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Health effects of environmental noise – other than hearing loss 

Author:  | Australia, Health, Noise, Regulations

May 2004

Executive summary

The primary aims of this document are to present:

  • a review of the health effects, other than hearing loss, of environmental noise
  • a review of the measures (national and international) directed at management of environmental noise, and to make recommendations on this aspect.

Community noise, or environmental noise, is one of the most common pollutants. It is defined by the World Health Organization as noise emitted from all sources, except noise at the industrial workplace.

‘Community noise includes the primary sources of road, rail and air traffic, industries, construction and public works and the neighbourhood’ (WHO, 1999).

Environmental noise is increasingly becoming a community concern both internationally and in Australia. Considerable efforts have been made over about the last four decades to reduce noise impacts from transportation sources such as road and rail traffic and aircraft. Nonetheless, many of the benefits of these efforts have been lost due to increased traffic volumes (by all modes) for longer periods of the day and evening. At the same time increases in urban population have resulted in greater exposure of a larger percentage of the population to the increased noise levels.

The non-auditory health effects of noise, as reviewed in this report, are defined as ‘all effects on health and wellbeing that are caused by exposure to noise, with the exclusion of effects on the hearing organ and the effects that are due to masking of auditory information (namely communication problems)’ (IEH–MRC Institute for Environment and Health, 1997).

This report examines the range of environmental noise sources that may affect communities, with a focus on the primary sources of such noise (road, rail and air traffic, and industry). It examines the key literature on noise exposure and annoyance/ quality of life, sleep disturbance, performance and learning, cardiovascular disease, mental health, and stress. Further, it seeks to refine our understanding of sensitive groups in the Australian population that are at risk from environmental noise exposure. It also summarises a number of international policy frameworks that address environmental noise and examines the feasibility of their application in Australia. In addition, some potential areas for further research are identified.

There is now sufficient evidence internationally that community noise may pose a general public health risk. Groups most exposed to this noise (by virtue of where they live, work and recreate) and those most sensitive to its impact, may face even greater risks. They include infants and school children, shift workers, the elderly, the blind, and those suffering hearing impairment, sleep disorders, and physical and mental health conditions. Australian surveys have found respondents were concerned about environmental noise from a wide range of transportation and other sources, as well as noise generated by neighbours’ loud voices, loud appliances and pets (indoors and outdoors).

If this international experience holds true for Australia, the community and potential public health dimensions of this issue will grow significantly and the public health community will be required to provide policy and research leadership. There is a need to cross broad areas of social and environmental policy – in product design and safety, planning and transport – to tackle the acknowledged problems emerging from the scientific evidence on environmental noise and its human health effects.

This report recommends further research is needed to more fully assess the impact of environmental noise on community health. However, given the environmental and public health emphasis on prevention of adverse health outcomes, it may be prudent for relevant health agencies to immediately consider development of improved health-based noise guidelines, standards and policies. These tools would assist local government and environment, transport and planning agencies to better consider noise within relevant regulatory and policy frameworks. Strategic alliances with key sectors are also needed to advance necessary research on noise issues and advocate on behalf of sensitive groups within the population.


  1. Recognise environmental noise as a potential health concern.
  2. Promote measures to reduce environmental noise and its health impacts.
  3. Address environmental noise in planning and development activities.
  4. Foster research on the non-auditory health impacts of noise.


Sound, noise and human response
An introduction to sound and noise
Theoretical models to account for how noise effects human response
Adverse health effects of noise
Annoyance and quality of life
Sleep disturbance
Performance and learning – school children
Cardiovascular disease
Mental health
Noise and neuro-physiological stress – main effect
Noise sources and impacts in Australia
Extent of noise impacts in Australia
Noise sources in Australia
International best practice noise management
International noise control
Australian noise control
Responding to environmental noise in Australia
Responding to environmental noise in Australia
Project terms of reference
International noise control policy frameworks
Figures and tables

Download original document: “The health effects of environmental noise – other than hearing loss

This material is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this material resides with the author(s). As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Queries e-mail.

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