Tag Archive: WHO

A layperson’s guide to the WHO’s noise and health report

Photo credit: United States Mission Geneva licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by John Stewart  

The new noise and health guidelines (pdf) published last week by the World Health Organisation could prove a turning point in the fight to persuade governments and industry to put in place more effective measures to tackle noise. The guidelines are not legally binding but, given the extent of the health problems associated with noise the report identified, it will be difficult for the authorities to dismiss them out of hand. Although the guidelines were published by the European office of the WHO and strictly apply only to Europe, WHO hopes and expects they will influence noise policy across the world. My summary of the guidelines can be found here (pdf).

The guidelines are tougher than those recommended by the WHO previously. The recommended limits are:

  • Road                    53Lden              45Lnight
  • Rail                      54Lden              44Lnight
  • Aircraft                 45Lden              40Lnight
  • Wind Turbines     45Lden       no recommendation*
  • Leisure                70 LAeq

* WHO felt that there was insufficient evidence to make a recommendation

The guidelines are stricter for air and wind turbine noise because WHO found that people get highly annoyed from these sources at lower levels than for road or rail noise. The benchmark used when recommending the safe thresholds was the level at which 10% of the population became annoyed by a particular noise source. For night noise a lower threshold was used on the basis that sleep disturbance created more serious health problems than annoyance. The night threshold was the level at which 3% of people were “highly sleep-disturbed.”

WHO stressed that, because, in its view, there is not yet enough research to make a recommendation about night noise from wind turbines, it does not mean that they are not causing problems. One of the report’s recommendations is that more wind turbine research is undertaken.

Wind farm and leisure were not covered in previous WHO reports. Leisure noise is harder to define than the other noise sources. WHO broadly defines it as recreational noise, including noise from personal audio devices. In light of existing evidence the WHO recommended that over the course of the year the noise from leisure sources should average out at no more than 70 decibels. It added one important caveat, though: a warning that very high levels of noise at a particular time–for example music at a rock concert–has the potential to damage hearing.

The WHO has made it very clear it does not want its report to sit on shelves gathering dust. It wants it to lead to action and has pointed the way in the report to solutions to reduce the number of people–currently running into hundreds of millions across the world–exposed to unhealthy levels of noise.

The World Health Organisation has done it job. It is over to us now–governments, industries, communities, campaign groups–to make sure we use it to create a quieter and healthier future for everybody.

John Stewart is the lead author of “Why Noise Matters,” published by Earthscan in 2011, and has worked and campaigned in the fields of noise and transport for over 35 years.

WHO recommends quiet

Photo credit: Leif Jørgensen licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The World Health Organization just issued its new noise guidelines for Europe (pdf). This poster summarizes the 100+ page report which contains the scientific evidence:

The research was done by many of the world’s leading noise experts, and in turn reviewed by more experts who developed these evidence-based noise exposure guidelines.

There can be no rational doubt that noise is a major health problem in Europe and the United States, causing hearing loss, sleep disruption, cardiovascular disease, and death.

We hope the United States will follow the Europe’s example and start dealing with the noise problem, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

March 3 is World Hearing Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

For the past several years, the World Health Organization has sponsored World Hearing Day, one day during the year when WHO draws attention to hearing health issues.

Each year WHO selects a theme for its communications. This year, the theme is “Hear the future.” With the theme “Hear the future,” World Hearing Day 2018 will draw attention to the anticipated increase in the number of people with hearing loss around the world in the coming decades. It will focus on preventive strategies to stem the rise and outline steps to ensure access to the necessary rehabilitation services and communication tools and products for people with hearing loss.

There are many causes of hearing loss–congenital conditions, repeated ear infections, head trauma, degenerative genetic conditions, various chronic diseases, and ototoxic drugs among them–but the most common cause of hearing loss is noise exposure.

Which should give us a sense of hope in the fight against hearing loss, because unlike other causes, noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

Remember: if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

Your ears are like your knees or your eyes: you only have two of them. Take good care of them, protect them from loud noise, and you will be able to hear well all your life.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Airplane noise isn’t just a problem near airports

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Aircraft noise can travel far if there are no natural boundaries to stop it, and a few thousand feet in elevation can make a big difference in how loud a plane sounds on the ground.

Most people may assume that airplane noise only affects those who live near airports, but that isn’t accurate. In fact, airplane noise can affect those living many miles away. In the western Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks–approximately 40 miles from LAX–changes made by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rerouting planes arriving from the Pacific are creating problems for residents. Like those in other cities across the country affected by FAA flight path changes, the residents have appealed to their elected officials, in this case Rep. Julia Brownley, for help*.

The main impact on residents of Thousand Oaks is sleep disruption. Uninterrupted sleep is important for good health and normal daily function. We evolved from our vertebrate, mammalian, and primate ancestors in nature’s quiet. Sound was used to find food, avoid danger, and communicate. Humans cannot close our ears. Even small sounds were a warning of possible danger, e.g., the snap of a twig indicating an approaching predator or enemy. Because of this, sounds as quiet as 32-35 decibels–quieter than in a library–can cause microarousals as measured by EEG changes. These microarousals are in turn accompanied by increases in blood pressure and stress hormone levels.

I spoke about the adverse health effects of transportation noise on June 12 at the Institute for Noise Control Engineering meeting in Grand Rapids, MI, and then I flew to Zürich to speak at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise. My talks there were about different topics, but I attended several sessions about the adverse health effects of transportation noise. In Europe this body of knowledge is well known. The World Health Organization’s European Office wrote about this many years ago. The European Commission has directed member states to take remedial action. And in London, a draft Environmental Strategy deals with transportation noise.

Perhaps one day that research will be understood and accepted on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

*NOTE: Data-gathering serves a purpose when individual citizens share their data and concerns with organized groups that are already working on this issue. Here is the joint website of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the National Quiet Skies Coalition. This pair of groups are large, national, well-organized and are taking meaningful actions in Congress to address aircraft/airport noise by working directly with the FAA. Among the myriad members from many states, this caucus and coalition includes 12 members of Congress from California and 10 California community groups. Check these two sites to see if your member of Congress is involved and if there is a community group in your area. And click here to file a complaint with the FAA.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Think that noise is merely annoying? Think again:

New York City, October 2015, Manhattan

New York City, October 2015, Manhattan

Loud Noises Are Slowly Ruining Your Health.  David Hillier, writing for Vice, examines the effects of noise pollution on health, noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) considers noise pollution “the second biggest environmental cause of health problems in humans after air pollution.”  You’ll note that the WHO says “health problems” and not hearing problems, because noise pollution doesn’t just affect hearing.  As Hillier writes, “[s]tudies from 2012 suggested [noise pollution] contributed to 910,000 additional cases of hypertension across Europe every year and 10,000 premature deaths related to coronary heart diseases or strokes.”  Click the link above for more.

It looks like people are finally considering the effect of noise on hospital patients

Intensive care patients plagued by excessive noise, finds research.

As this article on a study by staff in a Belgian intensive care unit (ICU) highlights, the noise levels in ICUs far exceeds World Health Organization guidelines for hospitals.  While the article mentions “subjective feeling of noise pollution experienced by patients, nurses and doctors,” it fails to address more immediate problem with noisy ICUs, namely the interference with sleep and the effects of sleep deprivation on patients–patients who are in an ICU and clearly need rest to recover from a significant health event.  One hopes that recognition of the problem will result in better study and more remedies for this problem than the “practical solution” offered by an ICU doctor, i.e., providing “earplugs or other ear defender devices” to patients.


World Health Organization: 1.1 billion young people worldwide face the risk of hearing loss

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has posted an important article on hearing loss and young people: Millennials, the Deaf Generation?  The article states that a major cause of hearing injury to young people are music players, noting that the WHO “found that almost half of those ages 12 to 35 listen to their music players at unsafe volumes, while around 40 percent expose themselves to very loud events such as concerts.”  Among other things, the article suggests that using over the ear headphones over earbuds could help reduce the risk, especially when coupled with keeping the player’s volume at 60% of its range and listening to music for no more than 60 minutes at a time.

The concern about hearing loss in young people is also addressed by Shari Eberts, a hearing health advocate in her piece, “A Silent Epidemic. Teen and Young Adult Hearing Loss.”  Ms. Eberts writes that “[a] research study published in The Journal of American Medical Association in 2010 found that 1 in 5 teens had some type of hearing loss. This was significantly above the 1 in 7 teens with hearing loss measured 10 years earlier.”  She agrees that the use of earbuds is a significant cause for the alarming increase in hearing loss, but she adds that “the increased volume levels at restaurants, bars, sporting events, and other venues are also likely to blame.”  As someone who has genetic hearing loss Ms. Eberts knows firsthand about the frustration and sadness young people with hearing loss will suffer, noting that such suffering is avoidable since noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.  As in the ASCH article, Ms. Ebert recommends steps people can take to avoid hearing injury in the first instance.

This silent epidemic of hearing loss is not going to be silent for much longer.  One hopes that the increased attention on hearing loss among the young will motivate government, business, and individuals to work together to prevent the unnecessary deafening of an entire generation.