Noise levels hit unhealthy high

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN half the homes in England and Wales suffer daytime noise levels above the World Health Organisation's recommended limit, Britain's largest sound survey has revealed. After dark, two-thirds are exposed to noise above the stricter night-time limit.

But the survey, carried out by the Government's Building Research Establishment, came to the conclusion that the din of road traffic and aircraft had not worsened in the past 20 years, despite huge increases in car, lorry and aircraft movement.

However, a parallel BRE survey into attitudes to noise suggests that people feel increasingly stressed and angry about barking dogs, amplified music and shouting. One in five of those questioned complained about noisy neighbours.

In the first survey, measurements were made for a 24-hour period outside 1,000 homes ranging from the remotest country cottage to the noisiest inner-city kerbside. The recordings, all made at a point one metre from the front wall of the homes, were carried out during weekdays. Between 7am and 11pm, 56 per cent of homes were exposed to noise levels above the WHO daytime limit recommended 'to prevent significant community annoyance'. Traffic, aircraft, animals and birds were the noise sources most frequently detected.

Traffic noise was noticeable outside 90 per cent of properties, although only five per cent faced main roads, and seven per cent were exposed to noise levels above the qualifying limit for sound insulation for homes beside new roads.

Between 11pm and 7am, 63 per cent were subject to noise above the WHO's nightime limit, equivalent to 45 decibels, about the same level as distant traffic or quiet birdsong.

Ken Fothergill, one of the survey's authors, said there seemed to have been little overall change in noise levels outside homes since the last nationwide survey in 1972.

He suggests the reason is that cars, lorries and aircraft are quieter, while many major

urban roads were already at or near maximum traffic capacity back in the Seventies.

The second piece of research, the National Noise Attitude Survey, found that one per cent of people had their home lives 'totally spoilt' by noise. Nearly 30 per cent complained of traffic noise and 22 per cent about neighbours and dogs. Noise from aircraft and trains were in third and fourth place.

The survey found that more than three-quarters of people who heard their neighbours objected to the noises - a far greater proportion than for any other category. Less than half who heard aircraft objected.

The researchers found that people tended to become

increasingly angry, aggressive and filled with hatred as noise exposure increased, or increasingly depressed, tired and frightened.