Health effects of noise

Overview. Noise-health indicators

Noise is one of the most common forms of environmental pollution reported by the population, but aside from deafness, the other health effects that it causes are not well known or properly taken into account. In 2003, given public interest in this area and further to a formal request from the public authorities, ANSES published a report on the health effects of noise.

Opinion surveys show that the French population attaches special and increasing importance to the right to a noise-free environment. However, the population still does not consider the effects of noise on health to be a major concern. Noise is seen more as a disturbance, a nuisance, or even as environmental pollution, rather than a real risk for health. 

In this context, the Agency received a formal request in July 2003, from the Ministry of the Environment and from the Ministry of Health. The Agency was given the broad objective of producing an overview of knowledge concerning methods used to evaluate and quantify the health effects of noise pollution, with special attention paid to population groups considered to be particularly susceptible. ANSES was also asked to evaluate the relevance of the indicators used in French regulations and to propose, if necessary, additional indicators to take account of multiple exposure phenomena and multiple nuisance.

The Agency carried out preliminary studies before creating a working group including partners with recognised scientific expertise. Specific partners included the French Scientific and Technical Centre for Building (CSTB), the National Transport and Safety Research Institute (INRETS), the Central Civil Engineering Laboratory (LCPC), the National Laboratory for Metrology and Testing (LNE), the French Environment Institute (IFEN), and the technical liaison officers of local authorities. University researchers, the Research Centre of the Military Health Service (CRSSA) and the working group on noise at the Ministry of the Environment were also involved in the project. The final report of this assessment was published in September 2004. 

Overview and recommendations

In the introduction, the assessment report provided an analysis of the social perception of noise pollution in France. The various sources of noise and vibrations in the environment were then presented, along with the corresponding regulatory framework: indoor noise, environmental noise and specifically noise associated with transportation, and noise in the work environment. When possible, national regulations were compared with the regulatory provisions in force in other countries.

This was followed by an overview of current knowledge concerning the known effects of noise on health, including the effects on hearing, extra-auditory and subjective effects, as well as effects related to multiple exposures to noise, and combined exposure to noise and other health hazards. On the basis of this knowledge, a study of noise-health indicators, essential for implementation of policies to reduce the health effects of noise, was carried out. 

The large number of actors involved in the control and prevention of noise pollution, particularly local authorities, are listed in the final part of the report. 

Based on these findings, the Agency issued a set of recommendations concerning the control of exposure to noise, and action plans to counter the health effects of exposure.