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EDITORIAL Table of Contents   
Year : 2000  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 7  |  Page : 1-3
A European Concerted Action on Noise Pollution Health Effects Reduction - NOPHER

Scientist-in-Charge, Institute of Laryngology and Otology, University College London, 330 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8EE, United Kingdom

Click here for correspondence address and email
How to cite this article:
Prasher D. A European Concerted Action on Noise Pollution Health Effects Reduction - NOPHER. Noise Health 2000;2:1-3

How to cite this URL:
Prasher D. A European Concerted Action on Noise Pollution Health Effects Reduction - NOPHER. Noise Health [serial online] 2000 [cited 2022 Oct 7];2:1-3. Available from: https://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?2000/2/7/1/31747
Around 30 million people in Europe work in noise environments hazardous to hearing and a further 80 million live in community noise levels above 65dBA, which is thought in most people to cause annoyance and lead to sleep disturbance. Other adverse health effects include ringing in the ears, interference with communication, performance and learning as well as cardiovascular and immunological problems. Furthermore, leisure time activities can also produce noise levels potentially damaging to hearing. As a vast array of harmful health effects can be observed from noise exposure, many different disciplines have been involved in their study. This very breadth of work has meant that the focus on noise effects has been lost and inter­disciplinary forum for cross-fertilisation of ideas has been lacking. The main aim of this concerted action is to improve the effectiveness and quality of the research on noise pollution and its impact on health through European co-operation between research workers from the many disciplines involved such as psychology, audiology, otorhinolaryngology, environmental health, occupational health, public health, engineering, acoustics, sociology.

The interaction between basic animal research and applied field studies will be developed further to improve our understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms involved in the effects observed in Humans exposed to noise and other chemical ototoxic agents and their interactions. Studies of combined exposure effects are important as synergistic action can lead to damaging effects even though each component agent remains within the permissible levels. Protocols will be established so that data may be shared and pooled for meaningful interpretation leading to improved safety limits for combined exposures. Another aim is to bring together the experts in various fields of noise research and through working parties and workshops examine specific issues of concern in terms of research methodologies, deficiencies in research evidence and training. This will lead to an improvement in both the quality of research and hearing conservation programmes by sharing knowledge and initiating collaborative projects taking advantage of the diversity across Europe.

The primary purpose of the concerted action is to reduce noise pollution and its effects on health.

The agents of concern for the workplace are often the same agents that are of concern in the community. Noise pollution is such an example. Although the greatest levels of exposure are likely to be in the work environment, there is a growing concern of its increase in both level and spread in the home and the community. Noise induced hearing damage is not restricted to the occupational settings as high level noise exposure occur in concerts, discotheques, motor sports, shooting ranges, and other leisure activities such as listening to loud music through headphones and impulse noise effects from toys and firecrackers. With increasing age, the community noise may also be a contributing factor. According to a recent report by the WHO, noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is an important public health priority as populations live longer and industrialisation spreads, NIHL will add substantially to the global burden of disability. After air and perhaps water pollution, noise, a pervasive form of pollution is of prime concern to a growing number of people and certainly an increasing number are being exposed to hazardous levels of noise often in combination with other oto-toxic agents.

In more than one-third of those with hearing impairment, the cause is exposure to excessive noise. Noise in the work environment is the major avoidable cause of permanent hearing loss in the adult population in the world. General environmental and social noise is a major source of annoyance, sleep disturbance, communication difficulties, ringing in the ears, reduction in cognitive performance and learning and other stress-induced psychological and physiological effects. The risk to hearing from social noise especially for young people is increasing within the communication and entertainment fields in the developed world.

The impact of noise on Human health is manifold but due to its largely slow and insidious nature, the majority of people remain unaware of the hazards of noise. The combined effects of increasing industrialisation, greater mechanised transportation, development of mega-cities with greater concentration of people is producing greater exposure at higher levels of noise. It is estimated that over 500 million people are exposed to hazardous levels of noise in the world, with 30 million in Europe being affected by noise in the work environment. According to the European Commission around 80 million people are affected by noise levels "that experts consider unacceptable where most people become annoyed and sleep is disturbed and where adverse health effects are to be feared. The estimated cost in Europe ranges from 0.2 to 2% of GDP, which at 0.2% for Europe would be around 12 billion Euros per year.

Although in Europe at least with the occupational legislation in force there is beginning to be some decline in the occupational noise induced hearing loss but it is still the single largest category of compensatable occupational hazard.

Chemicals such as toluene, styrene, xylene, trichloroethylene, lead, mercury, carbon disulphide and carbon monoxide commonly used in the manufacturing, services, transportation, and construction industries present a major risk to hearing and balance. The risk is further increased in the presence of noise in the workplace.

This synergistic effect of chemicals and noise is extremely hazardous as either of the toxic agents can co-exist within the current permissible levels but in combination pose a greater threat. Human field studies show that the relative risk for hearing loss is increased from four times with noise alone to eleven times with noise and chemicals. Hearing conservation programmes at present do not consider the effect of chemicals in the protection strategies.

Research on mixed exposures would benefit from interdisciplinary teams of investigators, evaluation of possible synergistic effects, determination of mechanisms of action, improved field methods to characterise simultaneous exposures of workers. This concerted action will combine molecular and epidemiological methods to assess worker exposures to individual agents and their health effects. Statistical methods will be improved to identify the effects of low level exposures. These studies will improve our understanding of synergistic reactions and control of mixed exposures.

There is a great need for basic and applied research to reduce noise pollution and its health effects. Prevention of noise induced hearing loss, which must be a public health priority, needs research in to the pathogenic mechanisms and pharmacological intervention as well as raising awareness of the hazards to prevent exposure. Two work groups will be engaged in research on pharmacological protection and identification of risk factors including individual susceptibility. The concerted action will create an effective network for improved communication and collaboration between institutions across Europe to facilitate and expand research.

Epidemiological studies are needed to gather accurate information relating to leisure noise, which is increasingly posing a greater hazard for the young especially in Europe. This project will prepare and initiate Europe-wide epidemiological studies of leisure noise effects. It is hoped to be able to set up longitudinal studies of otoacoustic emissions to determine their value as early indicator of hearing loss. Tinnitus is being increasingly reported by young people after listening to loud music through headphones, at concerts and discotheques. This will be investigated across Europe to ascertain its prevalence and relationship to exposure history.

There has been a rapid rise in community noise in the past decade but uncertainties remain about certain non-auditory effects of chronic noise exposure. Improved methods will be developed to quantify and characterise noise as well as the health outcomes and thereby improve our understanding of the relationship between particular noise measures and their specific health effects. The workgroups will attempt to standardise the methods of assessment. The effects of chronic noise exposure will be assessed in relation to annoyance, sleep disturbance, ischaemic heart disease, endocrine and immune effects, performance, hypertension. This should lead to improvements in environmental health policy with regard to noise and its effects.

It is vitally important that people who face a risk of exposure to potentially hazardous noise levels are warned and educated about the possible consequences of noise exposure, possible means of protection and the limitations. The concerted action will gather all material available for this purpose and produce an inventory for wider distribution. New material will also be prepared for children to be educated of the potential hazards. Noise limits around industrial areas and planning noise levels for insulation against road traffic noise both vary across countries. The creation of the information system and its website will provide easy access to such information on a country by country basis. Labelling of noise levels emitted by certain products such as power tools, lawn mowers and toys will be encouraged.

A concerted effort by a large number of researchers from many disciplines, and countries focusing on an issue should lead to improvements in our understanding of the way in which noise pollution affects our health and furthermore to informed policies to protect against noise.

Correspondence Address:
Deepak Prasher
Scientist-in-Charge, Institute of Laryngology and Otology, University College London, 330 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8EE
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 12689466

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