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Year : 2003  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 19  |  Page : 59-64
Prevention of adverse effects of noise on children

International Network on Children's Health, Environment and Safety (INCHES), National Institute of Public Health, Denmark

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  Abstract 

This article presents findings from a European project co-ordinated by the National Institute of Public Health, Denmark. The project Children and noise - prevention of adverse effects was partly financed by the European Commission Programme on Pollution-related Diseases and included partners or consultants from six European Union Member States: Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The project used a definition of noise based on children's special development and provides examples of good practice on how to prevent the harmful effects of noise in children's daily settings. The settings analysed were day-care centres, primary schools and discotheques. Two methods were applied to obtain the effective examples of noise prevention or noise reduction: reviewing existing research and interviewing key people with knowledge and experience that has not yet appeared in the literature. A range of cases of preventing the adverse effects of noise assessed before and after the intervention provide a number of good practices, including information and awareness-raising campaigns and the identification of key concepts and key players in the prevention of noise. The examples of good practice have been effective in reducing noise, reducing the effects of noise, increasing the awareness of the importance of noise reduction or increasing action to reduce noise. The examples are based on a common format for reviewing preventive measures and can serve as direct inspiration for action to prevent noise in children's daily settings.

Keywords: children; noise prevention; effective measures; good practices; day-care centres; primary schools; discotheques

How to cite this article:
Bistrup M L. Prevention of adverse effects of noise on children. Noise Health 2003;5:59-64

How to cite this URL:
Bistrup M L. Prevention of adverse effects of noise on children. Noise Health [serial online] 2003 [cited 2014 Oct 31];5:59-64. Available from: http://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?2003/5/19/59/31697
Background

Noise can have auditory and non-auditory effects on children. The National Institute for Public Health, Denmark published an overview of the health effects of noise on children in December 2001 (Bistrup, 2001). A natural response to the findings on the harmful effects of noise on children was to identify ways to prevent the harmful effects of noise on children. In 2001, Children and Noise - Prevention of Adverse Effects was carried out. This project was financed in part by the European Commission Programme on Pollution-related Diseases. The study included partners or consultants from six European Union Member States: Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. A report was published in December 2002 (Bistrup & Keiding, 2002). The following overview is based on this report.

Definition of noise

Noise is frequently defined as unwanted noise, but children may expose themselves to levels of noise that can harm hearing. Groups of children may be sensitive to noise: for example foetuses, premature babies and young children with organs that are still developing such as the ear.

The circadian rhythm of children may influence children's susceptibility to noise. Children are often forced to stay in locations defined by adults, and children have less control over the environment than adults. The settings for children often have no noise regulation or are not regulated to reflect children's susceptibility to noise.

A definition is needed that includes considerations related to children, noise and public health. The following definition was chosen:

Noise is any sound - independent of loudness - that may produce an undesired physiological or psychological effect in an individual and that may interfere with the social ends of an individual or group (Mitzelfelt, 1996).

Aims

The project Children and Noise - Prevention of Adverse Effects aimed:

  • to contribute to better public understanding of the role of noise in children's health and well-being;
  • to collect, critically review and disseminate examples of good preventive health measures to protect children's health and well-being from the adverse effects of noise; and
  • to improve selected methods for disseminating knowledge on how to prevent the adverse effects of noise among children.


Method

The main approach towards achieving the aims of the project was to work with partners with experience in noise prevention in selected settings. The two main methods of gathering information were reviewing literature and published research results and interviewing key people.

Literature was retrieved from scientific journals, books and conference proceedings, and unpublished manuscripts and ongoing projects were identified in the process. The partners identified key people, and 40 people were interviewed based on a questionnaire relevant to the setting concerned.

The criterion for including examples of intervention as good practice was that the intervention was evaluated, by assessing the situation before and after the intervention. A common framework for reviewing the interventions was used to present the examples of good practice collected from interviews. Fourteen examples were chosen as good practices for selected settings and for information and awareness-raising activities. The report contains a large number of additional technical, acoustical, organisational and educational examples.

Settings

The settings selected had to meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • the exposure level is high;
  • many children are involved;
  • exposure is expected to cause harmful effects; and
  • especially vulnerable groups of children are being exposed.


Three settings relevant for a large number of children in Europe were chosen: day-care centres, primary schools and discotheques and festivals.

Results of the literature review

Railway noise intervention in New York City

A programme attempted to reduce railway noise and determine the effects on children's reading scores. The intervention consisted in placing one-inch-thick (2.54 cm) butyl-rubber pads on the trail tracks closest to a school and in installing sound-absorbing ceilings in the classrooms closest to the tracks. These combined interventions reduced the noise levels in the classrooms by 6-8 dB. The reading ability of the children attending classes in rooms facing the tracks improved after both interventions. Teachers and pupils reported a quieter atmosphere after the pads were installed (Bronzaft, 1981; Bronzaft et al., 1981).

Aircraft intervention in Los Angeles

The study compared the performance and health of children in noisy, noise-abated and quiet classrooms. The intervention reduced noise levels by 7 dB. The noise abatement had small ameliorative effects on cognitive performance, motivation and children's ability to hear their teacher but no effects on reading scores (Cohen et al., 1980, 1981).

Natural experiments with change in noise exposure in Munich

The study examined the effects of change in exposure to aircraft noise on the health and performance of children attending schools nears the old Munich Airport (which was closed) and to study the effects on children attending schools near the new Munich Airport (which was opened).

The noise levels near the old airport declined from 68 dB(A) to 54 dB(A) after it closed. The noise levels near the new airport increased from 53 dB(A) to 62 dB(A) after it opened. The children were tested for the same mechanisms in three waves. The results of closing the airport indicated improvements in long-term memory recall and the reading tests (for difficult words) and had slight positive effects on short-term memory and reaction time. The same cognitive skills were adversely affected for children in schools near the new airport (Evans et al., 1995, 1998; Hygge et al. 2002).

Acoustic treatment of classrooms in a city in the United Kingdom

The study evaluated the effects of acoustic treatment of classrooms on students' speech intelligibility and word intelligibility and the teachers' perception of classroom improvement. The background noise was reduced by 7-9 dB. Children in acoustically treated classrooms had improved speech intelligibility and word intelligibility (MacKenzie & Airey, 1999).

Acoustic treatment of preschool classrooms in New York City

The study examined how the acoustic renovation of a day-care centre with unacceptably poor acoustic qualities affected the cognitive performance of children of preschool age. Sound-absorbing panels were installed in the ceiling, and noise was reduced by 5 dB on average. The children performed better in the quieter conditions on pre-reading skills (number, letter and simple word recognition), language skills and motivations tasks than in noisier conditions. Rhyming and letter-to-sound performance did not differ according to noise conditions. Classroom teachers rated children in the quiet conditions as having better language skills (Maxwell and Evans, 1998, 2000).

Reducing noise levels using various measures in classrooms in a primary school in Slovenia

Engineering interventions included replacing windows, changing the traffic regime in the local area, calming traffic and insulating the gymnasium and the dining hall. Administrative interventions included changing the school schedule, relocating the classrooms and reducing open-plan classrooms. Additional interventions included using tablecloths and quiet plates in the cafeteria, playing classical music for background sound in various areas of the school and installing velvet curtains. All these interventions reduced noise, but actual noise measures were not reported. Children complained less about the school, and performance on annual school tests improved by 10% after the intervention (Caric and Cudina, 2001).

Experiments examining how changing noise exposure affects performance in Diisseldorf, Germany

The study focused on how children exposed to chronic noise work under quiet and under noisy conditions in contrast to a control sample not exposed to chronic noise. Children chronically exposed to high noise levels performed more poorly on tasks than did the control sample. (Muller et al., 1998).

Experiments examining how changing noise exposure affects performance in Munich and Tyrol

The study addressed the question of how children exposed to chronic noise work under quiet and under noisy conditions in contrast to a sample not exposed to noise exposure. The results from both samples of children indicate that children chronically exposed to high noise were less affected by acute noise at testing than the control children. Analyses showed that children chronically exposed to noise were less affected when confronted with laboratory noise than the control sample (Meis et al., 2000).

Mary Haines reviewed the eight studies mentioned above.

Good examples of effective interventions

The examples of good practice are ones that have been effective in reducing noise, have reduced the effects of noise, have increased awareness of noise reduction or increased action to reduce noise. The examples are based on a common format for reviewing preventive measures and can serve as direct inspiration for action to prevent noise in children's daily settings.

Day-care centres

Noise was reduced in day care by installing acoustic tiles (Germany). In a relatively new kindergarten, parents complained that children were suffering from frequent headaches. Acoustic tiles were installed in the main (dining) hall and in a group room. The reverberation time in the main hall declined from 1.2 to 0.8 seconds and from 0.9 to 0.6 seconds in the group room. Noise was reduced by 4 dB (Bistrup and Keiding, 2002).

Noise was reduced in the playground of a day≠care centre by building a tall noise wall (Denmark). The kindergarten is located at an intersection of two busy streets in Copenhagen, and road traffic creates continuous high noise levels interspersed with noise peaks and variation when vehicles stop and start. The noise level at the facade was 77 dB(A) before the new noise wall was installed, and the reduction after the intervention was up to 10 dB (Bistrup and Keiding, 2002).

Installing high-insulation windows, walls and roofs significantly reduced noise in day-care centres and schools (Italy). Day-care centres and schools frequently complained about the noise levels around Malpensa Airport, and a special initiative was implemented to reduce noise. Special three-layer windows were designed, and roofs and walls were highly insulated. The sound reduction ranged from 8 to 24 dB (Bistrup and Keiding, 2002).

A medical officer of health assessed the potential risks to children in a day-care centre from noise from an airport (Denmark). The statement from the medical officer of health resulted in the termination of the use of the building for day care for children (Bistrup and Keiding, 2002).

Reducing noise in open-plan schools is a special challenge. Students in open-plan schools often experience excessive noise levels compared with vocal intensity, too much irrelevant information, a lack of privacy, poor acoustic separation between groups and excessive reverberation time (Petersen, 2002).

Preventing noise in discotheques

The usual sound levels at discotheques are 105-110 dB(A). The effects of ordinary music≠listening habits indicate that about 10-20% of adolescents would have slight but verifiable hearing loss of > 10 dB at kHz after 10 years.

In the study, a discotheque frequented by teenagers voluntarily agreed not to exceed a noise level of 98 dB(A). This was a decrease in volume of about 10 dB and especially reduced the dangerous frequencies by 6 dB. This feels like half the noise level but reduces the noise exposure to one tenth of the initial level. When the young discotheque patrons and the disc jockeys were made aware of the risk of hearing impairment associated with high sound levels, they accepted lower levels of 94 dB(A) according to the preliminary feasibility study.

Another initiative is to develop and promote fancy earplugs, so that adolescents feel comfortable about wearing earplugs at festivals and in discotheques. Earplugs usually reduce the sound level by about 30 dB (Bistrup and Keiding, 2002).

Susanne Neyen reviewed the studies on prevention of noise in discotheques.

Information and awareness-raising campaigns

Information and awareness raising campaigns can be carried out at many levels, such as among young children, schoolchildren, teachers, politicians and the general public. Campaigns and information should be sensitive to the needs and knowledge of the target groups and should be non-moralistic and objective. Videos, computer games and films include sound, appeal to children and are good media to illustrate noise situations in addition to pictures and the written word.

Artists and Musicians against Tinnitus (AMMOT), a voluntary association in Sweden, prepared a video and carried out visits to schools and festivals to communicate with young people with the aim of raising awareness about preventing harmful noise and the importance of protecting the ears and hearing. An evaluation of the levels of knowledge among schoolchildren before and after seeing the video showed that children's knowledge about a number of distinct themes increased sharply (Bistrup and Keiding, 2002).

A special component of the project is a picture book for children and their adults written by Susanne Neyen of the Independent Institute for Environmental Concerns and illustrated by Martina Genest. The title of the colourful book is Gut, dass du Ohren hast, gut dass du horst! (Neyen and Genest, 2002).

The text has been translated into English: Good you've got ears! Good that you can hear! Requests to publish this text in other languages than German can be made to Susanne Neyen at the Independent Institute for Environmental Concerns (www.ufu.de).

Conclusions

There are three main techniques for preventing noise:

  • reducing or eliminating noise at the source;
  • reducing or eliminating noise by installing a barrier between the source of noise and the recipient of noise; and
  • reducing or eliminating noise at the point of reception or at the human recipient.


Policies and planning are needed, such as avoiding locating schools and day-care centres near sources of noise, including roads, railroad tracks and airports. Applying the precautionary principle as well as administrative procedures and control and legislation on noise reduction with the vulnerability of the child in mind are prerequisites for successful noise abatement. Funds should be allocated for developing high≠quality work environments for children, and procedures for maintaining good acoustic environments should be established and implemented.

Technical, acoustic, organisational and educational interventions can sharply reduce noise or reverberation time or change people's awareness and thus reduce the risk of harmful auditory or non-auditory effects of noise on children and adolescents.

The report Children and noise - prevention of adverse effects is available as a pdf file at: www.sifolkesundhed.dk/english/noiseprevention.pdf

The project was supported by the European Commission by Grant Agreement no. SI2.298017 (2000CVG2-608)[18]

 
  References Top

1.Bistrup M.L., ed. (2001). Health effects of noise on children and the perception of the risk of noise. Copenhagen, National Institute of Public Health.  Back to cited text no. 1    
2.Bistrup M.L., Keiding L., ed. (2002). Children and noise - prevention of adverse effects. Copenhagen, National Institute of Public Health (also available at www.niph.dk).  Back to cited text no. 2    
3.Bronzaft A.L. (1981). The effect of a noise abatement program on reading ability. J. Environ. Psychol. 1: 215-222.  Back to cited text no. 3    
4.Bronzaft A.L., McCarthy D.P. (1975). The effects of elevated train noise on reading ability. Environ. Behav. 7: 517-527.  Back to cited text no. 4    
5.Caric I., Cudina M. (2001). Disturbing effects of noise in classroom of a primary school. In: Proceedings of the 17th International Congress on Acoustics. Rome, Rivista Italiana di Acoustica.  Back to cited text no. 5    
6.Cohen S., Evans G.W., Krantz D.S., Stokols D. (1980). Physiological, motivational and cognitive effects of aircraft noise on children: moving from the laboratory to the field. Am. Psychol. 35: 231-243.  Back to cited text no. 6    
7.Cohen S., Krantz D.S., Evans G.W., Stokols D., Kelly S. (1981). Aircraft noise and children: longitudinal and cross≠sectional evidence in adaptation to noise and the effectiveness of noise abatement. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 40: 331-345.  Back to cited text no. 7    
8.Evans G.W., Hygge S., Bullinger M. (1995). Chronic noise and psychological stress. Psychol. Sci. 6: 333-338.  Back to cited text no. 8    
9.Evans G.W., Bullinger M., Hygge S. (1998). Chronic noise exposure and psychological response: a prospective study of children living under environmental stress. Psychol. Sci. 9: 75-77.  Back to cited text no. 9    
10.Hygge S., Evans G.W., Bullinger M. (2002). A prospective study of some effects of aircraft noise on cognitive performance in schoolchildren. Psychol. Sci. 13: 469-474.  Back to cited text no. 10    
11.Mackenzie D.J., Airey S. (1999). Classroom acoustics: a research project. Edinburgh, Department of Building Engineering and Surveying, Heriot-Watt University.  Back to cited text no. 11    
12.Maxwell L.E., Evans G.W. (1998). Interior noise exposure and reading readiness among preschool children. In: Carter N., Job R.F.S., ed. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Noise as a Public Health Problem. Vol. 1. Sydney, Noise Effects '98 PTY Ltd, pp. 373-376.  Back to cited text no. 12    
13.Maxwell L.E., Evans G.W. (2000). The effects of noise on preschool children's prereading skills. J. Environ. Psychol. 20: 91-97.  Back to cited text no. 13    
14.Meis M., Hygge S., Evans G., Lercher P., Bulinger M., Schick A. (2000). The effects of chronic and acute noise on task performance of school children. In: Proceedings of Inter-Noise 2000. Vol. 1. Nice, France, Didier CASSEREAU, pp. 347-352.  Back to cited text no. 14    
15.Mitzelfelt R. (1996). Albuquerque's environmental story. Environmental topic: noise (www.cabq.gov/aes/s5noise.html). Albuquerque, NM, City of Albuquerque (accessed 19 December 2002).  Back to cited text no. 15    
16.Muller F., Pfeiffer E., Jilg M., Paulsen R., Ranft U. (1998). Effects of acute and chronic traffic noise on attention and concentration of primary school children. In: Carter N., Job R.F.S., ed. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Noise as a Public Health Problem. Vol. 1. Sydney, Noise Effects '98 PTY Ltd, pp. 365-368.  Back to cited text no. 16    
17.Neyen S. (author), Genest M. (illustrator) (2001). Gut, dass du Ohren hast, gut, dass du horst! [Good that you have ears! Good that you can hear!]. Berlin, Independent Institute for Environmental Concerns.  Back to cited text no. 17    
18.Petersen C.M. (2002). Acoustics in open-plan schools and day-care centres - problems and opportunities. In: Bistrup M.L., Keiding L., ed. Children and noise - prevention of adverse effects. Copenhagen, National Institute of Public Health.  Back to cited text no. 18    

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Correspondence Address:
M L Bistrup
INCHES, National Institute of Public Health, Svanemoellevej 25, DK-2100 Copenhagen
Denmark
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