Noise is now the second biggest environmental factor causing health problems

noise in cities

 “Dublin is not a place. Dublin is a sound. Dublin is the sound of people talking” Roddy Doyle

According to the World Health Organisation, or WHO, noise is regarded as the second biggest environmental factor causing health problems across the globe. Taking an Ireland-based perspective, columnist Michael Moynihan, writing in the Irish Examiner recently,  called for “fine-tuning the sounds of our city to cut out the noise that annoys”. You can read this column in full here:

The columnist starts by referencing Dublin author Roddy Doyle, who famously said “Dublin is not a place. Dublin is a sound. Dublin is the sound of people talking”. It is evocative and broadly true. But when do city noise levels turn from character-enhancing to posing very real health risks? Are we already there? Earlier this year the UN declared urban noise pollution to be one of the world’s top emerging environmental threats. In fact, noise is now rated as the second biggest environmental factor causing health problems, second only to air pollution. 

The above newspaper column cites a previously-published study into the impact of noise on the residents of Paris. The study was undertaken by the regional health agency several years ago and the findings were quite stark, namely, that excessive noise was reducing the life expectancy of residents by almost 11 months. When publishing the report, a director of the health agency remarked that while noise had long been viewed as an annoyance that comes with city living, it had not previously been viewed through the lens of negatively impacting on human health. Cutting life expectancy by almost a year is massively concerning, and the scale of the problem is still unfolding. The column states that 25 million residents claim noise had impacted on their lives, with a reported 430,000 French people taking tranquilisers to cope with excessive noise. At a national level, the cited loss of productivity caused by disturbed sleep could be costing France approximately €147 billion each year and it has been reported that Paris will start issuing fines for noise pollution from 2023. Of  course, it would be interesting to see comparable studies from other countries. 

The above Irish Examiner column had an interesting perspective about the role of individuals to lessen the impacts of urban noise by simply respecting others: 

Accommodating the inconvenience of other people’s needs — the inconvenience of others’ presence — is one of the basic building blocks of society. Compromise between citizens is what makes a society in the first place….The bottom line with noise in the city is that it’s the ultimate arbiter of your willingness to take responsibility for your own actions. Whether it’s on the Boulevard Haussmann or the Grand Parade [Cork], if you have regard for your fellow inhabitants of the city then you adjust your behaviour accordingly. And if you don’t have regard for them, that quickly becomes apparent as well.

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