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What is noise pollution, exactly?

Noise can make our lives difficult, and even make us ill.

Let’s take a closer look at this new kind of pollution that’s almost as significant as air pollution!

Relentless construction noise coming from the apartment above, cars accelerating, planes taking off, children’s sharp cries… Here in France at least, 25 million people are affected by noise pollution and 9 million are said to be particularly overexposed to it. This public health issue even has a cost put at €155.7 billion per year in France. Because noise is the second-biggest environmental factor that is detrimental to health, just after air pollution! Here’s a demystification of this noise pollution which can significantly disrupt our wish to embrace Clean Living.

What’s the difference between troublesome noise and noise pollution?

When we talk about troublesome noise, we mean noises that are very loud and/or repetitive and immediately impair the auditory system (tinnitus, whistling, auditory fatigue, hearing loss, etc.). As for noise pollution, it’s more difficult to pin down, since its impact is not immediate. Plus, noises (often down to human activity) can be tolerable and tolerated at first. When they are sustained for a long time they become irritating and have harmful consequences on our health, and even on the environment. For example, underwater noise pollution now poses a threat to whales and dolphins!

The sources of noise pollution are known and have been identified. In pole position: passenger and freight transport (roads, the underground, air travel, etc.). Then comes neighbour noise, day and night. And lastly, machine noise (from domestic appliances to construction site machinery).

The impact of noise pollution on our health


Noise has heavy consequences on our health. Auditory disorders, of course, but also hypertension problems, sleep problems and concentration problems, and even depression! Moreover, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently classed noise pollution as a public health problem, as the second-biggest cause of death related to environmental factors.

At the present time, 1 in 5 Europeans are exposed to high levels of noise. According to a report entitled Noise in Europe, published in 2020 by the European Environment Agency (EEA), this figure is expected to increase in the coming years.

How can you protect yourself from noise pollution?

It all depends on what troublesome noise we’re talking about. In a home setting, noise must not exceed 30 decibels so as not to compromise the wellbeing of all those living there. Outside, it’s not advisable to be exposed to 85 decibels for several consecutive hours. By way of example, the sound of a mower approaches 90 decibels and a plane taking off verges on 150.

The law sets forth – as well as thresholds that are not to be crossed – a possible fine in case of a breach. In addition, every EU country must combat troublesome noise related to transport infrastructure, not least by drawing up noise exposure maps and action plans to address the issue: hybrid engines, noise cancellation walls, soundproofing of windows, etc.

Furthermore, for years now, phonic research and development teams have been working on innovations concerning the types of material used to rein in the impact of noise.

Recently, a scientific study indicated that natural sounds, as well as masking noise pollution, may have a positive impact on blood pressure, and even stress levels. So let’s have that background noise of birdsong, and why not install a zen water feature with gentle waterfall sounds like in the wilderness?

Sensitivity to noise may vary

Are you familiar with the term hyperacusis? It refers to hypersensitivity to the sounds of everyday life. An uncomfortable sensation, stress… This disorder can be treated by teaching the brain to tolerate noises better. Because we are not all created equal when it comes to noise, and certain noises in particular. Some people cannot bear chewing sounds, and others children’s cries. The reason behind this intolerance often involves manifestations from our subconscious that wants to tell us something about ourselves, our behaviour, our backstory, our level of frustration in life. In that case, to gain a better understanding of it, you have to take a deep dive into your inner silence.

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