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WHO releases new guideline on noise pollution


WHO releases new guideline on noise pollution

The WHO has released Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region. The guideline provides strong evidence that noise is one of the top environmental hazards to both mental and physical health and well-being in the European region.

The document identifies noise levels that can have significant health impacts and recommends actions for a reduction in exposure.  For the first time, a comprehensive and rigorous methodological framework was applied to develop the recommendations.

Although the guidelines focus on the European Region and provide guidance consistent with the European Union’s Environmental Noise Directive, they also have global relevance. The large body of evidence underpinning the recommendations was derived not only from noise effect studies in Europe but also from research in other parts of the world, mainly America, Asia, and Australia.

Furthermore, the guidelines highlight data and research gaps to be addressed in future studies.

Also Read: Exposure to Noise pollution leads to higher risk of stroke, MI

“Noise pollution in our towns and cities is increasing, blighting the lives of many European citizens. More than a nuisance, excessive noise is a health risk – contributing to cardiovascular diseases, for example. We need to act on the many sources of noise pollution – from motorized vehicles to loud nightclubs and concerts – to protect our health,” Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said in the WHO press release. “The new WHO guidelines define exposure levels to noise that should not be exceeded to minimize adverse health effects and we urge European policy-makers to make good use of this guidance for the benefit of all Europeans.”

Also Read: The cost of a polluted environment: 1.7 million child deaths a year :WHO

Five significant developments, compared to previous WHO guidelines on noise:

  • a systematic review of the evidence, defining the relationship between noise exposure and the risk of adverse health outcomes;
  • stronger evidence of the cardiovascular and metabolic effects of environmental noise;
  • use of long-term average noise exposure indicators to better predict adverse health outcomes.
  • use of a standardized approach to assess the evidence;
  • a systematic review of the evidence, defining the relationship between noise exposure and the risk of adverse health outcomes;

Targeted at decision-makers and technical experts, the new guidelines aim to support legislation and policy-making at local, national and international level. “Through their potential to influence urban, transport and energy policies, the Environmental Noise Guidelines contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and support our vision of creating resilient communities and supportive environments in the Region,” continues Dr. Jakab.

The development process of the current guidelines was conducted by two independent groups of experts from the environmental noise community who adhered to a new, rigorous, evidence-based methodology. Eight peer-reviewed systematic reviews of the pertinent literature underpin the guidelines, incorporating significant research since the publication of the WHO Night Noise Guidelines for Europe in 2009.

The systematic reviews were based on several health outcomes – cardiovascular and metabolic effects, annoyance, effects on sleep, cognitive impairment, hearing impairment and tinnitus, adverse birth outcomes, and quality of life, mental health and well-being – and the effectiveness of interventions in reducing noise exposure and negative health impacts.

“These guidelines have been developed based on the growing body of evidence in the field of environmental noise research,” concludes Professor Stephen Stansfeld, Chair of the Guidelines Development Group. “They aim to support public health policy that will protect communities from the adverse effects of noise, as well as stimulate further research into the health effects of different types of noise.”

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Medha Baranwal

Medha Baranwal

Medha Baranwal joined Medical Dialogues as a Desk Editor in 2018 for Speciality Medical Dialogues. She covers several medical specialties including Cardiac Sciences, Dentistry, Diabetes and Endo, Diagnostics, ENT, Gastroenterology, Neurosciences, and Radiology. She has completed her Bachelors in Biomedical Sciences from DU and then pursued Masters in Biotechnology from Amity University. She can be contacted at medha@medicaldialogues.in. Contact no. 011-43720751
Source: With inputs from WHO

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  1. I really do beleive that noise, vibrations, similar to sonar, can cause developmental problems to a child even during gestation period..Sound and Sight
    The profuse noises deafen the mind and kill the soul. My heart cries for solitude from the amassing moments that deaden the spirit within. These deepened eyes are blackened through the years of visual desolation that capture every crevice. I wait for my death to be finally free of the visual torment that I might finally sleep in silence.
    Sound, sight, taste, smell, and touch, our five senses react to experience life.
    Our senses intertwine and develop how we behave as humans, how we think, and how we react emotionally. Sound and sight are two vital senses that alter a life forever. Sound and sight have been exploited immensely by marketing and media in society. It has bombarded human senses creating sensory disabilities to a developing fetus through adulthood.  
    Sound waves, I think may affect the fetus during gestation, when sound vibrations pass internally through the womb and alter cellular and neurological development. In addition, as a mother experiences negative and positive emotional sounds and images, her brain will produce chemical responses that affect the developing fetus. Modern society is defined by the increasing sounds and images used to promote products and excite our senses to purchase. There has been a dramatic change to sensory development relating to the metamorphosis of cultural sounds and sights. There is a consistent increase in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, and other sensory learning disabilities known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD).  A 1999 report by the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) found; “A 273 percent increase in autism cases between 1987 and 1998. The most cited incidence statistic is that autism occurs in 4.5 of every 10,000 live births. This is based on large-scale surveys conducted in the United States and England. In addition, the estimate of children having autistic-like behaviors, i.e., when other disorders under the PDD umbrella are included, the incidence rate may go as high as 15 to 20 of every 10,000 live births.”
     “It is well known that emotional states can produce physiological changes, even the hearing of single, emotive words by normal, calm, human subjects can produce significantly higher electro dermal activity than can the hearing of single, non-emotive words (Barry, 1980).” As with the developing fetus through adulthood, sounds and sights of culture change perception to the reality of living, altering the sense of direction. Children develop ADHD, autism, and other stressors in reaction to sensory overload. We provide medications to balance and alleviate disorders to cope and process information. Breakdown occurs and we have drug abuse, suicide, shootings in schools, and other forms of violence as behavioral coping emotions. “The limbic system affects the emotional aspects of behavior. Stimulation of various limbic areas can result in responses of fear, punishment, rage, or pleasure. The limbic system is thought to be a link between emotional and cognitive mechanisms (Solomon & Davis, 1983).” 
    Every second we are subjected to man made stimuli, even while we are sleeping. A developing fetus reacts to external sounds creating genetic impressions, which alter the child’s emotional behavior forever. If a developing fetus receives nurturing and pleasant sounds, it will develop an intimate relationship with the parents and their surroundings. When a developing fetus is subjected to the constant bombardment of sound vibrations, from messages transmitted through T.V., radio, society, the violent spoken words from the lips of the parent, the imprints for negative emotional development is made. In addition, Children and adults subjected to sound waves and visual bombardment on a constant level daily are affected emotionally and physically.  Research has proven the devastating effects with sonar sound waves (LAFS, Low Frequency Active Sonar) and mammals. Changes in behavior, disorientation, and excruciating death of whales and mammals have occurred when subjected to LFAS’s. In “Sonar-Environmental aspects; Marine mammals-Effects of noise on-United States,” (Sep/Oct 2001 issue of “Humanist”) Bryon Demmer states,” The probable cause of the whale deaths in the Bahamas was determined to be some form of shock trauma, according to Kenneth C. Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research. Blood in their eyes and the type of tissue damage all pointed to some explosive or high intensity sound source. Biologists meeting in June 2000 with representatives of the U.S. Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Marine Mammals Commission subsequently confirmed Balcomb’s assessment, stating that the animals apparently suffered from disequilibrium and disorientation from an acoustic or pressure event.” Demmer also states, “During the Hawaii test, (LFAS by the U.S. Navy) a snorkeler was exposed to a 125 decibel LFAS broadcast over a period of thirty to forty-five minutes. She emerged from the water with symptoms a doctor diagnosed as a similar acute trauma: “She could barley talk, had difficulties in expressing and finding words, expressed dizziness and confusion. There was tremor in reaching for things and difficulties in walking straight forward and open eyes.”  Front row seats at a rock concert reach 110 decibels, a military jet take off is 140 decibels; and instant perforation of the human eardrum is at 160 decibels.
    We are constantly imprinted with sounds and images that have defined the culture of the world we live in. We become what we hear and see. Sound vibrations and sight stimuli consign into the very nucleus of our life-center beginning to alter our wholeness of being. Sensory overload has progressed with the development of society through cultural evolution, also known as, “The Information Age.” Are we afraid to listen to silence? Have we become so accustomed to this sensory overload that we could never change the course of this economic reality? Can we afford silence?
    Man-made subjective sensory has evolved with the expansion of economics and media. Every item that has ever been manufactured providing comfort to society has pulled us further apart. Granted, there are comforts necessary for surviving a modest life, however, it is when we begin to desire more than what we need sensory overload begins. Society continues to grow to the cycle of wants and desires that never cease. Manufacturers and media continue to fulfill these desires and allure us to buy more by over-stimulating our senses. Sex, shock, and violence in media sell products. Media and society continues to transgress boundaries of ethics while shocking us visually and over-stimulating our senses. Sounds and images are created to distract the humanistic need of companionship, to sell and market more material products of comfort and desire. We devote our lives working to purchase objects of desires, to satisfy the loneliness of a human touch, while all along it has always been attainable for free.
    Families in indigenous cultures are interdependent on each other. They rely on what nature has freely shared with them. Commercial objects of influence and media, which are virtually non-existent, break the bonds that unify relationships as a family or tribe. These stressors, dis-easment of modern living are practically non-existent in their culture. These families live within their needs which nature has provided. Their rule of survival was a rule for life, use only what you need and share what is left. We view indigenous tribes as poor. For centuries, we have tried to convert the “heathens” and elevate their way of living to that of our own standard of democracy. Yet, who is poor? If people are happy living with their family or tribe, spending time together, and enjoying what nature has provided, that is a quality of life. 
    The average person works eight to ten hours a day for income to purchase desirable objects of comfort, more than \”needs\”. Children are left with another person or an institution to raised and taught responsibilities of existence. We hurry home to gulp down a meal that been processed and leaves very little of its original nutritional value. Not to overlook the fact, that we now have taste overload with sugar, salts, and fatty foods. All affect our mood and health. During the same time, there is usually a T.V. or radio playing in the background while we try to get a hello in during a commercial, unless, it is a commercial for “Survival” or “Herbal Essence.” Before you know it is time for bed, the thump, thump, thump of the bass speakers go by, sounds of jets thunder, horns blare from a nearby street, a gun shot fires, and a ambulance races by. The next day starts the same process all over again. While in the background society,’s constant humming and symphony plays. 
    I look forward to silence; to me it is the closest you will get to heaven on Earth. I remember when my children were little and I would climb in bed with them. Laying my head on their chest I would listen to that rhythm of life beating, and it was very soothing. Soothing sounds, like the sweetness of a mother singing a lullaby to a child
    I love the silence of being in the woods. The sounds and sights there are not artificial. Nature is very comforting and is part of the silence, and we compliment each other. Many other people seek this silence too, a stillness to the cycle of assault on the senses. We seek yoga, meditation, whole and natural foods. We study the cultures of the Indigenous people here before us and wonder what life was like through their eyes and ears. We are now looking for ways to be a family, a tribe in this modern world.