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New WHO Environmental Noise Guidelines published

The World Health Organisation (WHO) finally published its Environmental Noise Guidelines for Europe in October 2018.  They remind us that at least 100 million people in the EU are affected by road traffic noise; in western Europe alone at least 1.6 million healthy years of life are lost as a result of road traffic noise.  These big headline numbers serve to remind us about the scale of environmental noise as an enormous burden of disease, second only to air pollution in the top spot.

These WHO guidelines are the first of their kind globally; they provide recommendations for protecting people from environmental noise originating from road, rail, & air traffic, as well as leisure noise sources and wind turbines. A rigorous methodology has been used to develop the guidelines which are underpinned by evidence. Their recommendations are based on systematic reviews of evidence that consider more health outcomes of noise exposure than ever before. These guidelines contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, through their potential to influence urban, transport and energy policies, and they support WHO’s vision of creating resilient communities and supportive environments in the European Region.

Although the Guidelines are written in terms of public health advice for governments, urging changes in infrastructure to reduce the burden of disease, we are already doing much more than simply agreeing.  We are actively developing guidance for the UK acoustic consulting industry to help in the design of new dwellings exposed to adverse levels of noise.  This practical guidance – to help in the development of living places where people do not have to choose between noise and overheating when they open their windows, or between noise and air quality through adequate ventilation.  We are developing innovative attenuated passive ventilation option to facilitate sustainable solutions for internal comfort in noisier environments where open windows would not provide sufficient protection against outdoor noise – rather than simply reverting to mechanical cooling.  We are sharing our work to encourage others to explore this new path of holistic design.  And we are translating others’ work to make it more widely accessible, such as the Danish report on Open Windows with Good Sound Insulation.

These Guidelines represent an evolution of the WHO Night Noise Guidelines 2009, and the WHO Community Nose Guidelines 1999.  British Standard BS 8233 is based on the guidance in those previous publications.  It will be interesting to see how commonly used standards and guidance is updated to reflect the information in the new WHO Environmental Noise Guidelines, and to see how the Planning system in turn responds.  The Environmental Noise Guidelines Executive summary is an easy read at just 7 pages, while the full Environmental Noise Guidelines run to more than 180 pages. Recommendations are made in terms of limiting human exposure to these common sources of noise – for example, for road traffic noise the following recommendations are made:

Visit the WHO Regional Office for Europe to read more about the Guidelines here.

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