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The health hazards of city noise are very real. Good governance and technology offer solutions.

Although the average citizen is probably unaware of the extent to which urban noise pollution adversely affects their wellbeing, cities can and are taking action with smart initiatives and solutions.


By Theo Benjert


For 30 years, I have worked as a noise pollution consultant, including my position as a senior expert at the Urban Development office for the municipality of Rotterdam. Just a few of my projects have included figuring out how to measure and reduce noise due to traffic, sea ports and public transportation. My experience and work has told me that noise impact is underestimated — it is an invisible killer that we can no longer ignore.


Just take a look at some European stats:

  • 113 million people are exposed to harmful traffic-related noise.
  • 22 million are exposed to harmful railway noise.
  • 4 million are exposed to harmful aircraft noise.
  • Nearly 1 million are exposed to harmful industrial noise.
  • Over 1.6 million healthy years of life are lost each year due to noise pollution — the second biggest environmental disease burden in Europe after air pollution.


In major cities, visitors and citizens create a lot of road traffic movement and therefore it’s not surprising that road traffic noise is the biggest source of annoyance, which affects 80% of all Europeans who are impacted by harmful noise.


More specifically, individual health effects can range anywhere from feeling discomfort (irritation, sleep disturbance, stress) to higher blood pressure, cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, of which all can eventually lead to premature death.


However, cities, organizations and engineering firms can work together to reduce these trends.

It is essential that as a city, we make better choices because health is a vital agenda point at the moment. Sure, it is important that people can reach the city center, but there are other ways to get there — with public transport and alternative parking spots close to the city. We’ll also have to place more importance on walking and cycling. We can certainly implement measures such as quiet roads, but the best solution is still to make quieter transport vehicles.


The Eurocities work group, a network of major European cities, is constantly working on noise problems in cities at the European level. The noise experts, air pollution experts and mobility experts from this Eurocities network have written a Noise Policy Statement and submitted it to the environment department of the European Commission. This statement contributed to the fact that the environment department noise pollution has been put on the European agenda and it was given a place in the European action plan as part of the EU Green Deal: 0 pollution for air, water and soil. The action plan was launched in 2021 year and aims to reduce by 2030:


  • by more than 55% the health impacts (premature deaths) of air pollution;
  • by 30% the share of people chronically disturbed by transport noise;
  • by 25% the EU ecosystems where air pollution threatens biodiversity;
  • by 50% nutrient losses, the use and risk of chemical pesticides, the use of the more hazardous
  • ones, and the sale of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture;
  • by 50% plastic litter at sea and by 30% microplastics released into the environment;
  • significantly total waste generation and by 50% residual municipal waste.



In parallel, the Phenomena Project was launched. Founded by the EC, the objective of this study was to determine the potential of measures capable of delivering significant reductions of more than 20% due to environmental noise by 2030. The 300 page report that came out of this was published this year.


It is my sincere hope that all these efforts, combined with increased public awareness and implementation of innovative new technologies, will achieve the goals set out by the EU and drastically improve the wellbeing of all our citizens and beyond.