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Heavy car traffic on a street in Arad (Romania)

60 million Europeans live with harmful noise pollution

60 million Europeans live with harmful noise pollution

This is what a recent study covering 749 cities on the continent shows

The Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) recently published a detailed study in the Environment International journal, which shows that 60 million people in Europe are negatively affected by noise pollution, mostly caused by traffic. Furthermore, the analysis has concluded that compliance with the World Health Organisation (WHO) noise-level guidelines could prevent 3,600 deaths annually from ischaemic heart disease alone.

Road traffic is the main source of environmental noise. Previous research has linked environmental noise to a range of adverse health effects. Long-term exposure to road traffic noise can cause a sustained stress reaction, which results in the release of stress hormones and increases in heart rate, blood pressure and vasoconstriction, eventually leading to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety disorders.

The results show high variations among different cities

The results showed that more than 48% of the 123 million adults (aged 20 years or older) included in the study were exposed to noise levels exceeding the WHO-recommended threshold. Specifically, the WHO recommendation states that the average noise level recorded over a 24-hour period should not exceed 53 decibels.

The percentage of the population exposed to higher-than-recommended noise levels in Europe’s capital cities ranges from 29.8% in Berlin to 86.5% in Vienna, including 43.8% in Madrid and 60.5% in Rome. The European city (and capital) that has the highest overall population exposed to harmful noise levels is actually Sofia (Bulgaria) with 99.8%, however, the data quality collected there is also considered of low quality.

The study also found that more than 11 million adults were highly annoyed by road traffic noise. Annoyance was defined as the repeated disturbance of everyday activities, such as communicating, reading, working and sleeping. In this sense, annoyance goes beyond mere inconvenience, as it can increase stress and eventually give rise to various health problems.

The researchers, however, have cautioned that their results are not entirely comprehensive and standardized. Due to differences in methodologies and sources of traffic noise data, the results obtained for the various cities are not considered to be comparable.

The full breakdown of the data and rankings for all 749 cities can be consulted on the dedicated project website.

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