Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

Noise Pollution Is Secretly Killing You, Says a New Study

Air pollution, in case you missed the memo, is really bad for you. But what's nearly as bad for you could come as a shock: irritating noises. According to a study from the the World Health Organization and the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. The report, Burden of Disease From Environmental Noise, claims that western Europeans lose up to 1.6 million years of healthy living annually from noise pollution, compared to 4.5 million years lost for air pollution (noise is only second to air pollution in environmental hazards, according to WHO). How does the WHO come up with these figures?

The report claims that noise pollution leads to major health problems, including heart disease, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbance and tinnitus. By far the biggest noise-related health issue is annoyance and sleep interruption from road traffic (this should be familiar to all city-dwellers). Lack of sleep means a generally less healthy life. But other sources of noise—construction, loud neighbors, drunks at the local bar, fireworks, snowmobiles—are also contributors.

Lying awake at three AM is just part of the problem. The report cites studies claiming that noise disturbances can also lead to high blood pressure, and in turn heart disease and death. Loud noises are also dangerous for children—according to WHO, "over 20 studies have shown negative effects of noise on reading and memory in children...Tasks affected are those involving central processing and language, such as reading comprehension, memory and attention. Exposure during critical periods of learning at school could potentially impair development and have a lifelong effect on educational attainment." And, of course, noise pollution can lead to tinnitus (i.e. ringing in the ears), which can sometimes cause hearing loss.

The takeaway: noise pollution, which sounds mostly silly, actually matters. Fortunately, some technology that is better for air pollution is also better for noise pollution—electric vehicles are basically silent unless manufacturers add artificial noise. If only we could figure out how to silence construction sites, the problem might be lessened even further.

Add New Comment


  • Alecg

    I pass gas does that count as noise polution and gas polution also? Ok just a bad joke. We live in city centers and we do suffer. However we become habituated to sounds and our brian ingores certain sounds. For example I live in Geneva the train passes underground an creats a rumbling sound which at first bother me but now I have adjusted as goes with many other sounds such as a crying baby eary in the morning.

  • paulsur

    Political idealogy polution is hazardous as well. I know, I want to strangle the crap out of those whiny libtard progressives.

  • Michael Cahill

    Sound/Noise is near and dear to my heart as for years I’ve drummed semi-professionally, whilst my ‘day gig’ is that of environmental engineer with a specialty in air quality. Noise is considered air pollution, even though it’s not a gas or particle that we normally associate with air pollution.

    A little consideration goes a long way whether it’s riding your snow machine, revving your straight-pipe steed at traffic light, or practicing the drum-intro to Hot For Teacher.

    Exposure to noise generally won’t kill you in the acute sense (but even there the possibility for compromised safety exists, e.g., vehicle operator doesn’t hear ambulance about to run a red light because the operator’s automobile stereo is too loud), but continuous exposure to even nuisance levels affects the quality of life as stated in the article.

    Michael Cahill

  • Chris Reich

    Light pollution is a health hazard as well. There have been numerous studies of late which seem to indicate a relationship of light during sleep, especially the green type light emitted by many appliances, and cancer.

    Not trying to spread panic but I think if we can avoid these things, loud noise and unnecessary light, why not do so?

    Chris Reich