exposure Mapping

A crucial component of a low-noise implementation plan is a reasonably quantitative knowledge of exposure (see Figure 5.2). Exposure should be mapped for all noise sources impacting a community; for example, road traffic, aircraft, railway, industry, construction, festivals and human activity in general. For some components of a noise exposure map or noise exposure inventory, accurate data may be available. In other cases, exposure can be calculated from the characteristics of the mechanical processes. While estimates of noise emissions are needed to develop exposure maps, measurements should be undertaken to confirm the veracity of the assumptions used in the estimates. Sample surveys may be used to provide an overall picture of the noise exposure. Such surveys would take account of all the relevant characteristics of the noise source. For example motor vehicle emissions may be estimated by calculations involving the types of vehicles, their number, their age and the characteristic properties of the road surface.

In developing countries, there is usually a lack of appropriate statistical information to produce noise exposure estimates. However, where action is needed to lower noise levels, the absence of comprehensive information should not prevent the development of provisional noise exposure estimates. Basic information about the exposed population, transport systems, industry and other relevant factors can be used to calculate provisional noise exposures. These can then be used to develop and implement interim noise management plans. The preliminary exposure estimates can be revised as more accurate information becomes available.

5.3 Noise exposure modeling

As indicated in Chapter 2 modeling is a powerful tool for the interpolation, prediction and optimization of control strategies. However, models need to be validated by monitoring data. A strength of models is that they enable examination and comparison of the consequences for noise exposure of the implementation of the various options for improving noise. However, the accuracy of the various models available depends on many factors, including the accuracy of the source emissions data and details of the topography (for which a geographical information system may be used). For transportation noise parameters such as the number, type and speed of vehicles, aircraft or trains, and the noise characteristics of each individual event must be known. An example of a model is the annoyance prediction model of the Government of the Netherlands (van den Berg 1996).

5.4 Noise control approaches

An integrated noise policy should include several control procedures: measures to limit the noise at the source, noise control within the sound transmission path, protection at the receiver’s site, land-use planning, education and raising of public awareness. Ideally, countries should give priority to precautionary measures that prevent noise, but they must also implement measures to mitigate existing noise problems.

5.4.1 Mitigation measures

The most effective mitigation measure is to reduce noise emissions at the source. Therefore, regulations with noise level limits for the main noise sources should be introduced.

Road traffic noise . Limits on the noise emission of vehicles have been introduced in many countries (Sandberg 1995). Such limits, together with the relevant measuring methods, should also be introduced in other regions of the world. Besides these limits a special class of "low-noise trucks" has been introduced in Europe. These trucks follow state-of-the-art noise control and are widely used in Austria and Germany (Lang 1995). Their use is encouraged by economic incentives; for example, low-noise trucks are excepted from a night-time ban on certain routes, and their associated taxes are lower than for other trucks. In Europe, the maximum permissible noise levels range from 69 dBA for motor vehicles to 77 dBA for cars, and 83 dBA for heavy two-wheeled vehicles to 84 dBA for trucks. A number of European Directives give permissible sound levels for motor vehicles and motorcycles (EU 1970; EU 1978; EU 1996a; EU 1997). In addition to noise level limits for new vehicles (type test), noise emissions of vehicles already in use should be controlled regularly. Limits on the sound pressure levels for vehicles reduce the noise emission from the engines.

However, the main noise from traffic on highways is rolling noise. This may be reduced by quiet road surfaces (porous asphalt, "drain asphalt") or by selection of quiet tires. Road traffic noise may also be reduced by speed limits, provided the limits are enforced. For example, reducing the speed of trucks from 90 to 60 km/h on concrete roads would reduce the maximum sound pressure level by 5 dB, and the equivalent sound pressure level by 4 dB. Decreasing the speed of cars from 140 to 100 km/h would result in the same noise reduction (WHO 1995a). In the central parts of cities a speed limit of 30 km/h may be introduced. At 30 km/h cars produce maximum sound pressure levels that are 7 dB lower, and equivalent sound pressure levels that are 5 dB lower, than cars driving at 50 km/h.

Noise emission from road traffic may be further reduced by a night-time ban for all vehicles, or especially for heavy vehicles. Traffic management designed to ensure uniform traffic flow in towns also serves to reduce noise. "Low-noise behaviour" of drivers should be encouraged as well, by advocating defensive driving manners. In some countries, car drivers use their horns frequently, which results in noise with high peak levels. The unnecessary use of horns within cities should be forbidden, especially during night-time, and this rule should be enforced.

Railway noise and noise from trams . The main noise sources are the engine and the wheel-rail contact. Noise at the source can be reduced by well-maintained rails and wheels, and by the use of disc brakes. Sound pressure levels may vary by more than 10 dB, depending on the type of railway material. Replacement of steel wheels by rubber wheels could also reduce noise from railways and trams substantially. Other measures include innovations in engine and track technology (Moehler 1988; Öhrström & Skånberg 1996).

Aircraft noise . The noise emission of aircraft is limited by ICAO Annex 16, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3, which estimates maximum potential sound emissions under certification procedures (ICAO 1993). Aircraft following the norms of Chapter 3 represent the state-of-the-art of noise control of the 1970s. In many countries, non-certified aircraft (i.e. aircraft not fulfilling the ICAO requirements) are not permitted and Chapter 2 aircraft may not be registered again. After the year 2002 only Chapter 3 aircraft will be allowed to operate in many countries.

Similar legislation should be adopted in other countries. The use of low-noise aircraft may also be encouraged by setting noise-related charges (that is, landing charges that are related not only to aircraft weight and capacity, but also to noise emission). Examples of systems for noise-related financial charges are given in OECD 1991 (see also OECD-ECMT 1995). Night-time aircraft movements should be discouraged where they impact residential communities. Particular categories of aircraft (such as helicopters, rotorcraft and supersonic aircraft) pose additional problems that require appropriate controls. For subsonic airplanes two EU Directive give the permissible sound levels (EU 1980; EU 1989).

Machines and Equipment . Noise emission has to be considered a main property of all types of machines and equipment. Control measures include design, insulation, enclosure and maintenance.

Consumers should be encouraged to take noise emission into account when buying a product. Declaring the A-weighted sound power level of a product would assist the consumer in making this decision. The introduction of sound labeling is a major tool for reducing the noise emission of products on the market. For example, within the European Community, "permissible sound levels" and "sound power levels" have to be stated for several groups of machines; for example, lawn mowers, construction machines and household equipment (EU 1984a-f; EU 1986b,c). For other groups of machines sound level data have been compiled and are state-of-the-art with respect to noise control.

A second step would be the introduction of limits on the sound power levels for certain groups of machines, heating and ventilation systems (e.g. construction machines, household appliances). These limits may be set by law, in recommendations and by consumers, using state-of-the-art measurements. There have also been promising developments in the use of active noise control (involving noise cancellation techniques). These are to be encouraged.

Noise control within the sound transmission path . The installation of noise barriers can protect dwellings close to the traffic source. In several European countries noise barrier regulations have been established (WHO 1995b), but in practice they are often not adequately implemented. These regulations must define:

  1. Measuring and calculation methods for deriving the equivalent sound pressure level of road or railway traffic, and schemes for determining the effectiveness of the barrier.
  2. The sound pressure limits that are to be achieved by installing barriers.
  3. The budgetary provisions.
  4. The responsible authority.

Noise protection at the receiver’s site . This approach is mainly used for existing situations. However, this approach must also be considered for new and, eventually, for old buildings in noisy areas. Residential buildings near main roads with heavy traffic, or near railway lines, may be provided with sound-proofed windows.

5.4.2 Precautionary measures

With careful planning, noise exposure can be avoided or reduced. A sufficient distance between residential areas and an airport will make noise exposure minimal, although the realization of such a situation is not always possible. Additional insulation of houses can help to reduce noise exposure from railroad and road traffic. For new buildings, standards or building codes should describe the positions of houses, as well as the ground plans of houses with respect to noise sources. The required sound insulation of the façades should also be described. Various countries have set standards for the maximum sound pressure levels in front of buildings and for the minimum sound insulation values required for façades.

Land use planning . Land use planning is one of the main tools for noise control and includes:

  1. Calculation methods for predicting the noise impact caused by road traffic, railways, airports, industries and others.
  2. Noise level limits for various zones and building types. The limits should be based on annoyance responses to noise.
  3. Noise maps or noise inventories that show the existing noise situation. The construction of noise-sensitive buildings in noisy areas, or the construction of noisy buildings in quiet areas may thus be avoided.

Suggestions on how to use land use planning tools are given in several dedicated books (e.g. Miller & de Roo 1997). Different zones, such as quiet areas, hospitals, residential areas, commercial and industrial districts, can be characterized by the maximum equivalent sound pressure levels permissible in the zones. Examples of this approach can be found in OECD 1991 (also see OECD-ECMT 1995). More emphasis needs to be given to the design or retrofit of urban centres, with noise management as a priority (e.g. "soundscapes").

It is recommended that countries adopt the precautionary principle in their national noise policies. This principle should be applied to all noise situations where adverse noise effects are either expected or possible, even when the noise is below standard values.

Education and public awareness . Noise abatement policies can only be established if basic knowledge and background material is available, and the people and authorities are aware that noise is an environmental hazard that needs to be controlled. It is, therefore, necessary to include noise in school curricula and to establish scientific institutes to study acoustics and noise control. People working in such institutes should have the option of studying in other countries and exchanging information at international conferences. Dissemination of noise control information to the public is an issue for education and public awareness. Ideally, national and local advisory groups should be formed to promote the dissemination of information, to establish uniform methods of noise measurement and impact assessment, and to participate in the development and implementation of educational and public awareness programmes.

5.5 Evaluation of control options

Unless legal constraints in a country prescribe a particular option, the evaluation of control options must take into account technical, financial, social, health and environmental factors. The speed with which control options can be implemented, and their enforceability, must also be considered. Although considerable improvements in noise levels have been achieved in some developed countries, the financial costs have been high, and the resource demands of some of these approaches make them unsuitable for the poorer developing countries.

Technical factors . There needs to be confidence that the selected options are technically practical given the resources of the region. It must be possible to bring a selected option into operation, and maintain the expected level of performance in the long term, given the resources available. This may require regular staff training and other programmes, especially in developing countries.

Financial factors . The selected options must be financially viable in the long term. This may require a comparative cost-benefit assessment of different options. These assessments must include not only the capital costs of bringing an option into operation, but also the costs of maintaining the expected level of performance in the long term.

Social factors . The costs and benefits of each option should be assessed for social equity, and the potential impact of an option on people’s way of life, community structures and cultural traditions must be considered. Impacts may include disruption or displacement of residents, changes of land-use, and impacts on community, culture and recreation. Some impacts can be managed; in other cases, the impacts of an option can be mitigated by substitution of resources or uses.

Health and environmental factors . The costs and benefits of each option should be assessed for health and environmental factors. This may involve use of dose-response relations, or risk assessment techniques.

Effect-oriented and source-oriented principles . Noise control requirements in European countries are typically determined from the effects of noise on health and the environment (effect oriented) (e.g. Gottlob 1995; ten Wolde 1998). Increased noise emissions may be permitted if there would be no adverse health impacts, or if noise standards would not be exceeded. Action may be taken to reduce noise levels when it is shown that adverse health impacts will occur, or when noise levels exceed limits. Other countries base their noise management policies on the requirement for best available technology, or for best available techniques that do not entail excessive cost (source-oriented) (e.g. for aircraft noise, ICAO 1993; for road traffic noise, Sandberg 1995). Most developed countries apply a combination of both source-oriented and effect-oriented principles (EU 1996b; Jansen 1998; ten Wolde 1998).

5.6 Management of Indoor Noise

In modern societies, human beings spend most of their time in indoor environments. Pollution and degradation of the indoor environment cause illness, increased mortality, loss of productivity, and have major economic and social implications. Indoor noise problems are related to inadequate urban planning, design, operation and maintenance of buildings, and to the materials and equipment in buildings. Problems with indoor noise affect all types of buildings, including homes, schools, offices, health care facilities and other public and commercial buildings. The health effects of indoor noise include an increase in the rates of diseases and disturbances described in chapter 2. World-wide, the medical and social cost associated with these illnesses, and the related reduction in human productivity, can result in substantial economic losses.

Protection against noise generated within a building, or originating from outside the building, is a very complex problem. Soundproofing of ceilings, walls, doors and windows against airborne noise is important. Soundproofing of ceilings has to be sufficient to absorb sounds due to treading. Finally, noise emissions from the technological devices in the house must be sufficiently low. Governments should provide measurement protocols and data for use in reducing noise exposures in buildings. Governments should also be encouraged to support research on the relationship between noise levels inside buildings and health effects.

5.6.1 Government policy on indoor noise

Many of the problems associated with high noise levels can be prevented at low cost if governments develop and implement an integrated strategy for the indoor environment, in concert with all social and economic partners. Governments should establish a "National Plan for a Sustainable Indoor Noise Environment", that would apply to new construction as well as to existing buildings. Governments should set up a specific structure at an appropriate governmental level to achieve acceptable sound exposure levels within buildings. An example of existing documents that provide guidance and regulations, including strategies and management for the design of buildings, is given by Jansen & Gottlob (1996).

Guidance/education . Because our understanding of indoor noise is still developing, government activity should be focused on raising the awareness of various audiences. This education can take the form of providing general information, as well as providing technical guidance and training on how to minimize indoor noise levels. General information presented in the form of documents, videos, and other media can bring indoor noise issues to the attention of the general public and building professionals, including architects

Research support . Research is needed to develop technology for indoor noise diagnosis, mitigation and control. Efforts are also required to provide economical and practical alternatives for mitigation and control. Better means of measuring the effectiveness of absorption devices are needed; and diagnostic tools that are inexpensive and easy to use also need to be developed to help facility personnel. There is a particular need, too, for improving soundproofing methods, their implementation and for predicting the health effects of soundproofing techniques.

To provide accurate information for use in setting priorities for public health problems, governments should support problem assessment and surveys of indoor noise conditions. Building surveys are also necessary to provide baseline information about building characteristics and noise levels. When combined with occupant health surveys, these studies will help to establish the correlations between noise levels and adverse health effects. Surveys should be conducted to identify building types or vintages in which problems occur more frequently. The results of these studies will support effective risk reduction programmes. Epidemiological studies are also needed to aid in differentiating between noise-related symptoms and those due to other causes. Moreover, epidemiological studies are needed to assist in quantifying the extent of risk for indoor noise levels.

Economic research is needed to measure the costs of indoor noise control strategies to individuals, businesses and society. This includes developing methods for quantifying productivity loss and increased health costs due to noise, and for measuring the costs of various control strategies, including increased soundproofing and source control.

Development of standards and protocols . Efforts should be made to protect public health by setting reasonable noise exposure limits (immission standards) from known dose-response relationships. In cases where dose-response relationships have yet to be determined, but where health effects are generally recognized, exposure limits should be set conservatively and take into account risk, economic impact and feasibility. Efforts should also be made to incorporate noise-related specifications into building codes. Areas to target with building codes include ventilation design, building envelope design, site preparation, materials selection and commissioning. Standards and other regulations governing the use of sound proofing materials should also be developed.

Individuals involved in the diagnosis and mitigation of indoor noise problems should be trained in the multidisciplinary nature of the noise field. By instituting a series of credentials that recognize and highlight areas of expertise, consumers would be provided with the information to make informed choices when procuring indoor noise services. Companies which provide such services should be officially accredited. Guidelines or standards for sound emissions of air-conditioners, power generators and other building devices, would also provide useful information for manufacturers, architects, design engineers, building managers and others who play a role in selecting products used indoors.

5.6.2 Design considerations

Site investigation . Potential sites should be evaluated to determine whether they are prone to indoor noise problems. This evaluation should be consistent with national and local land use planning guidelines. Sites should be investigated to determine past uses and whether any sources of sound remain as a result. The potential for outdoor noise being carried to the site from adjacent areas, such as busy streets, should also be evaluated.

Building design . Buildings should be designed to be soundproof, to improve control over indoor noise. Soundproofing requires that outside noise be prevented from entering the building, and this should be estimated as part of the architectural and engineering design process. When soundproofing for outdoor noise, the total indoor noise load and the desired quality of the indoor space should be considered. Adequate soundproofing against outdoor noise is important in residential as well as commercial properties, and should be re-evaluated when interior spaces are rebuilt or renovated.

Indoor Spaces. The architectural layout should aim to reduce noise and provide a good sound quality to the space. This would include designing indoor spaces to have sufficiently short reverberation times. Designers and contractors should be encouraged to use sound-absorbing materials that lead to lower indoor noise levels, and materials with the best sound-absorbing properties should be specified. However, use of these materials should not be the only solution (Harris 1991). Possible conflicts with other environmental demands should also be identified; for example, the special demands by allergic people.

5.6.3 Indoor noise level control

Building maintenance personnel should be trained to understand the indoor noise aspects of their work, and be aware of how their work can directly impact the health and comfort of occupants. Many maintenance activities directly affect indoor noise levels, and some may indicate potential problems. Preventive maintenance is essential for the building systems to operate correctly and to provide suitable comfort conditions and low indoor noise levels. Detailed maintenance logs should be kept for all equipment. A schedule should be developed for routine equipment checks and calibration of control system components. Selection of low-noise domestic products should encouraged as far as is possible.

5.6.4 Resolving indoor noise problems

Addressing occupant complaints and symptoms . When complaints are received from occupants of a building, the cognizant authority should be responsive. The initial investigation into the cause of the complaint may be conducted by the in-house management staff, and they should continue an investigation as far as possible. If necessary, they should be responsible for hiring an outside consultant.

Building diagnostic procedures . After receiving complaints related to indoor noise levels, facility personnel or consultants should attempt to identify the cause of the problem through an iterative process of information collection and hypothesis testing. To begin, a walkthrough inspection of the building, including the affected areas and the mechanical systems serving these spaces is required. A walkthrough can provide information on the soundproofing system of the building, the sound pathways and sound sources. Visual indicators of sound sources and soundproofing malfunctions should be evaluated first. Symptom logs and schedules of building activities may provide enough additional information to resolve the problem.

If a walkthrough alone does not provide a solution, measurements of sound pressure levels at various locations should be taken, and indoor and ambient levels of noise pollution should be compared. As part of the investigation, the absorption characteristics of walls and ceilings should be evaluated. Sophisticated sampling methods may be necessary to provide proof of a problem to the building owner or other responsible party. The results may be used to confirm a hypothesis or ascertain the source of the indoor noise problem. Whenever a problem is discovered during the investigation, a remedy to the situation should be attempted and a determination made of whether the complaint has been resolved.

In some cases, it should be recognized that difficulties in interpreting the sampling results may exist. The costs of certain types of testing should also be taken into account. Simple, cost-effective screening methods should be developed to make sampling a more attractive option for both investigators and clients. Finally, it must be remembered that several factors cause symptoms similar to those induced by noise pollution. Examples include air pollutants, ergonomics, lighting, vibration and psychosocial factors. Consequently, any investigation of noise complaints should also evaluate non-noise factors.

5.7 Priority Setting in Noise Management

Priorities in noise management will differ between countries, according to policy objectives, needs and capabilities. Priority setting in noise management refers to prioritizing health risks and concentrating on the most important sources of noise. For effective noise management, the goals, policies and noise control schemes have to be defined. Goals for noise management include eliminating noise, or reducing noise to acceptable levels, and avoiding the adverse health effects of noise on human health. Policies for noise management encompass laws and regulations for setting noise standards and for ensuring compliance. The amount of information to be included in low-noise implementation plans and the use of cost-benefit comparisons also fall within the purview of noise management policies. Techniques for noise control include source control, barriers in noise pathways and receiver protection. Adequate calculation models for noise propagation, as well as programmes for noise monitoring, are part of an overall noise control scheme.

As emphasized above, a framework for a political, regulatory and administrative approach is required to guarantee the consistent and transparent promulgation of noise standards. This ensures a sound and practical framework for risk-reducing measures and for the selection of abatement strategies.

5.7.1 Noise policy and legislation

Noise is both a local and a global problem. Governments in every country have a responsibility to set up policies and legislation for controlling community noise. There is a direct relationship between the level of development in a country and the degree of noise pollution impacting its people. As a society develops, it increases its level of urbanization and industrialization, and the extent of its transportation system. Each of these developments brings an increase in noise load. Without appropriate intervention the noise impact on communities will escalate (see Figure 5.3). If governments implement only weak noise policies and regulations, they will not be able to prevent a continuous increase in noise pollution and associated adverse health effects. Failure to enforce strong regulations is ineffective in combating noise as well.

Relationship between noise regulation and impact with development
Figure 5.3. Relationship between noise regulation and impact with development (from Hede 1998b)

Policies for noise regulatory standards at the municipal, regional, national and supranational levels are usually determined by the legislatures. The regulatory standards adopted strongly depend on the risk management strategies of the legislatures, and can be influenced by sociopolitical considerations and/or international agreements. Although regulatory standards may be country specific, in general the following issues are taken into consideration:

  1. Identification of the adverse public health effects that are to be avoided.
  2. Identification of the population to be protected.
  3. The type of parameters describing noise and the limit applicable to the parameters.
  4. Applicable monitoring methodology and its quality assurance.
  5. Enforcement procedures to achieve compliance with noise regulatory standards within a defined time frame.
  6. Emission control measures and emission regulatory standards.
  7. Emission standards (limits for sound pressure levels).
  8. Identification of authorities responsible for enforcement.
  9. Resource commitment.

Regulatory standards may be based solely on scientific and technical data showing the adverse effects of noise on public health. But other aspects are usually considered, either when setting standards or when designing appropriate noise abatement measures. These other aspects include the technological feasibility, costs of compliance, prevailing exposure levels, and the social, economic and cultural conditions. Several standards may be set. For example, effect-oriented regulatory standards may be set as a long-term goal, while less-stringent standards are adopted for the short term. As a consequence, noise regulatory standards differ widely from country to country (WHO 1995a; Gottlob 1995).

Noise regulatory standards can set the reference point for emission control and abatement policies at the national, regional or municipal levels, and can thus strongly influence the implementation of noise control policies. In many countries, exceeding regulatory standards is linked to an obligation to develop abatement action plans at the municipal, regional or national levels (low-noise implementation plans). Such plans have to address all relevant sources of noise pollution.

5.7.2 Examples of noise policies

Different countries have adopted a range of policies and regulations for noise control. A number of these are outlined in this section as examples.

Argentina. In Argentina, a national law recently limited the daily 8-h exposure to industrial noise to 80 dB, and it has had beneficial effects on hearing impairment and other hearing disorders among workers. In general, industry has responded by introducing constant controls on noise sources, combined with hearing tests and medical follow-ups for workers. Factory owners have recruited permanent health and safety engineers who control noise, supply advice on how to make further improvements, and routinely assess excessive noise levels. The engineers also provide education in personal protection and in the correct use of ear plugs, mufflers etc.

At the municipal level two types of noise have been considered. Unnecessary noise, which is forbidden; and excessive noise, which is defined for neighbourhood activities (zones), and for which both day and night-time maximum limits have been introduced. The results have been relatively successful in mitigating unwanted noise effects. At the provincial level, similar results have been accomplished for many cities in Argentina and Latin America.

Australia. In Australia, the responsibility for noise control is shared primarily by state and local governments. There are nationally-agreed regulatory standards for airport planning and new vehicle noise emissions. The Australian Noise Exposure Forecast (ANEF) index is used to describe how much aircraft noise is received at locations around an airport (DoTRS 1999). Around all airports, planning controls restrict the construction of dwellings within the 25 ANEF exposure contour and require sound insulation for those within 20 ANEF. Road traffic noise limits are set by state governments, but vary considerably in both the exposure metric and in maximum allowable levels. New vehicles are required to comply with stringent design rules for noise and air emissions. For example, new regulation in New South Wales adopts LAeq as the metric and sets noise limits of 60 dBA for daytime, and 55 dBA for night-time, along new roads. Local governments set regulations restricting noise emissions for household equipment, such as air conditioners, and the hours of use for noisy machines such as lawn mowers.

Europe. In Europe, noise legislation is not generally enforced. As a result, environmental noise levels are often higher than the legislated noise limits. Moreover, there is a gap between long-term political goals and what represents a "good acoustical environment". One reason for this gap is that noise pollution is most commonly regulated only for new land use or for the development of transportation systems, whereas enlargements at existing localities may be approved even though noise limits or guideline values are already surpassed (Gottlob 1995). A comprehensive overview of the noise situation in Europe is given in the Green Paper (EU 1996b), which was established to give noise abatement a higher priority in policy making. The Green Paper outlines a new framework for noise policy in Europe with the following options for future action:

  1. Harmonizing the methods for assessing noise exposure, and encouraging the exchange of information among member states.
  2. Establishing plans to reduce road traffic noise by applying newer technologies and fiscal instruments.
  3. Paying more attention to railway noise in view of the future extension of rail networks.
  4. Introducing more stringent regulation on air transport and using economic instruments to encourage compliance.
  5. Simplifying the existing seven regulations on outdoor equipment by proposing a Framework Directive that covers a wider range of equipment, including construction machines and others.

Pakistan. In Pakistan, the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for the control of air pollution nationwide. However, only recently have controls been enforced in Sindh in an attempt to raise public awareness and carry out administrative control on road vehicles producing noise (Zaidi, personal communication).

South Africa. In South Africa, noise control is three decades old. It began with codes of practice issued by the South African Bureau of Standards to address noise pollution in various sectors of the country (e.g. see SABS 1994 1996; and the contribution of Grond in Appendix 2). In 1989, the Environment Conservation Act made provision for the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to make regulations for noise, vibration and shock (DEAT 1989). These regulations were published in 1990 and local authorities could apply to the Minister to make them applicable in their areas. Later, the act was changed to make it obligatory for all authorities to apply the regulations. However, according to the new Constitution of South Africa of 1996, legislative responsibility for noise control rests exclusively with provincial and local authorities. The noise control regulations will apply to local authorities in South Africa as soon as they are published in the provinces. This will not only give local authorities the power to enforce the regulations, but also place an obligation on them to see that the regulations are enforced.

Thailand. In 1996, noise pollution regulations in Thailand stipulated that not more than 70 dBA LAeq,24h should be allowed in residential areas, and the maximum level of noise in industry should be no more than 85 dBA Leq 8h (Prasansuk 1997).

United States of America. Environmental noise was not addressed as a national policy issue in the USA until the implementation of the Noise Control Act of 1972. This congressional act directed the US Environmental Protection Agency to publish scientific information about noise exposure and its effects, and to identify acceptable levels of noise exposure under various conditions. The Noise Control Act was supposed to protect the public health and well-being with an adequate margin of safety. This was accomplished in 1974 with the publication of the US EPA "Levels Document" (US EPA 1974). It addressed issues such as the use of sound descriptions to describe sound exposure, the identification of the most important human effects resulting from noise exposure, and the specification of noise exposure criteria for various effects. Subsequent to the publication of the US EPA "Levels Document", guidelines for conducting environmental impact analysis were developed (Finegold et al. 1998). The day-night average sound level was thus established as the predominant sound descriptor for most environmental noise exposure.

It is evident from these examples that noise policies and regulations vary considerably across countries and regions. Moves towards global noise policies need to be encouraged to ensure that the world population gains the maximum health benefits from new developments in noise control.

5.7.3 Noise emission standards have proven to be inadequate

Much of the progress towards solving the noise pollution problem has come from advanced technology, which in turn has come about mainly as a result of governmental regulations (e.g. OECD-ECMT 1995). So far, however, the introduction of noise emission standards for vehicles has had limited impact on exposure to transportation noise, especially from aircraft and road traffic noise (Sandberg 1995). In part, this is because changes in human behaviour (of polluters, planners and citizens) have tended to offset some of the gains made. For example, mitigation efforts such as developing quieter vehicles, moving people to less noise-exposed areas, improving traffic systems and direct noise abatement and control (sound insulation, barriers etc.), have been counteracted by increases in the number of roads and highways built, by the number of traffic movements, and by higher driving speeds and the number of kilometers driven (OECD 1991; OECD-ECMT 1995).

Traffic planning and correction policies may diminish the number of people exposed to the very high community noise levels (>70 dB LAeq), but the number exposed to moderately high levels (55-65 dB LAeq) continues to increase in industrialized countries (Stanners & Bordeau 1995). In developing countries, exposure to excessive sound pressure levels (>85 dB LAeq), not only from occupational noise but also from urban, environmental noise, is the major avoidable cause of permanent hearing impairment (Smith 1998). Such sound pressure levels can also be reached by leisure activities at concerts, discotheques, motor sports and shooting ranges; by music played back in headphones; and by impulse noises from toys and fireworks.

A substantial growth in air transport is also expected in the future. Over the next 10 years large international airports may have to accommodate a doubling in passenger movements. General aviation noise at regional airports is also expected to increase (Large & House 1989). Although jet aircraft are expected to become less noisy due to regulation of noise emissions (ICAO 1993), the number of passengers is expected to increase. Increased air traffic movement between 1980 and 1990 is considered to be the main reason for the average 22% increase in the number of people exposed to noise above 67 dB LAeq at German airports (OECD 1993).

5.7.4 Unsustainable trends in noise pollution future policy planning

A number of trends are expected to increase environmental noise pollution, and are considered to be unsustainable in the long term. The OECD (1991) identified the following factors to be of increasing importance in the future:

  1. The expanding use of increasingly powerful sources of noise.
  2. The wider geographical dispersion of noise sources, together with greater individual mobility and spread of leisure activities.
  3. The increasing invasion of noise, particularly into the early morning, evenings and weekends.
  4. The increasing public expectations that are closely linked to increases in incomes and in education levels.

Apart from these, increased noise pollution is also linked to systemic changes in business practices (OECD-ECMT 1995). By accepting a just-in-time concept in transportation, products and components are stored in heavy-duty vehicles on roads, instead of in warehouses; and workers are recruited as temporary consultants just in time for the work, instead of as long-term employees.

In addition, the OECD (1991) report forecasts:

  1. A strengthening of present noise abatement policies and their applications.
  2. A further sharpening of emission standards.
  3. A co-ordination of noise abatement measures and transport planning, to specifically reduce mobility.
  4. A co-ordination of noise abatement measures with urban planning.

Planners need to know the likely effects of introducing a new noise source, or of increasing the level of an existing source, on the noise pollution in a community. Policy makers, when considering applications for new developmental projects, must take into account maximum levels, continuous equivalent sound pressure levels of both the background and the new noise source, the frequency of noise occurrence and the operating times of major noise sources.

5.7.5 Analysis of the impact of environmental noise

The concept of an environmental noise impact analysis (ENIA) is central to the philosophy of managing environmental noise. An ENIA should be required before implementing any project that would significantly increase the level of environmental noise in a community (typically, greater than a 5dB increase). The first step in performing an ENIA is to develop a baseline description of the existing noise environment. Next, the expected level of noise from a new source is added to the baseline exposure level to produce the new overall noise level. If the new total noise level is expected to cause an unacceptable impact on human health, trade-off analyses should then be performed to assess the cost, technical feasibility and community acceptance of noise mitigation measures. It is strongly recommended that countries develop standardized procedures for performing ENIAs (Finegold et al. 1998; SABS 1998).

Assessment of adverse health effects . In setting noise standards (for example on the basis of these guidelines), the adverse health effects from which the population is to be protected need to be defined. Health effects range from hearing impairment to sleep disturbance, speech interference to annoyance. The distinction between adverse and non-adverse effects sometimes poses considerable difficulties. Even the elaborate definition of an adverse health effect given in Chapter 3 incorporates significant subjectivity and uncertainty. More serious noise effects, such as hearing impairment or permanent threshold shift, are generally accepted as adverse. Consideration of health effects that are both temporary and reversible, or that involve functional changes with uncertain clinical significance, requires a judgement on whether these less-serious effects should be considered when deriving guideline values. Judgements as to the adversity of health effects may differ between countries, because of factors such as cultural backgrounds and different levels of health status.

Estimation of the population at risk . The population at risk is that part of the population in a given country or community that is exposed to enhanced levels of noise. Each population has sensitive groups or subpopulations that are at higher risk of developing health effects due to noise exposure. Sensitive groups include individuals impaired by concurrent diseases or other physiological limitations and those with specific characteristics that makes them more vulnerable to noise (e.g. premature babies; see the contribution of Zaidi in Appendix 2). The sensitive groups in a population may vary across countries due to differences in medical care, nutritional status, lifestyle and demographic factors, prevailing genetic factors, and whether endemic or debilitating diseases are prevalent.

Calculation of exposure-response relationships . In developing standards, regulators should consider the degree of uncertainty in the exposure-response relationships provided in the noise guidelines. Differences in the population structure (age, health status), climate (temperature, humidity) and geography (altitude, environment) can influence the prevalence and severity of noise-related health effects. In consequence, modified exposure-response relationships may need to be applied when setting noise standards.

Assessment of risks and their acceptability . In the absence of distinct thresholds for the onset of health effects, regulators must determine what constitutes an acceptable health risk for the population and select an appropriate noise standard to protect public health. This is also true in cases where thresholds are present, but where it would not be feasible to adopt noise guidelines as standards because of economical and/or technical constraints. The acceptability of the risks involved, and hence the standards selected, will depend on several factors. These include the expected incidence and severity of the potential effects, the size of the population at risk, the perception of related risks, and the degree of scientific uncertainty that the effects will occur at any given noise level. For example, if it is suspected that a health effect is severe and the size of the population at risk is large, a more cautious approach would be appropriate than if the effect were less troubling, or if the population were smaller.

Again, the acceptability of risk may vary among countries because of differences in social norms, and the degree of adversity and risk perception by the general population and stakeholders. Risk acceptability is also influenced by how the risks associated with noise compare with risks from other pollution sources or human activities.

5.7.6 Cost-benefit analysis

In the derivation of noise standards from noise guidelines two different approaches for decision making can be applied. Decisions can be based purely on health, cultural and environmental consequences, with little weight to economic efficiency. This approach has the objective of reducing the risk of adverse noise effects to a socially acceptable level. The second approach is based on a formal cost-effectiveness, or cost-benefit analysis (CBA). The objective is to identify control actions that achieve the greatest net economic benefit, or are the most economically efficient. The development of noise standards should account for both extremes, and involve stakeholders and assure social equity to all the parties involved. It should also provide sufficient information to guarantee that stakeholders understand the scientific and economic consequences.

To determine the costs of control action, the abatement measures used to reduce emissions must be known. This is usually the case for direct measures at the source and these measures can be monetarized. Costs of action should include all costs of investment, operation and maintenance. It may not be possible to monetarize indirect measures, such as alternative traffic plans or change in behaviour of individuals.

The steps in a cost-benefit analysis include:

  1. The identification and cost analysis of control action (such as emission abatement strategies and tactics).
  2. An assessment of noise and population exposure, with and without the control action.
  3. The identification of benefit categories, such as improved health and reduced property loss.
  4. A comparison of the health effects, with and without control action.
  5. A comparison of the estimated costs of control action with the benefits that accrue from such action.
  6. A sensitivity and uncertainty analysis.

Action taken to reduce one pollutant may increase or decrease the concentration of other pollutants. These additional effects should be considered, as well as pollutant interactions that may lead to double counting of costs or benefits, or to disregarding some costly but necessary action. Due to different levels of knowledge about the costs of control action and health effects, there is a tendency to overestimate the cost of control action and underestimate the benefits.

CBA is a highly interdisciplinary task. Appropriately applied, it is a legitimate and useful way of providing information for managers who must make decisions that impact health. CBA is also an appropriate tool for drawing the attention of politicians to the benefits of noise control. In any case, however, a CBA should be peer-reviewed and never be used as the sole and overriding determinant of decisions.

5.7.7 Review of standard setting

The setting of standards should involve stakeholders at all levels (industry, local authorities, non-governmental organizations and the general public), and should strive for social equity or fairness to all parties involved. It should also provide sufficient information to guarantee that the scientific and economic consequences of the proposed standards are clearly understood by the stakeholders. The earlier that stakeholders are involved, the more likely is their co-operation. Transparency in moving from noise guidelines to noise standards helps to increase public acceptance of necessary measures. Raising public awareness of noise-induced health effects (changing of risk perception) also leads to a better understanding of the issues involved (risk communication) and serves to obtain public support for necessary control action, such as reducing vehicle emissions. Noise standards should be regularly reviewed, and revised as new scientific evidence emerges.

5.7.8 Enforcement of noise standards: Low-noise implementation plans

The main objective of enforcing noise standards is to achieve compliance with the standards. The instrument used to achieve this goal is a Low-Noise Implementation Plan (LNIP). The outline of such a plan should be defined in the regulatory policies and should use the tactical instruments discussed above. A typical low-noise implementation plan includes:

  1. A description of the area to be regulated.
  2. An emissions inventory.
  3. A monitored or simulated inventory of noise levels.
  4. A comparison of the plan with emissions and noise standards or guidelines.
  5. An inventory of the health effects.
  6. A causal analysis of the health effects and their attribution to individual sources.
  7. An analysis of control measures and their costs.
  8. An analysis of transportation and land-use planning.
  9. Enforcement procedures.
  10. An analysis of the effectiveness of the noise management procedures.
  11. An analysis of resource commitment.
  12. Projections for the future.

As the LNIP also addresses the effectiveness of noise control technologies and policies, it is very much in line with the Noise Control Assessment Programme (NCAP) proposed recently (Finegold et al. 1999).

5.8 Conclusions on noise management

Successful noise management should be based on the fundamental principles of precaution, the polluter pays and prevention. The noise abatement strategy typically starts with the development of noise standards or guidelines, and the identification, mapping and monitoring of noise sources and exposed communities. A powerful tool in developing and applying the control strategy is to make use of modeling. These models need to be validated by monitoring data. Noise parameters relevant to the important sources of noise must be known. Indoor noise exposures present specific and complex problems, but the general principles for noise management hold. The main means for noise control in buildings include careful site investigations, adequate building designs and building codes, effective means for addressing occupant complaints and symptoms, and building diagnostic procedures.

Noise control should include measures to limit the noise at the source, to control the sound transmission path, to protect the receiver’s site, to plan land use, and to raise public awareness. With careful planning, exposure to noise can be avoided or reduced. Control options should take into account the technical, financial, social, health and environmental factors of concern. Cost-benefit relationships, as well as the cost-effectiveness of the control measures, must be considered in the context of the social and financial situation of each country. A framework for a political, regulatory and administrative approach is required for the consistent and transparent promulgation of noise standards. Examples are given for some countries, which may guide others in their development of noise policies.

Noise management should:

  1. Start monitoring human exposures to noise.
  2. Have health control require mitigation of noise emissions. The mitigation procedures should take into consideration specific environments such as schools, playgrounds, homes and hospitals; environments with multiple noise sources, or which may amplify the effects of noise; sensitive time periods, such as evenings, nights and holidays; and groups at high risk, such as children and the hearing impaired.
  3. Consider noise consequences when making decisions on transport-system and land-use planning.
  4. Introduce surveillance systems for noise-related adverse health effects.
  5. Assess the effectiveness of noise policies in reducing noise exposure and related adverse health effects, and in improving supportive "soundscapes."
  6. Adopt these Guidelines for Community Noise as long-term targets for improving human health.
  7. Adopt precautionary actions for sustainable development of acoustical environments.

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