Light and noise pollution costing 1m healthy life years

New House of Lords select committee report examines the impact of ‘neglected pollutants’ on human health in the UK and calls for further scientific studies. 

We’re all now familiar with the adverse effects of pollution, such as the well-documented dumping of waste in our rivers and seas, and the impact of fossil fuels on the quality of our air. But now attention is being given to other kinds of pollution that don’t receive nearly so much attention: artificial light and noise.

timelapse under blue sky during nighttime

Photo by Vicky Yu 

The new report, The neglected pollutants: the effects of artificial light and noise on human health, is published by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. 

Artificial light and noise can have a range of impacts on human health. These include disrupting sleep and circadian rhythms, affecting alertness and mood, and damaging our sight and hearing. They can also just be annoying, which can increase risks of stroke and heart problems. 

As the report admits, the increased risk to any particular individual is low. But the fact that millions of people are exposed to such pollutants on a daily basis means the effects soon add up. 

In fact, the report quotes some shocking statistics. The World Health Organization has estimated that 100 million people were exposed to harmful levels of noise pollution in a single year, contributing to ‘48,000 new cases of heart disease and 12,000 premature deaths every year in Europe. In addition, 22m people suffer chronic high annoyance, and 6.5m suffer chronic sleep disturbance.’ It concluded that 1m healthy life years are lost in western Europe each year as a result of noise pollution from traffic.  

The UK Health Security Agency has said that 130,000 healthy life years were lost in the UK in 2018, and that 40% of people in the UK are exposed to harmful levels of noise from road traffic. 

The committee heard from a wide range of expert witnesses and in May visited ARUP SoundLab and ARUP ExperienceLab in London to experience demonstrations of the noise produced in road, rail, aviation and construction projects. 

The House of Lords report concludes with a series of measures to tackle this increasing problem: better monitoring, more scientific research and government targets to reduce such pollution. It recommends that these principles be embedded in government policy.

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One response to “Light and noise pollution costing 1m healthy life years”

  1. I’ve been banging on about light pollution for decades. In addition to circadian rhythm disruption in humans , it has a devastating effect on ecosystems. Energy wastage such as light pollution simply increases our carbon footprint. We simply must stop abusing light at night. This will need less street lighting in residential and suburban areas, and none at all in rural areas. This can be implented by 11.30p.m. till dawn curfews on street lighting, and motion operated street lighting that only comes on when required.
    We should also desist from vanity lighting whose only function is to provide eye-candy to the proletariat, without due regard for its effects on the environment. This will include illuminated public buildings and monuments, urban regeration follies, skybeams and lasers, sports lighting, garden lighting, etc.
    We must get over this urban myth that street lighting reduces crime. Where curfews on street light have been re-introduced, criminality has gone down substantially, ergo criminals need light.
    Darkness at night is normal and essential to all living things including humans, therefore we should respect it. Therefore a universal culture change is required in our attitudes to exterior lighting in all its manifestations.

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