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Action against noise: Green Paper
Commission Green Paper of 4 November 1996 on Future Noise Policy [COM(96) 540 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
Noise consists of all unwanted sound - sound that is loud, unpleasant or unexpected. It has been increasing in urban areas to the point where it has become a matter of public concern. According to one estimate, around 20% of the population of Western Europe (some 80 million people) suffer from noise levels that experts consider unacceptable. This noise is caused by traffic, industrial and recreational activities.
The effects of noise can vary from one individual to another. However, a WHO report entitled "Community Noise - Environmental Health Criteria", published in 1996, highlights such effects as disturbance of sleep, auditory or physiological effects (basically cardio-vascular) and interference with communication.
Initially, action to reduce noise was not considered an environmental priority - unlike action to reduce air pollution, for example. The effects of noise are unspectacular, and the decline in quality of life was accepted by the general public as being an inevitable consequence of technological progress and urbanisation.
The earliest Community measures consisted of legislation fixing maximum sound levels for certain types of vehicles (cars, aeroplanes) with a view to completing the Single Market. National measures were introduced to supplement the Community legislation.
An assessment of the impact of this legislation shows that noise from certain vehicles has been considerably reduced. For example, noise from private cars has been cut by 85% since 1970. However, the problem is still with us, in particular because of the growth of traffic.
The 1993 Fifth Environmental Action Programme included noise abatement targets to be achieved by the year 2000. When this programme was reviewed in 1995, the Commission announced the introduction of a noise abatement programme, the first stage of which was the Green Paper.
In this Green Paper the Commission argues for an overall approach, involving all the actors, national and local, so that action can be taken as effectively as possible. It proposes:
- a genuine sharing of responsibilities
- setting targets
- more coherent action
- a system for monitoring progress
- developing noise assessment methods.
For the first time, the Green Paper treats noise as an environmental issue. It does not, therefore, deal with noise at the workplace - which is covered by Directive 86/188/EEC, replaced by Directive 2003/10/EC - or with "neighbourhood noise".
The Commission puts forward two lines of action against noise.
(a) A general noise policy
On the basis of the proposals contained in the Green Paper, the Commission aims to restructure the whole of Community noise policy by:
- establishing common methods for assessing noise exposure
- establishing a common EC noise exposure index
- limiting the transmission of noise (by soundproofing buildings)
- encouraging the exchange of information and experience in exposure to noise between the Member States (enviromental awareness campaigns)
- improving the coherency of noise research programmes.
(b) Reducing emissions at source:
- Road traffic:
- reducing noise emission limit values
- taking action on roads to reduce tyre noise (quieter road surfaces)
- revising vehicle tax arrangements to take account of noise levels
- introducing noise testing as part of vehicle roadworthiness tests
- developing economic instruments such as incentives for purchasing quiet vehicles
- limiting the use of noisy vehicles (banning HGVs from towns at night or during weekends).
- Rail traffic:
- extending emission limits to cover the whole of the railway network
- carrying out further research on reducing train noise
- harmonising methods for assessing and predicting train noise
- setting stricter emission limits
- aid for building and using quieter aircraft
- protecting the areas around airports
- introducing a system for classifying aircraft according to their sound emission level
- Outdoor machinery:
The noise from certain types of machine used in public works (in particular compressors, pneumatic drills and tower cranes) is already covered by Community directives, as is the noise from lawn mowers.
Directive 89/392/EEC, in respect of the health and safety requirement relating to machinery, lays down that machines must be designed and constructed so as to reduce noise as far as possible..
The Commission wants to go further, and proposes:
- simplifying the legislation on noise emission limits for these machines
- making it compulsory to fit all machinery with a plaque stating its noise level.