Environmental noise

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Example of transportation noise and how it affects the community. Figure 1 Selected Tools Available to Address Airport Noise (7986097480).jpg
Example of transportation noise and how it affects the community.

Environmental noise is an accumulation of noise pollution that occurs outside. This noise can be caused by transport, industrial, and recreational activities. [1]


Noise is frequently described as 'unwanted sound'. Within this context, environmental noise is generally present in some form in all areas of human, animal, or environmental activity. The effects in humans of exposure to environmental noise may vary from emotional to physiological and psychological. [2] Noise at low levels is not necessarily harmful. Environmental noise can also convey a sense of liveliness in an area, which can be desirable. However, the adverse effects of noise exposure (i.e. noise pollution) could include: interference with speech or other 'desired' sounds, annoyance, sleep disturbance, anxiety, hearing damage and stress-related cardiovascular health problems. [3]

As a result, environmental noise is studied, regulated, and monitored by many governments and institutions around the world. This creates a number of different occupations. The basis of all decisions is supported by the objective and accurate measurement of noise. Noise is measured in decibels (dB) using a pattern-approved sound level meter. The measurements are typically taken over a period of weeks, in all weather conditions.

Environmental noise emission

Noise from transportation is typically emitted by machinery (e.g. the engine or exhaust) and aerodynamic noise (see aerodynamics and aircraft noise) caused by the compression and friction in the air around the vessel during motion. Environmental noise from the railway specifically is variable depending on the speed and quality of the tracks used for transportation. [4]

Industrial and recreational noise could be generated by a multitude of different sources and processes. Industrial noise can be generated by factories and plants (i.e., product fabrication or assembly), power generation (hydroelectricity or wind turbines), construction activities, or agricultural and meat processing facilities. Sources of recreational noise vary widely but they can include music festivals, [5] shooting ranges, sporting events, car racing, woodworking, pubs, [6] people's activities on the street, [7] etc.

Sound propagation outdoors is subject to meteorological effects (e.g. wind, temperature) that affect the distance, speed, and direction with which environmental noise travels from a source to a listener.

Environmental noise and children

Children and adolescents are just as susceptible to environmental noise exposure as adults. Similar to adults, with the exposure to noise there can be damaging outcomes on mental health. [8] The environmental noises that children can be exposed to are traffic noise, aircraft, trains, and more. [8] There are some pieces of evidence that show a small correlation between environmental noise and reading and oral comprehension, however more research is needed in this area. [8]

Environmental noise in children is most commonly by people around them whether that be siblings crying or friends screaming. Then children are mostly exposed to animal noises and traffic noise. [9] When researchers asked children how they felt when it came to environmental noises around them, more felt negative emotions as compared to positive emotions. The negative emotions were tied to environmental sound, for example, traffic noise, industrial noises, sirens, and alarms. [9] The positive emotions were tied to winds, fans, and everyday household noises. [9]

Environmental noise and health effects

Noise and quality of life are correlated. The increase of environmental noise, especially for those living near railways and airports, has created conflict. Getting adequate and quality sleep is difficult for those who live in areas of high noise exposure. When the body is at rest, noise stimuli is continually being presented in the environment. The body responds to these sounds which can negatively affect sleep. [4]

High exposure to environmental noise can play a role in cardiovascular disease. Noise can raise blood pressure, change heart rate, and release stress hormones. Consistent changes in these health stats can lead to risks for hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and even more serious events such as a stroke or myocardial infarction. [10] [11]

Sleep deprivation is another aspect of health that is affected by environmental noise. In order for our bodies to function properly, we need sleep and for some people having excessive environmental noise around them can cause difficulties sleeping. [12] For many, even ambient noise can affect their sleep state which can then affect their quality of life and outlook. [12]

Environmental noise policy and regulation

United States

The Noise Control Act of 1972 established a U.S. national policy to promote an environment for all Americans to be free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare. In the past, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coordinated all federal noise control activities through its Office of Noise Abatement and Control. [13] The EPA phased out the office's funding in 1982 as part of a shift in federal noise control policy to transfer the primary responsibility of regulating noise to state and local governments. However, the Noise Control Act of 1972 and the Quiet Communities Act of 1978 were never rescinded by Congress and remain in effect today, although essentially unfunded. [14]

Today, in the absence of a national guidance and enforcement by the EPA, states, cities, and municipalities have had little or no guidance on writing competent and effective noise regulations. Since the EPA last published its Model Community Noise Ordinance in 1974, communities have struggled to develop their ordinances, often relying on copying guidance from other communities, and sometimes copying their mistakes. [15] Noise laws and ordinances vary widely among municipalities though most specify some general prohibition against making noise that is a nuisance and the allowable sound levels that can cross a property line. Some ordinances set out specific guidelines for the level of noise allowable at certain times of the day and for certain activities. [16]

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates aircraft noise by specifying the maximum noise level that individual civil aircraft can emit through requiring aircraft to meet certain noise certification standards. These standards designate changes in maximum noise level requirements by "stage" designation. The U.S. noise standards are defined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 14 Part 36 – Noise Standards: Aircraft Type and Airworthiness Certification (14 CFR Part 36). [17] The FAA also pursues a program of aircraft noise control in cooperation with the aviation community. [18] The FAA has set up a process to report aviation-related noise complaints for anyone who may be impacted by Aircraft noise.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) developed noise regulations to control highway noise as required by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1970. The regulations requires promulgation of traffic noise-level criteria for various land use activities, and describe procedures for the abatement of highway traffic noise and construction noise. [19]

The Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics has created a National Transportation Noise Map to provide access to comprehensive aircraft and road noise data on national and county-level. The map aims to assist city planners, elected officials, scholars, and residents to gain access to up-to-date aviation and Interstate highway noise information. [20]

European Union

The European Union has a special definition based on the European directive 2002/49/EC article 10.1. This directive gives a definition for environmental noise. The main goal is to create an integrated noise management system. The Environmental Noise Directive (END) was created in the European Union to provide guidelines, laws, and standards in the management of environmental noise. The END has created noise mapping, noise action plans, and quiet areas to control environmental noise and the negative effects it can have on individuals. [21]

The implementation is divided into phases: In the first phase, the member states shall inform about major roads with more than six million vehicles a year, major railways with more than 60,000 trains per year, major airports with more than 50,000 movements per year and metropolitan areas with more than 250,000 inhabitants. In the second phase, these numbers are halved; only the criteria for airports remains unchanged. In the third and the following phases, the methods for calculation of the noise levels will change while the criteria remains unchanged. Each phase consists of three steps: the collection of the data from the main sources of noise, strategic noise maps and action plans. The countries listed below follow the guidelines of the European Union.

There are many groups of people affected by environmental noise within the European Union. Shift workers, older adults, and those without proper insulation in their homes are just some of those affected. [22]  Within the European Union 40% of people are exposed to environmental noise in their daily commutes on the road which exceeds 55 dB(A). During the daytime, approximately 20% of people are exposed to environmental noise levels above 65 dB(A) and during the nighttime, 30% of people are exposed to environmental noise above 55 dB(A). [22]


In Austria the institution which is responsible for the noise sources is also responsible for the noise maps concerning these sources. This means that the Federation is responsible for the federal roads and each state is responsible for the country's roads.


Aircraft noise has been linked to high annoyance, leading to psychological-illness. Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor JSOH.jpg
Aircraft noise has been linked to high annoyance, leading to psychological-illness.

France reported 24 metropolitan areas. Paris was the biggest with 9.6 million inhabitants and 272 square kilometres.

Many of France's residents are exposed to high levels of noise. Previously it was estimated that 10% of the population, approximately 2 million people, were exposed to above 70 dB Leq. however that number is estimated to be higher today. [12]

Aircraft plays a major role in environmental noise. A study conducted in 2018 found that while aircraft noise in decibel level cannot cause any psychological-illness, there is a link to how aircraft noise causes an annoyance to residents which then leads to psychological illness. [23] The sensitivity of noise among people has an association with environmental noise and those affects. [23]


Germany implemented national regulations in 2005 and 2006 and reported 27 metropolitan areas in the first phase. Berlin was the most populated with 3.39 million inhabitants and 889 square kilometres, Hamburg was considered the largest with 1,045 square kilometres and 2 million inhabitants. The smallest was Gelsenkirchen with 270,000 inhabitants and 105 square kilometres. In the national legislation, noise resulting from recreational activities like sports and leisure is not considered as environmental noise.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom reported a total of 28 metropolitan areas, where London is the largest with 8.3 million inhabitants. The majority of metropolitan areas are located in England. There are two in Scotland and Wales, and one in Northern Ireland with it being Belfast, the country's capital.

Within the United Kingdom, researchers revealed that approximately 55% of the population lived where the sound level exceeded the recommended level of 55 dB Leq in the daytime and 67% lived where the sound level exceeded the recommended level of 45 dB Leq at night. [24] About 20% of London residents were exposed to environmental noise near their home that was above 60 dBA Leq. All of these environmental noise exposures have led to higher increases in blood pressure within the UK population. [24]

See also


Related Research Articles

Noise An unwanted sound

Noise is unwanted sound considered unpleasant, loud or disruptive to hearing. From a physics standpoint, noise is indistinguishable from desired sound, as both are vibrations through a medium, such as air or water. The difference arises when the brain receives and perceives a sound.

Noise pollution Excessive, displeasing human, animal, or machine-created environmental noise

Noise pollution, also known as environmental noise or sound pollution, is the propagation of noise with ranging impacts on the activity of human or animal life, most of them harmful to a degree. The source of outdoor noise worldwide is mainly caused by machines, transport, and propagation systems. Poor urban planning may give rise to noise disintegration or pollution, side-by-side industrial and residential buildings can result in noise pollution in the residential areas. Some of the main sources of noise in residential areas include loud music, transportation, lawn care maintenance, construction, electrical generators, explosions, and people.

Aircraft noise pollution

Aircraft noise pollution refers to noise produced by aircraft in flight that has been associated with several negative stress-mediated health effects, from sleep disorders to cardiovascular ones. Governments have enacted extensive controls that apply to aircraft designers, manufacturers, and operators, resulting in improved procedures and cuts in pollution.

Trichloroethylene Chemical compound

The chemical compound trichloroethylene is a halocarbon commonly used as an industrial solvent. It is a clear, colourless non-flammable liquid with a chloroform-like sweet smell. It should not be confused with the similar 1,1,1-trichloroethane, which is commonly known as chlorothene.


Chlorpyrifos (CPS) is an organophosphate pesticide used on crops, animals, and buildings, and in other settings, to kill a number of pests, including insects and worms. It acts on the nervous systems of insects by inhibiting the acetylcholinesterase enzyme. Chlorpyrifos was patented in 1966 by Dow Chemical Company.

Exhaust gas Gases emitted as a result of fuel reactions in combustion engines

Exhaust gas or flue gas is emitted as a result of the combustion of fuels such as natural gas, gasoline (petrol), diesel fuel, fuel oil, biodiesel blends, or coal. According to the type of engine, it is discharged into the atmosphere through an exhaust pipe, flue gas stack, or propelling nozzle. It often disperses downwind in a pattern called an exhaust plume.

Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976

The Toxic Substances Control Act is a United States law, passed by the 94th United States Congress in 1976 and administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that regulates the introduction of new or already existing chemicals. When the TSCA was put into place, all existing chemicals were considered to be safe for use and subsequently grandfathered in. Its three main objectives are to assess and regulate new commercial chemicals before they enter the market, to regulate chemicals already existing in 1976 that posed an "unreasonable risk to health or to the environment", as for example PCBs, lead, mercury and radon, and to regulate these chemicals' distribution and use.

In acoustics, noise measurement can be for the purpose of measuring environmental noise or measuring noise in the workplace. Applications include monitoring of construction sites, aircraft noise, road traffic noise, entertainment venues and neighborhood noise. One of the definitions of noise covers all "unwanted sounds". When sound levels reach a high enough intensity, the sound, whether it is wanted or unwanted, may be damaging to hearing. Environmental noise monitoring is the measurement of noise in an outdoor environment caused by transport, industry and recreational activities. The laws and limits governing environmental noise monitoring differ from country to country.

Noise control

Noise control or noise mitigation is a set of strategies to reduce noise pollution or to reduce the impact of that noise, whether outdoors or indoors.

Noise regulation includes statutes or guidelines relating to sound transmission established by national, state or provincial and municipal levels of government. After the watershed passage of the United States Noise Control Act of 1972, other local and state governments passed further regulations.

The Noise Pollution and Abatement Act of 1972 is a statute of the United States initiating a federal program of regulating noise pollution with the intent of protecting human health and minimizing annoyance of noise to the general public.

Health effects from noise

Noise health effects are the physical and psychological health consequences of regular exposure to consistent elevated sound levels. Noise from traffic, in particular, is considered by the World Health Organization to be one of the worst environmental stressors for humans, second only to air pollution. Elevated workplace or environmental noise can cause hearing impairment, tinnitus, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance, and sleep disturbance. Changes in the immune system and birth defects have been also attributed to noise exposure.

Noise-induced hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is hearing impairment resulting from exposure to loud sound. People may have a loss of perception of a narrow range of frequencies or impaired perception of sound including sensitivity to sound or ringing in the ears. When exposure to hazards such as noise occur at work and is associated with hearing loss, it is referred to as occupational hearing loss.

"Right to know", in the context of United States workplace and community environmental law, is the legal principle that the individual has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living. It is embodied in federal law in the United States as well as in local laws in several states. "Right to Know" laws take two forms: Community Right to Know and Workplace Right to Know. Each grants certain rights to those groups. The "right to know" concept is included in Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring.

Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials into the atmosphere, causing harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or damaging ecosystems. Air pollution can cause health problems including infections, behavioral changes, cancer, organ failure, and premature death. These health effects are not equally distributed across the U.S population; there are demographic disparities by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and education. Air pollution has affected the United States since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

To protect the environment from the adverse effects of pollution, many nations worldwide have enacted legislation to regulate various types of pollution as well as to mitigate the adverse effects of pollution.

Buy Quiet is an American health and safety initiative to select and purchase the lowest noise emitting power tools and machinery in order to reduce occupational and community noise exposure. Buy Quiet Programs are examples of noise control strategies. Buy Quiet is part of the larger Hearing Loss Prevention Program, and is an example of Prevention Through Design, which seeks to reduce occupational injury through prevention considerations in designs that impact workers.

Occupational hearing loss

Occupational hearing loss (OHL) is hearing loss that occurs as a result of occupational hazards, such as excessive noise and ototoxic chemicals. Noise is a common workplace hazard, and recognized as the risk factor for noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus, but it is not the only risk factor that can result in a work-related hearing loss. Also, noise-induced hearing loss can result from exposures that are not restricted to the occupational setting.

Hearing protection device

A hearing protection device, also known as a HPD, is an ear protection device worn in or over the ears while exposed to hazardous noise to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss. HPDs reduce the level of the noise entering the ear. HPDs can also protect against other effects of noise exposure such as tinnitus and hyperacusis. There are many different types of HPDs available for use, including earmuffs, earplugs, electronic hearing protection devices, and semi-insert devices.


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