The UK Parliament House of Lords Science and Technology Committee have published a report on artificial light and noise and their impacts on human health. The report concludes that environmental noise and light remain neglected pollutants that are poorly understood and poorly regulated despite their potential to negatively impact human health.
Both noise and light pollution impact negatively on human health through disrupting sleep and circadian rhythms. Epidemiological evidence suggests that noise pollution causes annoyance and increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. Research from the UK Health Security Agency suggests the equivalent of 130,000 healthy life years are lost from noise pollution each year in Britain. This has significant impacts on the economy: sleep disturbance is estimated to cost the UK economy £34 billion a year, according to RAND Europe, and noise and light pollution are contributing factors.
The Committee is concerned that the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan only briefly mentions noise and light pollution, with no specific targets to reduce them, and that there is seemingly little impetus from central government to address them. Light and noise pollution can all too often fall through the cracks between departments and between policies from central government and local government implementation on the ground, with responsibility for tackling the issue unclear.
Key recommendations in the report include:
- DEFRA should work with UKHSA and other organisations to assess the significant, growing evidence on the harmful health effects of noise.
- DEFRA must establish a standard methodology for tracking, monitoring and reporting on light pollution. This should include a regular survey to understand both indoor and outdoor exposure to artificial light at night, so its health impact can be quantified.
- The UK Government should set up a noise expert advisory group, as exists for air pollution, to provide independent advice to the Government and a venue for new evidence, particularly on emerging health effects, to be assessed.
- The UK Government should set a specific target to reduce the health burden from noise pollution, and identify and implement cost-effective interventions using its new mapping tools. This target should be in place by the time of the next five-year Environmental Improvement Plan cycle.
- The UK Government should strengthen interdepartmental coordination on light and noise pollution. Departments with the “levers” to act on light and noise pollution should be incentivised to respond to the problems identified by DEFRA.
- The UK Government should resource and incentivise local authorities, both in terms of funding and access to information and expertise, to ensure they can properly regulate light and noise pollution in line with its targets.
The Chair of the Science and Technology Committee Baroness Brown said:
“Throughout our inquiry we’ve heard of the growing global evidence base for the significant negative impacts of environmental light and noise pollution on our health.
“Not only can they cause annoyance, impacting quality of life, but through the disruption of sleep and circadian rhythms, both noise and light pollution can contribute to heart disease and premature death.
“Whilst the increased risk to an individual may be low, the exposure of millions of people results in a significant aggregate health burden. Forty per cent of the British population are exposed to unhealthy levels of noise pollution from road traffic and research from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that in 2018, 130,000 healthy life years were lost in the UK.
“Yet, despite these significant health impacts, light and noise in the UK seem to have become neglected pollutants, poorly understood and poorly regulated. We are concerned that there are no specific targets for regulating light and noise pollution, and a lack of coordination between departments, and between central and local Government, which is preventing the Government from tackling these problems.
“The Government should focus on quantifying the health effects of noise and light pollution, set targets and a framework for regulation to reduce the overall burden of disease. It should do this by the time of the next five-year Environmental Improvement Plan cycle. It must also strengthen co-ordination between departments and between central and local government, to ensure meaningful improvements in public health and quality of life in the UK for the benefit of all.”