Noise is still bad for health

This photograph of Dr. William H. Stewart is in the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The World Health Organization has found that noise is bad for health, leading it to develop an Environmental Noise Guidelines for Europe. To prepare for the writing of this document, WHO commissioned systematic reviews of the published scientific evidence about this topic.

Systematic reviews are a well-recognized way of summarizing scientific evidence according to a pre-specified protocol to arrive at evidence-based conclusions.

The UK’s Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs recently commissioned a systematic review of newer scientific evidence about the effects of environmental noise on mental health, well-being, quality of life, cancer, dementia, birth, reproductive outcomes, and cognition.

And guess what? As WHO found, DEFRA also found that a lot of the evidence is not of the highest scientific quality, but there is still sufficient evidence to conclude that environmental noise is bad for health.

We wish health authorities in the U.S. would understand this soon. At The Quiet Coalition, we sometimes circulate draft blog posts among ourselves for input or comment or correction. TQC’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, a pioneering noise researcher who showed that elevated train noise interfered with schoolchildren learning, offered these additional comments:

EPA stated in 1978 in Noise: A Health Problem, that “[i]t is finally clear that noise is a significant hazard to public health.” We need to remind EPA of this statement, made forty years before the WHO statement. Dr. William H. Stewart, former surgeon general, in 1969 acknowledged we did not have “every link in the chain of causation” but still warned us about dangers of noise.

Thanks to Dr. Bronzaft for reminding us that in the U.S. the health hazards of noise pollution have been known for decades.

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