C Explanatory memorandum
by Mr Huseynov, rapporteur
1 A growing environmental
and public health issue
1. By 2050, over four fifths of the total population
of the Council of Europe’s member states will live in densely populated
urban areas. This concentration of human life will have a growing
impact on the functioning of individual areas and ecosystems as
well as ramifications for people’s lifestyle and health.
2. Already today, the Eurobarometer survey of public opinion
on the environment, implemented at the initiative of the European
Commission, shows that, despite considerably heightened awareness
of environmental challenges as a whole, urban pollution is still
the biggest environmental problem in the European Union. Indeed,
the same could very likely be said for the entire European continent.
Yet, efforts to combat this pollution vary enormously between individual
countries and spheres.
3. While public policy tackles the most obvious sources of pollution
left as a legacy of the Industrial Revolution (particularly in the
spheres of air and water pollution, waste production and chemical
degradation of natural habitats), other nuisances which are just
as harmful are escalating. These include excessive noise and light
levels, two negative consequences of spatial planning and development.
4. Today, the scientific community recognises that noise and
light nuisances can have grave repercussions not only for animal
and plant life but also for citizens’ physical and mental health.
However, those nuisances are still more often than not regarded
as the inevitable price to pay for growth and progress.
5. Thanks to the trend in illuminating cities since the 1970s,
the magic of the bright lights of Las Vegas or Broadway in the United
States, the fascination of tourists and residents for the illuminations
in the Pudong and Bund districts of Shanghai or the Eiffel Tower
in Paris, light is still seen as a symbol of festivity, well-being
and prestige. Yet, the nuisance or even danger it represents for
ecosystems is very real.
6. It was not until the energy crisis, compounded by fears over
effects of greenhouse gas emissions on global warming, that excessive
lighting for the purposes of security and architectural enhancement
was called into question.
7. The European continent is particularly affected by excessive
light levels. Together with North America, the Far East and the
Gulf, Europe forms the bulk of the 20% of the Earth’s surface considered
to be affected by light pollution. Studies by a team of researchers
working under the Italian astronomer Cinzano show that two thirds
of the world’s population, including 99% of the population of the
European Union and the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii),
live under a polluted night-time sky. Measurements recorded by satellite show
that the intensity of the light halo is increasing in Europe by
over 5% a year. Its rate of growth can reach up to 10% a year at
certain points of the globe.
8. At the same time, the noise generated by “civilisation” disrupts
ecosystems. It hampers or blocks the vital exchanges within an ecosystem
or between different ecosystems. Communication, reproduction or
fleeing from predators is becoming difficult.
9. Furthermore, noise remains a major nuisance for the populations
of Europe and varies in step with the size of built-up areas. The
noise pollution at fault comes mainly from transport and neighbours.
Whether it is desired (concerts, fireworks, mobile telephones, etc.)
or suffered (transport, machinery in the workplace), dispersed,
continuous or “event noise” (passing aircraft, motorbikes or snow-mobiles,
for example), high sound volumes, for all people, are always synonymous
with nervous fatigue and sleep disorders (when noise occurs during
the night), often generating aggressive attitudes and the taking
10. These forms of pollution are combining to inflict ever more
obvious damage to nature and humankind. Despite the recent efforts
of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission
where the European Union member states are concerned, the indicators
established with a view to remedying the situation are still partial
and disparate. The scientific, political, administrative and civil
expertise that can be mobilised is essentially inadequate and too
fragmented to achieve swift and lasting action.
11. The Council of Europe cannot remain inert in the face of this
two-fold pollution which can only become worse and challenges the
human right to a healthy environment. The intention of this report
is to identify the challenges and propose some possible lines of
1.1 Reference framework
1.1.1 For noise pollution
European Union Directive
/49/EC on the assessment and management of environmental
noise, which proposes a joint approach by the member states and
requires the drawing up of strategic noise maps and the setting
up of action plans in the countries of the Union, was an innovative
step (see Section III.i.b below).
13. This report is about pollution, that is, the damage suffered,
but it will nevertheless consider noise pollution as a whole as
there is an undeniable link between the noise suffered and noise
deliberately generated by humankind. The greater the noise from
the urban environment outside, the higher the sound is turned up on
audio and video devices, mobile telephones, home cinema television,
etc. In turn, the noise generated by people themselves, particularly
within their immediate neighbourhood, will be all the louder since
they have become accustomed to higher sound levels.
14. The Parliamentary Assembly is looking to foster an approach
that sets threshold values and proposes a more specific framework
for defining a quiet or noisy area.
1.1.2 For light pollution
15. The regulations laid down by Arizona in 1986, the
Starlight Declaration signed by UNESCO in 1992 and the laws against
light pollution adopted by Chile and then by the Czech Republic
in 2002, deal with the effects of artificial light and excessive
lighting on the observation of the night-time sky, the potential
for energy saving and also, in part, the safeguarding of the nocturnal
life necessary for the development of fauna and flora. They say
less about the consequences of intrusive light (neon, illuminated
displays) on the human metabolism. Similarly, they do not consider
dazzling light (car headlights, excessive brightness of PC screens
at work or at home) as an aggression on the organism that is damaging
16. That said, is it necessary to follow this conventional approach?
Or should we advocate a more global, proactive approach calling
for truly preventive action? It is undeniably the latter route that
should be taken by the Council of Europe.
17. In addition, as for noise, there is the problem of how the
nuisance is expressed, with light intensity (Lux) being just one
1.2 Impact of noise pollution
1.2.1 Disruption of ecosystems
18. The human ear perceives sound between 20 hertz (Hz)
and 20 kilohertz (kHz) (below that range it is infrasound, and above
ultrasound). The benchmark values for perceiving and emitting sounds
are therefore based on human hearing whereas most animals perceive
sounds in a different range. Accordingly, there is noise pollution
that we are not aware of, sometimes of an intense level, which seriously
disrupts ecosystems. This is particularly the case with threats
logged in the marine environment. It could also be a major factor
in the decline of bird populations.
22.214.171.124 In marine and aquatic environments
19. Some 4 500 bio-acousticians meeting in Paris in 2008,
at the invitation of the French Research Institute for Exploitation
of the Sea (IFREMER), raised the alert: the development of human
activities at sea over the last hundred years had generated a level
of noise never attained during the previous millennia in the “world
of silence” championed by Commander Cousteau. Their analysis took
account of natural noise produced by fauna, seismic motion, waves
and bad weather conditions.
20. These human activities encompass maritime transport, oil and
gas prospecting, sometimes carried out using compressed air cannons,
the use of explosives and sonar by military ships and submarines,
supersonic aircraft, oil rigs and offshore wind farms.
21. These sound emissions are particularly severe for marine mammals,
which find their bearings through echolocation. Whales, which are
capable of communicating with other whales several thousand kilometres away
using very low frequency sonar, can suffer lesions that irreversibly
alter their sensory organs. This is one of the explanations put
forward for mass beaching of whales. It is also why the use of military
sonar is banned off the coast of California.
22. “While it is not necessarily fatal, noise pollution from human
activity creates an acoustic mist which masks the signals emitted
and sensed by marine mammals, disrupting the mechanisms necessary
for communication, feeding and reproduction”, explains Michel André,
Director of the Polytechnic College of Catalonia (Spain) and specialist
in animal bioacoustics.
126.96.36.199 Among insects and vertebrates
23. Insects, amphibians, birds and mammals are particularly
sensitive to sound. Pigeons and ducks can perceive very low frequency
waves (up to 1 Hz) useful as a navigation aid for migratory birds.
24. Within the sounds produced in nature, each species occupies
a different sound range, which enables them to communicate, recognise
one another, breed and protect themselves. The synchronised song
of certain groups, such as amphibians, protects them from predators
by making them difficult to locate. The intrusion of noise generated
by human activity causes interruptions, which jeopardise the survival
of the species in danger.
25. Measuring intensity is not enough to gauge the disruption
caused to animals. Few species seem to be disturbed by sound level
alone. They are more affected by the type of noise, and whether
it suggests a threat or not. The distance within which wild animals
may be approached varies between Holland and France, where more
hunters are encountered. Finally, noise pollution undermines the
natural heritage by destroying an irreplaceable and special soundscape,
which differs from one ecosystem to another.
1.2.2 Development of incapacitating
pathologies in humans
More and more Europeans believe that they are inconvenienced
by noise. Prolonged exposure to noise can endanger health. It may
lead to hearing loss (in the event of prolonged exposure to background
noise exceeding 80 dB) as well as other pathologies:
- sleep disorders: delayed falling
asleep, prolonged night-time awakening, altered quality of sleep;
- effects on the vegetative sphere: hypertension, accelerated
rates of respiration, ulcers;
- effects on the endocrine system: secretion of adrenalin
and noradrenaline, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure
or cardiac arrhythmia, platelet aggregation or increased fat metabolism;
- weakening of the immune system;
- effects on the mental health of individuals suffering
from depression and anxiety.
27. Noise also hampers communication, memorisation and work, except
where routine tasks are concerned. Difficulties and backwardness
at school are very evident among children living in noisy environments.
28. Infrasound (sounds with a frequency below 20 Hz) is perceived
as an inconvenience, although no health effects have been observed
in humans, even at high levels of exposure.
29. Furthermore, subjective habituation to noise is a fact, borne
out by surveys on targeted populations (residents, professionals).
Train drivers are less sensitive to train noise, those working in
open-plan offices are less inconvenienced by the noise made by their
colleagues, Mediterranean populations are less bothered by noise
in general, etc. However, such habituation cannot disguise the health
30. The ear distinguishes sounds between 0 dB, hearing threshold,
and 120 dB, pain threshold. The acoustic nuisance scale begins at
65 dB, with harmful noises rated at 85 dB and over, and noises that
may have an immediate impact on hearing at 105 dB. Nevertheless,
sound level (intensity) is not the only risk factor: duration of
exposure is a factor in harmfulness regardless of the level. The
impulsive nature of noise and its pitch (low/high) are also major
The impact of noise on human health hinges on several parameters:
- sound frequency: high-pitched,
and therefore high-frequency, sounds, are more harmful than low-pitched
sounds at the same intensity;
- purity of sound: a pure sound (whose intensity is concentrated
within a narrow frequency band) of high intensity is more harmful
for the inner ear than a broad-spectrum noise; fortunately, pure
sounds are rarely encountered in our environment;
- noise intensity: above 85 dB, the ciliary structures of
the inner ear may suffer rumpling, or even tearing or ruptures when
sound levels exceed 105 dB; on the other hand, exposure to sound
levels lower than 80 dB does not cause lesions;
- emergence, that is, the difference between environmental
noise level and the residual noise level;
- noise repetition;
- duration of exposure;
- the period when the noise occurs (a night-time noise is
considered more of an annoyance than a day-time noise)
- individual biological make-up.
32. The notion of annoyance incorporates other factors such as
sociocultural habits, the state of stress, the general environment
of individuals and the relationship with the source of nuisances.
This gives noise a psychological and sociological dimension, with
informational and affective content, beyond the physical, acoustic
33. In the European Union, around 40% of the population is thought
to be exposed to transport noise of 55 dB during the day and 22%
(representing 80 million people) to 65 dB. Over 30% of the population
is believed to be exposed to noise levels exceeding 55 dB during
34. Attempts to evaluate transport noise in economic terms have
resulted in estimates ranging from 0.20% (European Commission green
paper, 1995) or 0.26% (Boîteux/Commissariat général du plan, 2001)
to 0.51% of GDP (International Union of Railways, 2004): which are
not negligible amounts, and all the more so as these assessments
do not take account of the risks linked to exposure to noise at
work, or backwardness at school resulting from difficulties with
learning, or noise from neighbours and their impact on social life.
1.3 Impact of light pollution
1.3.1 A threat to fauna and flora
35. This less well-known form of pollution is particularly
damaging for flora and fauna and is one of the biggest threats to
biodiversity in towns.
188.8.131.52 There is a string of repercussions
felt from plant to animal
36. As plants are sensitive to light duration, they mature
according to a particular photovegetative and photoperiodical cycle.
Artificial light, which takes over when natural light fades, accelerates
the plant’s cycle, with cascading consequences, as herbivorous fauna
develops in step with the availability of food. If the rate of plant
development no longer corresponds to that of the animal, there will
be a food shortage with ramifications along the food chain.
184.108.40.206 Cascading traps for night-time
37. Nocturnal insects, which are more numerous than day-time
insects (there are over 4 500 species of moth compared with 260
species of butterfly), do not survive the attraction of light. Experiments
carried out around a point of light have shown that remarkable species
disappear within a distance of more than 200 metres in two years.
After pesticides, light is the second cause of insect mortality.
This is not without its consequences for flora, as most moths are
38. Light is also a trap for amphibians, which are unable to differentiate
between their own kind and predators and wait for darkness that
is unlikely to come in order to breed. It is the second mortality
factor for these species after the drying up of wetlands. In addition,
a New York University research centre has shown that tadpoles suffer
malformations and do not reach adulthood in cases of prolonged exposure
to artificial light.
39. Inversely, the species which avoid light and mammals which
hunt at night are leaving lit areas. The species commonly found
in Paris a century ago are now relegated to areas 70 km from the
40. Natural habitats – key components in the protection of species
– are now increasingly fragmented and isolated, as a result of areas
being lit at night, which endangers populations. There must be nocturnal
corridors alongside biological corridors.
41. Light pollution is very harmful to migratory birds of which
two thirds fly at night. Their sense of direction is disrupted by
the loss of the horizon and lighting in coastal areas and large
built-up areas. They can collide with buildings and their superstructures,
bridges and viaducts when lit. According to the Canadian NGO FLAP (Fatal
Light Awareness Program), the number of migrating birds killed each
year in the United States on the windows of lit buildings could
be a hundred million. Several millions die in Toronto alone, which
is on a migration route.
42. On the Øresundsbron Bridge linking Malmö with Copenhagen,
the number of birds killed against the bridge’s structure on the
rainy and misty (light-induced) night of its inauguration on 8 October
2000 was put at around 1 000. Since then, the lighting of engineering
structures in Sweden has been reduced during the migration period
on bad-weather nights.
43. Similarly, it is known, for example, that puffin chicks, like
those of certain other seabirds (petrels, shearwaters), are attracted
by lights close to the nest, and if their first flight, which will
last only 20 or 30 seconds, does not take them to the sea, where
they can feed, they will have a very low chance of survival.
44. According to the experts of the National Association for the
Protection of the Sky and the Environment at Night (France), underwater
flora and fauna are not spared either. The balance between seaweed,
which grows during the day, and the plankton, which rises at night
to eat it, has been upset. The lighting of shores and bridges scares
the plankton and contributes to the eutrophication of waterways.
1.3.2 Disturbing for humans
45. Growing urban development and greater density of
areas make light pollution a growing threat to residents’ health.
46. This pollution comes from various sources: public lighting,
often as an excessive response to needs for security, signposting
and enhancement, private lighting installations, often for advertising
using luminous signs or medium to long-range, sometimes moving,
spotlights, left on all night. In addition, there is mood or prestige lighting
of corporate buildings and the not inconsiderable impact of headlights
of night-time road traffic.
This results in three types of pollution:
- excessive illumination, creating
an abnormal sky-glow at night;
- dazzling caused by strong light intensity or a contrast
between light and dark areas;
- intrusive light, disturbing people in their homes.
- Damage caused to human health
48. Intrusive light, an undesirable presence in the home (from
illuminated signs, urban lighting, headlights), disturbs residents’
sleep, reducing its restorative properties in the same way as noise.
It deregulates biorhythms.
49. And according to the New York Academy of Sciences, repeated
intrusions of light, even at low levels, night after night, can
have repercussions for health. In darkness, the pineal gland secretes
melatonin, also known as the “sleep hormone”, during sleep. This
is a powerful antioxidant whose production is inhibited or even
blocked by light. The consequences, increasingly mentioned, are
the faster development of certain cancers, diabetes, depressive
states, failure at school, difficulties in concentrating, etc. Moreover,
the light from car headlights is generally accompanied by noise.
In June 2009, the American Medical Association decided to
study the effects of night-time light pollution on human health
- Car headlights
51. Every driver knows that the headlights of oncoming cars is
a source of fatigue and stress and can therefore cause accidents.
This is particularly the case when headlights are incorrectly adjusted.
It is also the case, for many car drivers, and particularly those
affected by myopia, who have to cope with a flood of white light
when it rains. It would appear that the yellow headlights used in
France in previous decades are regarded by many as less harsh on
52. The same applies for the sequences of shadow and light in
built-up districts where every other lamp-post is lit to save energy.
The time required for the eyes to readjust does not allow the driver
to make out a pedestrian in the middle of the road.
The same phenomenon of dazzling occurs on motorways with intermittent
protective hedging between opposite carriageways creating windows
of dazzling light.
of scientific research
54. In the 19th century, the astronomic observatories were moved
out of towns and away from street lighting. In the 1960s, astronomers
alerted public opinion and the public authorities to the fact that
the stars were disappearing from their telescopes. In the 1980s,
environmental protection associations took up the campaign. Today,
the urban light halo around towns makes the Milky Way invisible
for dozens of kilometres around.
55. Excessive lighting is a hindrance to the observation of night
skies. A number of observation facilities in urban areas, such as
the Royal Observatory in the London suburb of Greenwich, have had
to cease their activities. The astronomers at the observatory in
the German city of Osnabrück, which has 160 000 inhabitants, complain
that, in wet weather, the city’s light aura is brighter than the
56. Observing distant celestial bodies, such as planets outside
the solar system, of which the first was discovered at the Haute-Provence
observatory in 1995, is often only possible during the new moon
phase and requires controlled night-time lighting of the neighbouring
settlements which is impossible to achieve in an urban district.
Dark sky parks are starting to appear in Europe at astronomers’
initiative (Pic du Midi de Bigorre in the French Pyrenees), like
the one created on Mont Mégantic in Quebec.
- The disappearing nightscape
58. Night-time lighting also means the loss of an invaluable skyscape.
In a sky free of light pollution there are over 3 000 stars visible
to the naked eye. The Milky Way has never actually been seen by
many children, who know of it only through books or cinematographic
works … such as Star wars.
2 A human rights issue
59. As seen by the basic texts:
60. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights stipulates
that “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family
life, his home and his correspondence”. The environment is one of
2.1 Case law of the European Court
of Human Rights
61. There is European Court of Human Rights case law
for Article 8. In the Court’s eyes, it is applicable to “severe
environmental pollution [which] may affect individuals’ well-being
and prevent them from enjoying their homes in such a way as to affect
their private and family life adversely, without, however, seriously
endangering their health” (López Ostra
v. Spain, judgment of 9 December 1994). The Court stresses
that “there is no explicit right in the Convention to a clean and
quiet environment, but where an individual is directly and seriously affected
by noise or other pollution, an issue may arise under Article 8”.
It leaves the state a “wide margin of discretion”, by essentially
ensuring that ”the decision-making process leading to measures of
interference must be fair and such as to afford due respect to the
interests safeguarded to the individual by Article 8” (Hatton and Others v. the United Kingdom,
8 July 2003). In this judgment, concerning a complaint by people
living close to Heathrow Airport exasperated by night-time plane
noise, the Court held that, given the regulatory measures taken
by the airport and the fact that residents’ property had not lost
its market value, there had been no violation by the state of Article
8 of the Convention.
62. The Court’s case law on noise and light nuisances remains
limited. A search using the keywords “noise pollution” and “light
pollution” in its HUDOC database identifies only a handful of judgments,
relating to disputes over the deterioration of life quality of individual
residents living close to a transport infrastructure, an airfield
or a noisy establishment (such as a nightclub), where noise is just
one of the issues complained of, and light pollution is hardly ever
mentioned. In its interpretation of Article 8, the Court generally
rejects applications directed against the nuisance facility itself
(such as a transport infrastructure) but does find against a state which
fails to enforce police measures intended to guarantee the individual
rights enshrined in Article 8 (in the case of nightclubs, for example).
2.2 Activities in progress
On 27 June 2003 the Council of Europe Parliamentary
Assembly adopted Recommendation
on environment and human rights and, on 30 September
on drafting an additional protocol to the European Convention
on Human Rights concerning the right to a healthy environment, in
which it recommends that the Committee of Ministers draw up such
an additional protocol, which would recognise the right to a healthy
and safe environment (Doc.
3 Corrective measures adopted
3.1 Regulatory and control measures
3.1.1 At the level of the United
64. It was the Stockholm Declaration adopted by the United
Nations Conference on the human environment in 1972 that was the
first to expressly recognise the link between environmental protection
and human rights.
65. The World Health Organization (WHO) published Guidelines for community noise in
2000, which are shortly to be updated on the basis of a 2007 report.
These guidelines are not binding in their own right but are there
to guide the legislator.
The WHO sets 35 dB as the maximum sound level in bedrooms
for a good night’s sleep and in classrooms for proper teaching conditions.
Its evaluation of the effects of noise on sleep is as follows:
- less than 30 dB: no problem;
- from 30 to 40 dB: slight annoyance, sleep disturbance,
without being a real disturbance of vulnerable individuals (children,
- from 40 to 55 dB: disturbance of vulnerable individuals;
- over 55 dB: danger for public health, effects on cardiovascular
67. The WHO also recommends levels lower than 50 dB outside residential
areas to avoid any noise disturbance during the day or evening.
This level is set at 45 dB for night-time.
68. The WHO guidelines are a good guide, even if they seem difficult
to apply in densely populated urban areas.
69. Light pollution is not dealt with by the WHO at present. It
will be for its general assembly to decide whether to include it
in the organisation’s activities, the next session being in May
70. The WHO has set up a European Centre for the Environment and
Health in Bonn and Rome. One of the issues focused on by the centre
is noise. It has produced analyses of the effects of noise on target
populations (city-dwellers, people living near airports, children)
which confirm its negative impact on health. It is currently working,
together with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in
Ispra, on a guide to the evaluation of health risks resulting from
exposure to community noise.
3.1.2 At European level
71. The Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public
Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in Environmental
Matters, adopted on 25 June 1998 at the initiative of the United
Nations Economic Commission for Europe, upholds “the right of every
person of present and future generations to live in an environment
adequate to his or her health and well-being”.
The European Union has focused on the problem of noise nuisances
for many years. Its regulations firstly provided a framework for
motor vehicles (Directive
/157/EEC for cars and lorries). The maximum noise levels
authorised were then gradually lowered, by around 10 dB over a quarter
of a century, making it possible to peg noise levels near major
roads despite increases in traffic. It should be emphasised that
without the tightening of these regulations, the noise level by
roads would now have increased by 10 dB. Two-wheel vehicles were
regulated at a later date (Directive
/61/EEC). The European Union then tackled sound emissions
by equipment for use outdoors (Directive
/14/EC, the so-called Outdoor Directive). This text applies
to certain types of construction and outdoor maintenance machinery,
setting maximum noise levels in some cases. It also imposed EU marking
on equipment and a declaration of EU conformity.
More recently the European Union has produced two major legislative
- Directive 2002/30/EC of 26 March 2002 on the establishment of rules
and procedures with regard to the introduction of noise-related
operating restrictions at Community airports;
- Directive 2002/49/EC of 25 June 2002 relating to the assessment and
management of environmental noise.
74. The former authorises public authorities to restrict airport
access to the least noisy aircraft within the meaning of the Convention
on International Civil Aviation (Appendix 16, Volume 1, third edition,
July 1993), in compliance with the requirements of the internal
market (non-discrimination by nationality or company, constraint
proportionate to the environmental objective sought). On that basis,
the planes listed in Chapters 1 and 2 of the classification of the
International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) (designed before
October 1977) have been banned in Europe since 1 April 2002.
75. The directive on assessment and management of environmental
noise seeks to provide a framework in which the member states can
draw up “action plans” aimed at cutting noise emissions from the
prime sources, particularly land and air transport infrastructures
and industry. To that end, it stipulates the production of “strategic
noise maps” and “action plans” for large urban areas, major roads,
major railways and major airports. It outlines the methodology for
drawing up the maps (calculation methods to be used, etc.) and recommends the
production of common indicators such as Lden and Lnight. It also
advocates, for the first time, the management of noise as a whole
and not, as previously, by source of pollution. It introduces the
notion of “quiet area”.
76. However, this directive does not include the nuisances inflicted
by humankind on itself, whether voluntary (by listening to amplified
music, for example), imposed by one’s professional position and
activity (particularly noise in the workplace) or resulting from
problems in the neighbourhood. The indicators imposed (Lden and
Lnight) are known as “energy level” indicators covering noise over
an entire period but not taking account of event noises, despite
the fact that people regard these as a major annoyance. In addition,
strategic mapping is not imposed as a reference for urban zoning,
particularly in the vicinity of airports and railways where noise
is sporadic. Finally, the directive leaves the designation of threshold
values to the discretion of the states and gives no precise definition
of a “quiet area”.
77. According to its Guidelines on State Aid for Environmental
Protection (2008/C 82/01),
the European Commission allows public-funded aid, to an extent,
for projects that go beyond the requirements of Community regulations.
Its communication on “Rail noise abatement measures addressing the
existing fleet” (COM(2008)432 final) stipulates the conditions in
the case of existing rolling stock, stating that it is in favour
of introducing noise-differentiated track access charges, possibly
by amending rail directives, and of state aid for retrofitting.
78. Specifically on rolling stock, it adopted the technical specification
for interoperability (TSI), which entered into force in June 2006
and stipulated the noise limits not to be exceeded for each equipment
type. It applies to both new and renewed or retrofitted stock, where
such retrofitting affects the braking system (90% of cases). Given
the long life cycle of railway vehicles, the TSI states that it
is also necessary to take measures on the existing fleet of rolling
stock, with priority for freight wagons, to foster a noticeable
reduction of the perceived noise level within a reasonable time
period. The European Commission launched a consultation process
in May 2007 concerning the measures to be envisaged for fitting
the majority of existing wagons with composite brake blocks by 2017.
79. The question of light pollution is not dealt with by the European
Commission at present. At the level of its individual departments,
it would be of interest to DG Environment and SANCO (health and
80. In the wake of the Harmonoise project (2001-05) the European
consortium Imagine (Improved Methods for the Assessment of the Generic
Impact of Noise in the Environment) is developing guidelines for
the mapping of noisy areas as an obligation for the states.
Also to be borne in mind is Directive 2003
/10/EC of 6 February 2003 on the minimum health and safety requirements
regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical
3.1.3 At the level of the states
82. National regulations more or less cover the entire
area of noise pollution. In France, for example, there is the law
of 31 December 1992 on noise from land transport infrastructures,
the decree of 31 August 2006 for neighbourhood noise and the orders
of 14 June 1969 and 30 June 1999 for the soundproofing of sensitive housing
and buildings. The regulations are based on sound levels for ordinary
noise (transport), police regulations for neighbourhood noise and
noise abatement levels for buildings (orders of 1969 and 1999).
Noise abatement sets transmission levels from one dwelling to another
at 45 dB (see order of 1969) and 53 dB (in housing incorporated
in sensitive premises such as teaching, health, care, social welfare
and leisure and sports establishments, as well as hotels and tourist
accommodation, see order of 1999).
83. The regulations concerning buildings are backed up by incentive
labels or HQE marks (high environmental quality) in France, the
American LEED, the English BREEAM or the CASBEE in Japan, which seek
to define a total quality approach, of which acoustic protection
is one component.
Where sound emissions from noisy installations are concerned,
a study by the French Agency for Environmental and Occupational
Health Safety (AFSSET) on the noise produced by wind turbines suggests two
possible types of approach:
approach based on absolute values not to be exceeded, which is the
case in Germany (TA-Lärm recommendations), Denmark, Greece and Sweden;
- an approach also based on emergence values, that is, the
difference in sound level between total noise, including that of
the installation, and the ambient noise when noise from the installation
is absent: this is the case in the United Kingdom (ETSU R 97 recommendations),
Australia, New Zealand (Standard 6808) and France (decree of 31
85. The references in this area vary significantly: by 10 dB in
the first group, and by 10 dB (between 30 dB and 40 dB) for the
background noise tolerated in the second group (emergence being
roughly equal across the board at 5 dB, with slight variations in
France). Within the states’ own regulations, there are other variations:
in France, for example, where the tolerated background noise (below
which no emergence is identified) is 30 dB for neighbourhood noise,
but 35 dB for installations classified for environmental protection
86. Where light pollution is concerned, a number of European countries
including the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Italy
have incorporated it into their legislation. A British law of 2006
tackles the problem of intrusive light on grounds that it may adversely
affect people’s health.
87. Among the states with a federal system it should be noted
that most of the Italian regions have promulgated laws to combat
light pollution and promote energy-saving, with the result that
over two thirds of Italy’s population is now governed by laws regulating
88. The decree issued by the Lombardy region (Italy’s most populated,
with 9 million inhabitants and the most heavily polluted by light)
– entitled “Urgent measures for energy-saving on outside lighting
and the combating of light pollution” – is exemplary: all new installations
must comply with the provisions concerning light pollution. No light
may be emitted above the horizontal; lighting facilities must be
equipped with the most efficient lamps possible and with systems
allowing for the reduction of light emission at a given time; ground lighting
must not exceed certain levels. Moreover, in the protection zones
around observatories, the existing lighting systems must be replaced
within four years to bring them into line with the new standards.
3.2 Economic measures
89. Combating noise in existing building stock, particularly
housing, has so far taken the form of the clearing up of black spots
on the road network. This is a fairly costly initiative. In France,
the clearing up of the 35 000 black spots not yet dealt with on
the non-franchised national road network alone was estimated in
2008 (Grenelle Environnement working group) at €14 million/year
over seven years. Then there is the cost of works on local road
networks, which would doubtless be more substantial, and a cost
of between €1 500 million and €2 000 million for the clearing up
of rail black spots, which is yet to be tackled (just one operation,
in Aix-les-Bains, having been carried out to date).
90. Works on dwellings themselves cost a good deal less. However,
acoustic protection (€10 000 for dwellings affected by aircraft
noise, a little less for land transport noise) often costs as much
as a full renovation (energy and comfort). It is an undeniable deterrent
for public authority support for these works.
91. The fitting of low-noise brake blocks on a rail wagon costs
between €8 000 and €10 000. The operational fleet in France is estimated
at 100 000 wagons, of which 30% would require this work, given their
age; this represents expenditure of some €40 million/year over seven
years. Germany has also adopted this strategy, for higher amounts.
But under Community rules on competition, it must obtain agreement
from the European Commission (which has stated its favourable position;
see its guidelines on state aid in the area of transport and environment, OJEC of 1 April 2008, and its communication
on rail noise of 8 July 2008).
92. Compensation for residents in the vicinity of airports is
usually covered by ad hoc arrangements. In France, there is a tax
on airborne noise nuisances (TNSA) levied on airlines according
to the polluter-pays principle. It is entirely earmarked for the
soundproofing of homes near airfields. Revenues from this tax amount to
some €60 million/year. The management of soundproofing dossiers
is entrusted to the entities managing airports. The airport noise
nuisance control authority (ACNUSA) approves the 7 000 dwellings
soundproofed each year.
93. The Grenelle Environnement working group estimates the total
expenditure necessary for protection from land and air transport
noise in France at €500 million/year for seven years, then less
in the following years. It is difficult to extrapolate this to the
scale of Europe, despite studies such as those carried out by the International
Union of Railways, and all the more so as the directive sets no
obligations on results, noise limits or means.
94. Economic instruments such as taxes created under the polluter-pays
principle may be an effective response and not overly costly on
the whole. However, as certain fragile economic sectors are involved,
such as rail freight transport, substantial public aid (European
in this case, given the mobility of the wagons) will be required.
3.3 Technological progress
3.3.1 Noise pollution
There is considerable room for progress in sound
insulation in the construction industry. But experience shows that
this progress is not so straightforward. While thermal isolation
has become commonplace, it may sometimes be to the detriment of
acoustic performances as the Grenelle Environnement working group
in France has quite rightly pointed out:
- glazing (which forms the main acoustic bridge): the acoustic
performance of 4/16/4 thermal double glazing (two 4 mm panes separated
by a 16 mm airspace) is mediocre, equivalent to 8 mm single glazing,
or even less for low frequencies, which can be problematic if there
is road traffic noise; simply increasing the thickness of one of
the two panes improves performance: 10/10/4 abates noise by 35 dB; double
glazing in which one of the panes is formed from laminated glass
with an acoustic polyvinyl butyral (PVB) resin film at its core
abates noise by 40 dB, which is useful in very noisy environments; beyond
those levels, much heavier frames are required, making the work
considerably more costly;
- thermal insulation from within: a conventional 16 cm concrete
wall has an acoustic insulation value of 56 dB; lining it on the
inside with a rigid polyurethane or extruded polystyrene foam thermal
insulator may cut its acoustic efficiency by 3 to 6 dB. On the other
hand, “thermo-acoustic linings”, based on mineral wool or elasticated
polystyrene foam (PSEE), provide an additional gain in acoustic
efficiency of 7 dB; porous materials are better insulators, and
double-framed building structures (in which the slabs do not touch
the outer wall) also improve acoustic performances;
- ventilation installations which are poorly designed and
maintained are further noise vectors and create acoustic bridges
96. Moreover, insulation from outside noise may actually emphasise
noise inside the building (rubbish chutes, lifts, neighbours, etc.)
that were previously masked by outside noise. On the other hand,
waterproofing and floating slabs contribute at the same time to
improved acoustic and thermal performances.
97. This shows the need for co-ordinated intervention, on both
the thermal and the acoustic aspects of buildings, by multiskilled
professionals, as advocated below.
98. In the area of rail transport, the problem mainly relates
to noise from freight trains. The retrofitting of rolling stock
includes the replacement of the brake blocks which rub against the
running surface of the wheel. The traditional cast-iron blocks deteriorate
this surface, making it considerably rougher. In contrast, K blocks made
from composite material or LL blocks made from composite or sintered
material improve the surface by polishing it, helping to reduce
the sound energy emitted by the system. On new equipment fitted
with brake shoes made of composite material or disks, a reduction
in sound energy of between 5 and 10 dB has been achieved. Noise
reduction measures for rolling stock have been recognised by the
European Commission as a good deal more effective and less costly
than measures aimed at the infrastructure. In 2006, 66% of the French
passenger fleet was refitted in this way. HoweverEn revanche, the
retrofitting of freight stock is more complex as there is the problem
of the sector’s economic fragility. Yet, much is at stake here,
given the size of the fleet: 370 000 wagons to be retrofitted in
Europe. In Germany, the public authorities are financing the reduction
of rail noise to the tune of €100 million/year, essentially through
the retrofitting of wagons.
99. In the area of road and air transport, where considerable
progress has already been made, noise reduction efforts revolve
around the plethora of measures already initiated: on behaviour
(shift towards soft modes), vehicle technology, road surfaces, lateral
protection (noise-blocking walls), airport approach trajectories,
limiting or prohibiting the circulation of the noisiest vehicles,
etc. Low-noise road surfaces are porous, in order to trap sound.
Unfortunately, in urban areas, they quickly become clogged with
dirt and lose their acoustic qualities after two years. They must
be regularly cleaned. That said, the noise abatement is impressive
(6 dB for Nanosoft made by Colas). Further developments are under
way (double-layer bitumen, polymer-coated bitumen, etc.).
100. At the level of the European Union, noise is dealt with by
two incentive programmes: the Framework Programme for Research and
Technological Development (7th PCRD 2007-13) and the LIFE+ programme (2007-13).
The 6th PCRD incorporated a SILENCE programme aimed at land transport
noise in urban areas. The 7th PCRD, approved on 18 December 2006,
focuses on global environment issues. LIFE+ comprises three sections:
nature and biodiversity, policy and governance, information and
3.3.2 Light pollution
The reduction of light pollution – which is not necessary
everywhere (although it very often goes hand in hand with cutting
electricity consumption) – uses simple measures such as:
- switching off the lights in
buildings standing empty at night, particularly office buildings;
installing timer switches or presence detectors to that end; the
results are spectacular (see Chicago in 2001);
- switching off all lighting during the latter part of the
- not shining lights directly at the sky and avoiding any
upward light diffusion, by fitting light sources with shades, preferably
- lighting walls and hoardings from top to bottom and not
the other way round;
- avoiding reflective ground coverings;
- installing retro-reflector devices;
- opting for low-pressure sodium lamps which are virtually
monochromatic and generate signals interfering with astronomical
spectra only on two well-defined frequencies; avoiding high-pressure sodium
or high-pressure mercury vapour lamps which, through monochromatic
emissions superimposed on a continuum, pollute all the frequencies
of the visible spectrum in a manner that is complex and impossible
to correct; it is to be noted that a 35 watts directional low-pressure
sodium lamp provides the same useful light as a 175 watts mercury
- removing red – which is disruptive to migratory birds
– from the spectrum emitted by lamps, as certain oil rigs do.
102. In France, a standard for light pollution control is being
devised under the aegis of the AFNOR standards organisation.
4 The question of noise indicators
103. The question of the evaluation of noise is a complex
and fundamental one.
The relationship between noise and nuisance hinges on a multitude
- noise type: continuous
or “event noise” (such as a plane flying overhead or certain noise
coming from neighbours);
- frequency: the ear does not have the same sensitivity
at all frequencies within the audition range of 20 to 20 000 Hz;
- the subjective impact: low-pitched sounds are perceived
in fairly negative terms, despite having no effect on people’s health;
- subjective habituation: it may be that household noise
is no longer registered or, on the contrary, it may acquire a mesmerising
- the time of day: night-time noise is more of an annoyance
than day-time noise;
- individual preconceptions: numerous surveys on how noise
is perceived by people all demonstrate that, at identical noise
levels, road traffic is less well tolerated than a passing train
or even a plane overhead.
One of the first questions is how to calculate average noise
over a reference period. The expression of noise in terms of energy
level (the weighted decibel A or dBA, shortened to dB) is the standard
used today. Nevertheless, there exist four major competing categories
- energy level indices
describing an overall dose, such as the Leq (equivalent continuous
noise level) and its derivatives (Ldn – Lden): Directive 2002/49/EC is based on the Lden indicator, defined by ISO
1996-2:1987 standard and representing the average noise level weighted
over 24 hours, which gives greater weighting, all other things being
equal, to noise in the evening (+ 5 dB) and at night (+ 10 dB);
energy level indices are well suited to measuring continuous noise
of the type coming from major roads; their essential advantage is
that they correlate well with the effects on people; for aircraft,
the ICAO has proposed a tailored variant, combining maximum noise
level when the plane flies over and the duration of the noise, known
as “effective perceived noise level” (EPNdB), which is the reference
for the acoustic certification of planes and was adopted by Community directive 2002/30/EC;
- statistical indices: noise level exceeded for x% of the
time, a notion used in the United Kingdom;
- indices combining the number of events and their maximum
level: this was the psophic index in France, adopted after in-depth
surveys among residents in the vicinity of Paris airports but dropped
in 2002 as it was so complex that it could not be explained to the
- indices translating the frequency of events exceeding
a given threshold.
106. Over-sophistication often proves counterproductive. It is
difficult to explain a composite index to exasperated residents
unable to grasp it.
Another question is the relation to background noise. Noise
level can be expressed:
an absolute value;
- in the case of a facility or equipment generating noise,
relative to the background noise: this is known as emergence.
108. As we have seen above on the subject of wind turbines, the
regulations take one or other of these approaches, depending on
Finally, there is the question of methods for evaluating noise
level, and the choice between in situ
– more readily understood by residents – or calculations. Using
calculations is inevitable in planning and development because,
by definition, the noise under consideration does not yet exist.
It is also used, for the sake of convenience, on existing transport
routes for noise mapping. Directive
/49/EC is largely based on calculation, even though it
does not rule out measurement. Nevertheless, using calculation alone
poses serious software problems, which have been left open by the
directive: taking account of weather conditions in the propagation
of noise, reflective or absorbent surfaces, position of the source
in relation to the ground, etc. Moreover, it would appear that most
member states still use their own self-developed software which
has nothing in common with the methods prescribed by the directive.
But above all, mapping based on calculation alone is not convincing
for members of the public as it is a static virtual description
that does not take account of all everyday noise and its variation
in the course of the day, week or month. The general public wants
more dynamic data which can be provided in
or even by certain noise simulation tools now available. Noise
measurements are indispensable for validating the maps and providing
supplementary information on the number of noise peaks over a day,
the sources involved, their contribution to noise, etc. This is
the role assigned to noise observatories installed in large built-up
110. Combating noise pollution and light pollution, which
are serious concerns for mankind and other living species, is directly
relevant to the work carried out by the Parliamentary Assembly of
the Council of Europe on an additional protocol to the European
Convention on Human Rights recognising citizens’ right to a healthy environment.
111. It also meets the demands of the 1979 Bern Convention on biodiversity
and the European Landscape Convention as well as the concerns of
the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs
over problems of environment and health and cutting expenditure
on energy. This action also echoes the Countdown 2010 for biodiversity
set by the United Nations.
112. There are three conditions for this combat to be effective:
an integrated approach, tailored training for trade professionals
and a drive to build awareness aimed at the whole of society without
which no effective action would be possible.
113. The issue must be tackled on all three levels: European, national
and local. This cannot be done without the combined involvement
of all the players in urban planning, the environment and the development
and protection of given areas, as well as acoustic and lighting
technicians. It must be backed by public commitment and support
at all stages.
Reporting committee: Committee
on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs
Reference to committee: Doc. 11551, Reference 3439 of 18 April 2008
Draft resolution and draft recommendation: adopted
unanimously by the committee on 19 February 2010
Members of the committee:
Mr Aleksei Lotman (Chairman), Mr John Prescott (1st Vice-Chairman), Mrs Elsa Papadimitriou (2nd
Vice-Chair), Mr Nigel Evans (3rd Vice-Chairman), Mr Remigijus Ačas,
Mr Ruhi Açikgöz, Mr Artsruni
Aghajanyan, Mr Gerolf Annemans (alternate: Mr Karim Van Overmeire), Mr Miguel Arias
Cañete (alternate: Mr Gonzalo Robles
Orozco), Mr Alexander Babakov, Mrs Juliette Boulet, Mr
Tor Bremer, Mr Vladimiro Crisafulli, Mr Karl Donabauer, Mr Miljenko
Dorić, Mr Gianpaolo Dozzo (alternate: Mr Oreste Tofani), Mr Tomasz Dudziński, Mr József
Ékes, Mr Savo Erić, Mr Bill Etherington,
Mr Joseph Falzon, Mr Relu Fenechiu,
Mr Rafael Huseynov, Mr Jean
Huss, Mr Fazail Ibrahimli, Mr Stanislav Ivanov,
Mr Igor Ivanovski, Mr Birkir Jon Jonsson, Mr Stanisław Kalemba,
Mr Guiorgui Kandelaki, Mr Oskar Kasens, Mr Haluk Koç, Mr Juha Korkeaoja, Mr Bojan
Kostres, Mr Pavol Kubovic, Mr Paul Lempens, Mr François Loncle,
Mrs Kerstin Lundgren, Mr Theo Maissen, Mrs Christine Marin, Mr Yevhen Marmazov, Mr Bernard Marquet, Mr Alan Meale, Mr Peter Mitterrer, Mr Pier
Marino Mularoni, Mr Adrian Năstase,
Mr Aleksandar Nenkov, Mr Pasquale Nessa, Mr Thomas Nord, Mrs Carina
Ohlsson, Mr Joe O’Reilly,
Mr Holger Ortel, Mr Dimitrios Papadimoulis (alternate: Mr Evangelos Papachristos), Mr Germinal Peiro,
Mr Ivan Popescu, Mr Cezar Florin Preda,
Mr Gabino Puche Rodríguez-Acosta,
Mr Lluís Maria de Puig i Olivé,
Mrs Jadwiga Rotnicka, Mr René Rouquet, Mr
Giacento Russo, Mr Džavid
Šabović, Mr Fidias Sarikas, Mr Leander Schädler, Mr Mykola Shershun,
Mr Hans Kristian Skibby, Mr Ladislav Skopal, Mrs Karin Strentz,
Mr Valerij Sudarenkov, Mr Laszlo Szakacs, Mr Vyacheslav Timchenko,
Mr Dragan Todorović, Mr Nikolay Tulaev, Mr Tomas Ulehla, Mr Mustafa Ünal, Mr Peter Verlič (alternate:
Mr Jakob Presečnik), Mr Harm
Evert Waalkens, Mr Hansjörg Walter.
NB: The names of those members present at the meeting are
printed in bold
Secretariat to the committee:
Mrs Agnès Nollinger, Mr Bogdan Torcătoriu and Mrs Dana Karanjac