European noise limits vs. WHO recommendations

In October 2018 the European office of the World Health Organization published their new guidelines and recommendations for environmental noise. This raises an interesting question on the current status of noise limits in European countries, and how these relate to the new guidelines. To answer this question, M+P has performed a study for the Network of European Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA-Network), specifically their Interest Group on Noise Abatement. The report has now been published.

By means of a questionnaire early 2019, in the form of factsheets sent out to 36 European countries, information has been collected on the current legislation regarding noise from road, rail and air traffic, industry and wind turbines. Of the 29 responding countries, 26 indicated that they do have limit values for noise. Most countries have separate limits for the different sources, while a few use generic limits that are not source specific. The majority of the limit values is higher than the WHO recommended values: for wind turbines this is 60%, for aircraft noise even 100%.

The question is whether these limit values reflect the actual protection level of citizens. Perhaps more important than the exact value of the noise limits are the scope of these values (Which situations do they apply to?) and the consequences attached to exceeding the limits. From the factsheets, it is clear that these consequences vary from none at all to financial sanctions, and from active and passive noise measures to a full prohibition of activities.
The findings on scope and consequences may help the agencies to implement the new WHO guidelines. Besides an evaluation of the absolute values of the limits, interesting conclusions are found when comparing the five different noise sources. Currently, 20% of the countries apply a higher limit value for railway noise than for road noise - the "rail bonus". For aircraft noise, 40% of the countries have higher, thus less stringent, limit values than for road noise, contrary to the WHO recommended values that are 8 dB lower.

Report and presentation

In summary, our study provides an up-to-date overview of the noise limits used throughout Europe. The study report has recently been published on the EPA-Network website and can be downloaded here. All factstheets with more detailed info per country are included as an attachment. For readers with less time, there is also an executive summary.

The results have been presented at the ICA2019 conference in Aachen on September 11th. This conference paper is also available on our website (publications).