Health Protection Agency to take on some responsibility on noise & health from Dept of Health

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) announced in mid October that it will be taking on some aspects of noise and health responsibilities from the Department of Health, including transport noise. This will include looking at metrics and evidence of health impacts. There is a public comment period that will run until mid-January 2013 based on the workplan they have produced, to help formulate the HPA’s remit in this area.  The HPA says noise is a public health and economic problem for society; also that  may have a role in promotion of a good acoustic environment if benefits to health can be proved; and that “With appropriate resources and lead times HPA could develop/ provide separate independent scientific advice on noise and health.” The BMA produced a report  in July 2012 entitled “Healthy Transport = Healthy Lives” that mentions the health impacts of aircraft noise.

HPA Noise and Health Workplan

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has been asked to take on responsibility for some
aspects of noise and health by the Department of Health (England) (DH) and the
Devolved Administrations (DAs).

The HPA has been asked to develop proposals for their remit in this area and to focus mainly on environmental and neighbourhood noise (as defined by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in the Noise Policy Statement for England), such as that produced by transport.

This workplan has been developed primarily for the HPA to outline the scope of its
potential new role, allow this to be discussed and shared with other organisations and
provide the ‘job description’ for the staff in the HPA who will be working on noise and
public health. It will be used as a basis for working with relevant stakeholders to develop
a work programme, when resources are available.

The HPA draft workplan on noise and health is being published in October 2012 for
comment. Readers are invited to comment on the envisaged range of work that the HPA
plans to undertake, the priorities that the HPA should adopt in undertaking this work and
any gaps in the scientific advice about noise and health that the HPA may be able to fill
within its resources.
Those wishing to comment are invited to write, preferably by e-mail, to:

Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards
Health Protection Agency
OX11 0RQ
All comments should be received by Friday, 11 January 2013


Details at


Some extracts from the document, mentioning aircraft noise:

From the Executive Summary:

……  This workplan is primarily for the HPA to understand the scope of its potential new role, allow this to be discussed and shared with other organisations and provide the “job description” for the staff in HPA who will be working on noise and public health. It will be used as a basis for working with relevant stakeholders to develop a work programme, when resources are available.

Noise is a public health and economic problem for society. An ad hoc expert group review, funded by the Department of Health (DH) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2010 gave a comprehensive summary of the evidence about noise and health. This workplan draws on that evidence and recommendations about noise and health to define the role for HPA. HPA may also have a role in promotion of a good acoustic environment if benefits to health can be proved.

At present, policy on environmental and neighbourhood noise in England is led by Defra and local authorities with analogous responsibilities in the DAs. Other government departments also have responsibilities in their own areas (e.g. HSE for occupational noise).

There is also relevant expertise in universities and scientific consultancies.
HPA currently has no capacity to offer advice of its own in relation to noise-related health effects, but the ad hoc expert group report is referenced from the HPA website. With appropriate resources and lead times HPA could develop provide [sic] separate independent scientific advice on noise and health.




6.3 Results of noise and health studies

Transport noise has been linked to adverse health outcomes including annoyance, sleep quality, cardiovascular disease and rate of learning in children.

Aircraft noise appears to be a more potent cause, dBA for dBA, than road noise with train noise causing less annoyance.

The uncertainties in the research studies are such that neither a threshold nor any shape of no-threshold dose response relationship can be ruled out for these effects. Some authors have developed dBA per detriment metrics for noise and cardiovascular disease (IGCB(N), 2009) but they are very dependent on the integration of noise measurements across frequency and time and may not be relevant for low frequency and modulated noise.
The mechanism for noise effects on health, especially cardiovascular disease has not been defined. Chronic stress response is the putative pathway, backed up by some occupational and environmental noise studies which measured physiological markers of stress.

Noise is also well known to cause annoyance which is a subjective concept. Once sensitised to a noise, it may need to be made quieter than the “pre-noise” state to stop people being annoyed. Mechanisms for annoyance, sleep disturbance and delayed learning have much greater “face validity”. The former has been hypothesised as a health effect on the pathway to cardiovascular risk. Many observational studies suffer from confounding between noise exposure and exposure to other environmental hazards such as air pollution. Separating such confounding effects is possible, but difficult in epidemiological studies.




At the moment there is no pressing need for a new comprehensive evidence review, because of the recently published work. However the 2010 ad hoc expert group review did give a clear set of recommendations which could be a useful starting point (see Box 1).

Box 1

Top 4 recommendations of the ad hoc Expert Group review of Noise and Health

9.5 Longitudinal studies of environmental noise exposure and measurement of hormones as well as health outcomes to understand whether there are effects of prolonged noise exposure to which people do not habituate

9.6 Longitudinal community studies of aircraft and road traffic noise and mental health using diagnostic measures in settings of high noise exposure in order to be more certain of noise effects on mental health

9.14 Further study of the relationship between noise and psychological symptoms and clinical psychological disorders

9.15 Research into the effects of noise exposure on children, to understand the mechanisms of the effects of noise on reading and memory, whether the effects are temporary or persist, and whether they can be remedied by improved acoustic conditions in schools




Noise is an inevitable consequence of everyday life. The European Union (EU) Directive 2002/49/EC on the management of environmental noise defines environmental noise as “unwanted or harmful outdoor sound created by human activities, including noise from road, rail, airports and from industrial sites”. Defra recognise its subjectivity and define noise as “‘unwanted sound’ thus “one person’s noise is another person’s sound”

In England government policy categorise noise into:

• Environmental noise, including transport ,
• Neighbour noise including noise from inside and outside people’s homes
• Neighbourhood noise including noise arising from within the community such as industrial and entertainment premises, trade and business premises, construction sites and noise in the street



HPA is already a statutory consultee for nationally significant infrastructure projects in terms of chemical and radiation hazards in relation to health concerns, and it may find itself in this role also for noise. Projects such as new airports and railway lines are likely to provide a focus for noise-related health concerns. However, significant relevant expertise would be needed for HPA to be able to fulfil this role. Initially it could point to existing sources of advice.



Department of Health (England)
Defra (Department of the Environment, food and rural affairs, including members of the Interdepartmental Group on Costs and Benefits – IGCB)
Devolved Administrations
DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) for wind turbine noise
DCLG and DfE for buildings (and school buildings)
SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency)
Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Environment Agency
Public Health Agencies
Institute of Acoustics
Commercial organisations with significant acoustics expertise
National Physical Laboratory
Building Research Establishment
Transport Research Laboratory
Civil Aviation Authority
Chartered Institute for Environmental Health
Local Government Association
Universities with significant acoustics expertise
Members of the DH/Defra expert group that produced the 2010 Noise and Health report under Bob Maynard.
Members of ENNAH, the European Network on Noise and Health, an EU FP7 project which is coming to an end
Small Area Health Statistics Unit, Imperial College London






(Only published in October 2012)

Share draft workplan within HPA, Defra, DH and the DAs. March to July 2012
Share draft workplan with EA, SEPA, other government departments and leaders of the academic and commercial communities. July to September 2012.

Confirm HPA resources for work on noise and health. An initial budget sufficient to fund 2 scientific staff in HPA has been identified.

Appoint suitably qualified members of staff to develop the HPA work programme by December 2012. Their initial tasks, to be completed within 2012/13 would be:

• Develop a list of key stakeholders
• Further develop and consult widely with stakeholders to develop the HPA work programme for noise and health
• Run a consultation event as part of the workplan development process to ensure input to the workplan from government, statutory organisations, academia and the commercial sector.
• Assemble the relevant resources for HPA to deliver its objectives
• Develop a communications strategy to inform people within and outside HPA about the new work. This will include setting up web pages for HPA on noise and health.
• Convene a core stakeholder network (or work with an existing network) to validate the HPA workplan and work with HPA to deliver it into the future, (possibly using the AGNIR model)

• Agree a programme of work within the HPA Key Health Protection Programme on Environmental Hazards with DH and DAs.




BMA report:   Healthy Transport = Healthy Lives

Healthy transport = Healthy lives (PDF 798k)
This has sections on noise and air pollution.


A few extracts from their report:

The aviation industry is also a significant source of noise. For many living around airports, noise is the most evident health impact of aviation.(106)Research has demonstrated that those living near civil and military airports are adversely affected by take off and landing noise. Ground noise (including taxiing aircraft, engine testing generators or airport-related traffic) can are also be a source of noise pollution.(106)

(106)   Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (2003) Aircraft noise. London: Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology.


Analysis by the Government predicts that a UK HSR network offers the capability to absorb
increases in demand for rail, and that developing a HSR network will release space on conventional rail, improve intercity connections, and reduce journey times between cities.(237) It is predicted that by 2043, 136,000 passengers will be using HSR between London and Birmingham. It is envisaged that by 2043 the introduction of HSR will lead to an annual 6 per cent shift away from aviation, and 7 per cent shift away from car use, relative to current levels. (238)  It is worth noting that concern has been expressed that the predicted shift in transport patterns has been overestimated, in particular that the implementation of HSR would only be expected to address demand and rail
capacity on existing transport corridors. (229)


People living near large airports may experience greater exposure to air pollution. This can directly affect health and quality of life.92 Exposure to air pollutants within these neighbourhoods may be influenced by:

• emissions from aircraft activity
• emissions from ground support equipment and other sources involved in ground operations
• traffic, created by passengers and staff travelling to and from airports. (93)

Air pollutant levels around large airports are similar to those seen in urbanised areas, and are to a large extent determined by road traffic emissions. (93)

(93)  Cohen BS, Bronzaft AL, Heikkinen M et al (2008) Airport-related air pollution and noise.   Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 5: 119-29.