Decision methods and cost/benefit analysis for noise abatement

An effective fight against environmental noise requires a good balance between the costs needed for abatement measures and the health and socio-economic benefits. How much money should be spent on noise measures? The EPA Network Interest Group on Noise Abatement (IGNA) recently published a report on such decision making methods, based on various cost/benefit analysis tools. We wrote the report, with the aid of the many experts from the European Environmental Protection Agencies.

National and local governments often need to decide whether or not to build a noise barrier, apply low-noise track or road surfaces, or to invest in quieter vehicles. They want to apply the available budget effectively, in situations where noise abatement measures really make a difference. And such decisions need to be fair and transparant, providing an equal level of protection for all people exposed to noise.

Common practice in Europe

Many European countries, but not all, have legal noise limits or targets. If some set of noise measures fulfills these targets, then further expenses are not needed. But if a small extra investment gives a large additional benefit, wouldn't that be a wise choice? Or what if a very high noise barrier is needed to reduce just the last few dB's of noise? Several methods exist in European countries that capture such cost effectiveness considerations in a clear set of rules.

Health-based cost/benefit methods

Decision making methods may be based on socio-economic considerations: an investment in noise abatement measures is considered appropriate if it does not exceed the Willingness To Pay (WTP) by the people that profit from it. Other methods include the loss of real estate value and the costs of health and productivity loss caused by high noise levels. But decision methods do not need to be based on economic benefits: the DALY-method proposed by the WHO allows for a direct measure of health effects and annoyance, and is an excellent tool to quantify the benefits of noise abatement measures.

Report now available

We combined an extensive literature review with a questionnaire around many countries, to find out which methods are the current State-of-the-Art around Europe. The report is primarily aimed at traffic noise from road, rail and aircraft sources. It is a good starting point for governments looking for transparant and effective decisions on noise abatement measures. The report was reviewed and endorsed by a large number of Environmental Protection Agencies around Europe. It is published on the EPA Network website: http://epanet.pbe.eea.europa.eu/fol249409/noise/decision-and-cost-benefit-methods-noise-abatement-measures-europe.