Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs
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Doc. 12179

22 March 2010

Noise and light pollution


Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs

Rapporteur: Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV, Azerbaijan, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe



Noise and light pollution may cause serious harm to humans and to the environment.

The report reviews the damage caused by noise and light pollution to humans and other living species. These types of pollution can have serious repercussions, such as disturbing ecosystems and provoking diseases in humans.

In the countries in which reliable statistics are available it is considered that around 40% of the population is exposed to noise levels exceeding 55 decibels (dB) during the day and 22% of the population to levels of more than 65 dB. Over 30% of the population is believed to be exposed to noise levels exceeding 55 dB during the night (the acoustic nuisance scale begins at 65 dB). Prolonged exposure to noise, particularly among the young, poses a real health threat.

The fight against noise and light pollution is a major environmental and public health challenge. The report calls for an integrated approach to the problem and for efforts to raise awareness of the whole society. It is also suggested that all member states take measures to introduce threshold levels for noise and light and impose penalties for exceeding those levels.

A.       Draft resolution

1.       The Parliamentary Assembly notes and deplores the fact that the continent of Europe is particularly affected, in environmental terms, by both noise and light nuisances.

2.       It refers in this connection to the World Health Organisation Guidelines for community noise, which were intended to provide legislative guidance without binding effect in themselves, and European Union Directive 2002/49/EC relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise, proposing a common approach by member states and requiring strategic noise mapping and introduction of action plans in the countries of the European Union.

3.       The Assembly recalls that noise pollution may have multiple causes, with mobile mechanical sources (chiefly motor vehicles and aircraft), isolated mechanical sources (machines, factories etc.), occasional or ongoing operations and work sites (quarrying), public demonstrations and events (one-off or, more seldom, sustained): celebrations, fireworks, festivals, concerts and other places of musical entertainment, stadiums; animal sources (barking, noises from livestock farms, shelters etc.), the neighbourhood (poor soundproofing of buildings, lawn mowers, children, accidentally triggered alarms), portable audio devices and mobile phones in collective transport, etc.

4.       Its effects can be serious, possibly disastrous for the environment overall, through disturbance of ecosystems (terrestrial as well as marine and aquatic), but also through the development of pathologies in man.

5.       As to light pollution, the Assembly emphasises that the Starlight Declaration, signed by UNESCO in 1992, seeks chiefly to preserve an “unpolluted” night sky, and hopes that similar provision will be made in all national legislations.

6.       Furthermore, light pollution affecting flora and fauna poses one of the worst threats to urban biodiversity but above all has harmful effects on the human metabolism.

7.       Moreover, the energy consumption caused by excessive lighting has indirect implications for the environment, for example the pollution linked with production and transmission of the energy.

8.       Bearing in mind the Stockholm Declaration of 1972, adopted by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which expressly acknowledged the link between protection of the environment and human rights, itsRecommendations 1863 (2009) on Environment and health: better prevention of environment-related health hazards and 1885 (2009) on Drafting an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the right to a healthy environment, the Assembly invites member and non member states to find a common approach for combating the harmful effects of noise and light pollution by taking measures aimed at:

8.1.       introducing threshold values for noise and light into environmental medicine, imposing penalties and establishing maximum reference values for noise in connection with the WHO guidelines;

8.2.       creating permanent observatories for noise as tools for aiding decision-making and public information as well as regional observatories for light covering the entire territory;

8.3.       disseminating the findings of noise pollution observation in real time, as is often the case with air pollution or road traffic;

8.4.       developing plans for preventing and combating noise in all municipalities in the same ways as urban development plans and encouraging participative arrangements;

8.5.       taking account of noise “peaks” and event noise indicators to complement energy level indicators, to better reflect the nuisance levels expressed by communities;

8.6.       establishing a classification of rolling stock, along the lines of the International Civil Aviation Organisation classification of aircraft, and further tightening constraints in relation to noise emissions;

8.7.       rationalising lighting in all municipalities by preparing plans with participation by scientists – particularly astronomers - and associations for the protection of the environment and the sky and defining maximum lighting levels for roadways and sky;

8.8.       controlling light spillage from all properties;

8.9.       harmonising and simplifying noise and light pollution indicators, as an indispensable measure for comprehension of the respective issues at the level of the general public;

8.10.       extending high environmental quality standards (HQE, France) to noise and light;

8.11.       studying noise and light issues on school curricula and educating the public, particularly young people who are particularly exposed to high level noise in places of entertainment or from listening to loud music via earphones.

9.       The Assembly also invites member and non-member states to:

9.1.       frame policies to reduce traffic and convert it to soft modes, via the areas of urban planning, taxation, vehicle technology, individual and collective behaviour, etc;

9.2.       assist and support economically weak sectors (such as rail freight) that work towards noise abatement;

9.3.       promote coordinated noise/energy intervention on housing stock, based on suitable training of the trades concerned and collective procedures on the scale of the districts or building complexes dealt with, ensuring that all regulations are rigorously enforced and deemed to apply strictly the threshold levels tested and to take appropriate measures if ineffective;

9.4.       involve acoustic technicians in all major development projects;

9.5.       make acoustics part of architects’ training;

9.6.       support efforts to achieve noise abatement in the transport sector, particularly regarding goods trains (at the level of the rails, using long welded rails, and using preferably disk brakes), road surfaces and the development of soft transportation modes;

9.7.       abate or even eliminate light pollution in the area of public lighting by using directional low-pressure sodium lamps and presence detectors and exploiting natural light;

9.8.       integrate noise and light pollution problems into programmes geared to aiding research and technological development.

B.       Draft recommendation

1.       The Parliamentary Assembly, referring to its Resolution … (2010), underlines the significant harmful effects of noise and light pollution on the environment in general, and on biodiversity and human health in particular.

2.       It recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

2.1.       invite member and observer states of the Council of Europe to review their legislation regarding noise and light pollution to ensure that it is relevant to the present-day situation;

2.2.       consider whether or not it would be appropriate to draft a framework convention on the measures to be taken, at pan-European level, to address the acute problem of noise and light pollution.

C.       Explanatory memorandum by Mr Huseynov, rapporteur



I.        A growing environmental and public health issue ………………..................................       5

i.       Reference framework ………………………………………………………………………….       6

ii.       Impact of noise pollution ……………………………………………………………………...       7

iii.       Impact of light pollution ……………………………………………………………………......       8

II.        A human rights issue ………………………………………………………….....................       11

i.       Case law of the European Court of Human Rights …………………………...............……       11

ii.       Activities in progress ……………………………………………………………………………       11

III.        Corrective measures adopted …………………………………………………............…..       11

i.       Regulatory and control measures       11

ii.       Economic measures       14

iii.       Technological progress ………………………………………………………………….....…..       15

IV.       The question of noise indicators       16

V.       Conclusions       17

I.       A growing environmental and public health issue

1.       By 2050, over four fifths of the total population of the Council of Europe’s member states will live in densely populated urban areas. This concentration of human life will have a growing impact on the functioning of individual areas and ecosystems as well as ramifications for people’s lifestyle and health.

2.       Already today, the Eurobarometer survey of public opinion on the environment, implemented at the initiative of the European Commission, shows that, despite considerably heightened awareness of environmental challenges as a whole, urban pollution is still the biggest environmental problem in the European Union. Indeed, the same could very likely be said for the entire European continent. Yet, efforts to combat this pollution vary enormously between individual countries and spheres.

3.       While public policy tackles the most obvious sources of pollution left as a legacy of the Industrial Revolution (particularly in the spheres of air and water pollution, waste production and chemical degradation of natural habitats), other nuisances which are just as harmful are escalating. These include excessive noise and light levels, two negative consequences of spatial planning and development.

4.       Today, the scientific community recognises that noise and light nuisances can have grave repercussions not only for animal and plant life but also for citizens’ physical and mental health. However, those nuisances are still more often than not regarded as the inevitable price to pay for growth and progress.

5.       Thanks to the trend in illuminating cities since the 1970s, the magic of the bright lights of Las Vegas or Broadway in the United States, the fascination of tourists and residents for the illuminations in the Pudong and Bund districts of Shanghai or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, light is still seen as a symbol of festivity, well-being and prestige. Yet, the nuisance or even danger it represents for ecosystems is very real.

6.       It was not until the energy crisis, compounded by fears over effects of greenhouse gas emissions on global warming, that excessive lighting for the purposes of security and architectural enhancement was called into question.

7.       The European continent is particularly affected by excessive light levels. Together with North America, the Far East and the Gulf, Europe forms the bulk of the 20% of the Earth’s surface considered to be affected by light pollution. Studies by a team of researchers working under the Italian astronomer Cinzano show that two thirds of the world’s population, including 99% of the population of the European Union and the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii), live under a polluted night-time sky. Measurements recorded by satellite show that the intensity of the light halo is increasing in Europe by over 5% a year. Its rate of growth can reach up to 10% a year at certain points of the globe.

8.       At the same time, the noise generated by “civilisation” disrupts ecosystems. It hampers or blocks the vital exchanges within an ecosystem or between different ecosystems. Communication, reproduction or fleeing from predators is becoming difficult.

9.       Furthermore, noise remains a major nuisance for the populations of Europe and varies in step with the size of built-up areas. The noise pollution at fault comes mainly from transport and neighbours. Whether it is desired (concerts, fireworks, mobile telephones, etc.) or suffered (transport, machinery in the workplace), dispersed, continuous or “event noise” (passing aircraft, motorbikes or snow-mobiles, for example), high sound volumes, for all people, are always synonymous with nervous fatigue and sleep disorders (when noise occurs during the night), often generating aggressive attitudes and the taking of medication.

10.       These forms of pollution are combining to inflict ever more obvious damage to nature and humankind. Despite the recent efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission where the European Union member states are concerned, the indicators established with a view to remedying the situation are still partial and disparate. The scientific, political, administrative and civil expertise that can be mobilised is essentially inadequate and too fragmented to achieve swift and lasting action.

11.       The Council of Europe cannot remain inert in the face of this two-fold pollution which can only become worse and challenges the human right to a healthy environment. The intention of this report is to identify the challenges and propose some possible lines of action.

i.       Reference framework

      a.       For noise pollution

12.       European Union Directive 2002/49/EC on the assessment and management of environmental noise, which proposes a joint approach by the member states and requires the drawing up of strategic noise maps and the setting up of action plans in the countries of the Union, was an innovative step (see Section III.i.b below).

13.       This report is about pollution, that is, the damage suffered, but it will nevertheless consider noise pollution as a whole as there is an undeniable link between the noise suffered and noise deliberately generated by humankind. The greater the noise from the urban environment outside, the higher the sound is turned up on audio and video devices, mobile telephones, home cinema television, etc. In turn, the noise generated by people themselves, particularly within their immediate neighbourhood, will be all the louder since they have become accustomed to higher sound levels.

14.       The Parliamentary Assembly is looking to foster an approach that sets threshold values and proposes a more specific framework for defining a quiet or noisy area.

b.       For light pollution

15.       The regulations laid down by Arizona in 1986, the Starlight Declaration signed by UNESCO in 1992 and the laws against light pollution adopted by Chile and then by the Czech Republic in 2002, deal with the effects of artificial light and excessive lighting on the observation of the night-time sky, the potential for energy saving and also, in part, the safeguarding of the nocturnal life necessary for the development of fauna and flora. They say less about the consequences of intrusive light (neon, illuminated displays) on the human metabolism. Similarly, they do not consider dazzling light (car headlights, excessive brightness of PC screens at work or at home) as an aggression on the organism that is damaging to health.

16.       That said, is it necessary to follow this conventional approach? Or should we advocate a more global, proactive approach calling for truly preventive action? It is undeniably the latter route that should be taken by the Council of Europe.

17.       In addition, as for noise, there is the problem of how the nuisance is expressed, with light intensity (Lux) being just one parameter.

ii.       Impact of noise pollution

      a.       Disruption of ecosystems

18.       The human ear perceives sound between 20 hertz (Hz) and 20 kilohertz (kHz) (below that range it is infrasound, and above ultrasound). The benchmark values for perceiving and emitting sounds are therefore based on human hearing whereas most animals perceive sounds in a different range. Accordingly, there is noise pollution that we are not aware of, sometimes of an intense level, which seriously disrupts ecosystems. This is particularly the case with threats logged in the marine environment. It could also be a major factor in the decline of bird populations.

• In marine and aquatic environments

19.       Some 4 500 bio-acousticians meeting in Paris in 2008, at the invitation of the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER), raised the alert: the development of human activities at sea over the last hundred years had generated a level of noise never attained during the previous millennia in the “world of silence” championed by Commander Cousteau. Their analysis took account of natural noise produced by fauna, seismic motion, waves and bad weather conditions.

20.       These human activities encompass maritime transport, oil and gas prospecting, sometimes carried out using compressed air cannons, the use of explosives and sonar by military ships and submarines, supersonic aircraft, oil rigs and offshore wind farms.

21.       These sound emissions are particularly severe for marine mammals, which find their bearings through echolocation. Whales, which are capable of communicating with other whales several thousand kilometres away using very low frequency sonar, can suffer lesions that irreversibly alter their sensory organs. This is one of the explanations put forward for mass beaching of whales. It is also why the use of military sonar is banned off the coast of California.

22.       “While it is not necessarily fatal, noise pollution from human activity creates an acoustic mist which masks the signals emitted and sensed by marine mammals, disrupting the mechanisms necessary for communication, feeding and reproduction”, explains Michel André, Director of the Polytechnic College of Catalonia (Spain) and specialist in animal bioacoustics.•

• Among insects and vertebrates

23.       Insects, amphibians, birds and mammals are particularly sensitive to sound. Pigeons and ducks can perceive very low frequency waves (up to 1 Hz) useful as a navigation aid for migratory birds.

24.       Within the sounds produced in nature, each species occupies a different sound range, which enables them to communicate, recognise one another, breed and protect themselves. The synchronised song of certain groups, such as amphibians, protects them from predators by making them difficult to locate. The intrusion of noise generated by human activity causes interruptions, which jeopardise the survival of the species in danger.

25.       Measuring intensity is not enough to gauge the disruption caused to animals. Few species seem to be disturbed by sound level alone. They are more affected by the type of noise, and whether it suggests a threat or not. The distance within which wild animals may be approached varies between Holland and France, where more hunters are encountered. Finally, noise pollution undermines the natural heritage by destroying an irreplaceable and special soundscape, which differs from one ecosystem to another.

      b.       Development of incapacitating pathologies in humans

26.       More and more Europeans believe that they are inconvenienced by noise. Prolonged exposure to noise can endanger health. It may lead to hearing loss (in the event of prolonged exposure to background noise exceeding 80 dB) as well as other pathologies:

§ sleep disorders: delayed falling asleep, prolonged night-time awakening, altered quality of sleep;

§ effects on the vegetative sphere: hypertension, accelerated rates of respiration, ulcers;

§ effects on the endocrine system: secretion of adrenalin and noradrenaline, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmia, platelet aggregation or increased fat metabolism;

§ weakening of the immune system;

§ effects on the mental health of individuals suffering from depression and anxiety.

27.       Noise also hampers communication, memorisation and work, except where routine tasks are concerned. Difficulties and backwardness at school are very evident among children living in noisy environments.

28.       Infrasound (sounds with a frequency below 20 Hz) is perceived as an inconvenience, although no health effects have been observed in humans, even at high levels of exposure.

29.       Furthermore, subjective habituation to noise is a fact, borne out by surveys on targeted populations (residents, professionals). Train drivers are less sensitive to train noise, those working in open-plan offices are less inconvenienced by the noise made by their colleagues, Mediterranean populations are less bothered by noise in general, etc. However, such habituation cannot disguise the health problems.

30.       The ear distinguishes sounds between 0 dB, hearing threshold, and 120 dB, pain threshold. The acoustic nuisance scale begins at 65 dB, with harmful noises rated at 85 dB and over, and noises that may have an immediate impact on hearing at 105 dB. Nevertheless, sound level (intensity) is not the only risk factor: duration of exposure is a factor in harmfulness regardless of the level. The impulsive nature of noise and its pitch (low/high) are also major factors.

31.       The impact of noise on human health hinges on several parameters:

§ sound frequency: high-pitched, and therefore high-frequency, sounds, are more harmful than low-pitched sounds at the same intensity;

§ purity of sound: a pure sound (whose intensity is concentrated within a narrow frequency band) of high intensity is more harmful for the inner ear than a broad-spectrum noise; fortunately, pure sounds are rarely encountered in our environment;

§ noise intensity: above 85 dB, the ciliary structures of the inner ear may suffer rumpling, or even tearing or ruptures when sound levels exceed 105 dB; on the other hand, exposure to sound levels lower than 80 dB does not cause lesions;

§ emergence, that is, the difference between environmental noise level and the residual noise level;

§ noise repetition;

§ duration of exposure;

§ the period when the noise occurs (a night-time noise is considered more of an annoyance than a day-time noise)

§ individual biological make-up.

32.       The notion of annoyance incorporates other factors such as sociocultural habits, the state of stress, the general environment of individuals and the relationship with the source of nuisances. This gives noise a psychological and sociological dimension, with informational and affective content, beyond the physical, acoustic dimension.

33.       In the European Union, around 40% of the population is thought to be exposed to transport noise of 55 dB during the day and 22% (representing 80 million people) to 65 dB. Over 30% of the population is believed to be exposed to noise levels exceeding 55 dB during the night.

34.       Attempts to evaluate transport noise in economic terms have resulted in estimates ranging from 0.20% (European Commission green paper, 1995) or 0.26% (Boîteux/Commissariat général du plan, 2001) to 0.51% of GDP (International Union of Railways, 2004): which are not negligible amounts, and all the more so as these assessments do not take account of the risks linked to exposure to noise at work, or backwardness at school resulting from difficulties with learning, or noise from neighbours and their impact on social life.

iii.       Impact of light pollution

      a.       A threat to fauna and flora

35.       This less well-known form of pollution is particularly damaging for flora and fauna and is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity in towns.

• There is a string of repercussions felt from plant to animal

36.       As plants are sensitive to light duration, they mature according to a particular photovegetative and photoperiodical cycle. Artificial light, which takes over when natural light fades, accelerates the plant’s cycle, with cascading consequences, as herbivorous fauna develops in step with the availability of food. If the rate of plant development no longer corresponds to that of the animal, there will be a food shortage with ramifications along the food chain.

• Cascading traps for night-time fauna

37.       Nocturnal insects, which are more numerous than day-time insects (there are over 4 500 species of moth compared with 260 species of butterfly), do not survive the attraction of light. Experiments carried out around a point of light have shown that remarkable species disappear within a distance of more than 200 metres in two years. After pesticides, light is the second cause of insect mortality. This is not without its consequences for flora, as most moths are pollinators.

38.       Light is also a trap for amphibians, which are unable to differentiate between their own kind and predators and wait for darkness that is unlikely to come in order to breed. It is the second mortality factor for these species after the drying up of wetlands. In addition, a New York University research centre has shown that tadpoles suffer malformations and do not reach adulthood in cases of prolonged exposure to artificial light.

39.       Inversely, the species which avoid light and mammals which hunt at night are leaving lit areas. The species commonly found in Paris a century ago are now relegated to areas 70 km from the metropolis.

40.       Natural habitats – key components in the protection of species – are now increasingly fragmented and isolated, as a result of areas being lit at night, which endangers populations. There must be nocturnal corridors alongside biological corridors.

41.       Light pollution is very harmful to migratory birds of which two thirds fly at night. Their sense of direction is disrupted by the loss of the horizon and lighting in coastal areas and large built-up areas. They can collide with buildings and their superstructures, bridges and viaducts when lit. According to the Canadian NGO FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program), the number of migrating birds killed each year in the United States on the windows of lit buildings could be a hundred million. Several millions die in Toronto alone, which is on a migration route.

42.       On the Øresundsbron Bridge linking Malmö with Copenhagen, the number of birds killed against the bridge’s structure on the rainy and misty (light-induced) night of its inauguration on 8 October 2000 was put at around 1 000. Since then, the lighting of engineering structures in Sweden has been reduced during the migration period on bad-weather nights.

43.       Similarly, it is known, for example, that puffin chicks, like those of certain other seabirds (petrels, shearwaters), are attracted by lights close to the nest, and if their first flight, which will last only 20 or 30 seconds, does not take them to the sea, where they can feed, they will have a very low chance of survival.

44.       According to the experts of the National Association for the Protection of the Sky and the Environment at Night (France), underwater flora and fauna are not spared either. The balance between seaweed, which grows during the day, and the plankton, which rises at night to eat it, has been upset. The lighting of shores and bridges scares the plankton and contributes to the eutrophication of waterways.

b.       Disturbing for humans

45.       Growing urban development and greater density of areas make light pollution a growing threat to residents’ health.

46.       This pollution comes from various sources: public lighting, often as an excessive response to needs for security, signposting and enhancement, private lighting installations, often for advertising using luminous signs or medium to long-range, sometimes moving, spotlights, left on all night. In addition, there is mood or prestige lighting of corporate buildings and the not inconsiderable impact of headlights of night-time road traffic.

47.       This results in three types of pollution:

• excessive illumination, creating an abnormal sky-glow at night;

• dazzling caused by strong light intensity or a contrast between light and dark areas;

• intrusive light, disturbing people in their homes.

• Damage caused to human health

48.       Intrusive light, an undesirable presence in the home (from illuminated signs, urban lighting, headlights), disturbs residents’ sleep, reducing its restorative properties in the same way as noise. It deregulates biorhythms.

49.       And according to the New York Academy of Sciences, repeated intrusions of light, even at low levels, night after night, can have repercussions for health. In darkness, the pineal gland secretes melatonin, also known as the “sleep hormone”, during sleep. This is a powerful antioxidant whose production is inhibited or even blocked by light. The consequences, increasingly mentioned, are the faster development of certain cancers, diabetes, depressive states, failure at school, difficulties in concentrating, etc. Moreover, the light from car headlights is generally accompanied by noise.

50.       In June 2009, the American Medical Association decided to study the effects of night-time light pollution on human health more closely.

• Car headlights and dazzling

51.       Every driver knows that the headlights of oncoming cars is a source of fatigue and stress and can therefore cause accidents. This is particularly the case when headlights are incorrectly adjusted. It is also the case, for many car drivers, and particularly those affected by myopia, who have to cope with a flood of white light when it rains. It would appear that the yellow headlights used in France in previous decades are regarded by many as less harsh on the eyes.

52.       The same applies for the sequences of shadow and light in built-up districts where every other lamp-post is lit to save energy. The time required for the eyes to readjust does not allow the driver to make out a pedestrian in the middle of the road.

53.       The same phenomenon of dazzling occurs on motorways with intermittent protective hedging between opposite carriageways creating windows of dazzling light.

• Disruption of scientific research

54.       In the 19th century, the astronomic observatories were moved out of towns and away from street lighting. In the 1960s, astronomers alerted public opinion and the public authorities to the fact that the stars were disappearing from their telescopes. In the 1980s, environmental protection associations took up the campaign. Today, the urban light halo around towns makes the Milky Way invisible for dozens of kilometres around.

55.       Excessive lighting is a hindrance to the observation of night skies. A number of observation facilities in urban areas, such as the Royal Observatory in the London suburb of Greenwich, have had to cease their activities. The astronomers at the observatory in the German city of Osnabrück, which has 160 000 inhabitants, complain that, in wet weather, the city’s light aura is brighter than the Milky Way.

56.       Observing distant celestial bodies, such as planets outside the solar system, of which the first was discovered at the Haute-Provence observatory in 1995, is often only possible during the new moon phase and requires controlled night-time lighting of the neighbouring settlements which is impossible to achieve in an urban district.

57.       Dark sky parks are starting to appear in Europe at astronomers’ initiative (Pic du Midi de Bigorre in the French Pyrenees), like the one created on Mont Mégantic in Quebec.

• The disappearing nightscape

58.       Night-time lighting also means the loss of an invaluable skyscape. In a sky free of light pollution there are over 3 000 stars visible to the naked eye. The Milky Way has never actually been seen by many children, who know of it only through books or cinematographic works … such as Star wars.

II.       A human rights issue

59.       As seen by the basic texts:

60.       Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights stipulates that “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”. The environment is one of those rights.

i.       Case law of the European Court of Human Rights

61.       There is European Court of Human Rights case law for Article 8. In the Court’s eyes, it is applicable to “severe environmental pollution [which] may affect individuals’ well-being and prevent them from enjoying their homes in such a way as to affect their private and family life adversely, without, however, seriously endangering their health” (López Ostra v. Spain, judgment of 9 December 1994). The Court stresses that “there is no explicit right in the Convention to a clean and quiet environment, but where an individual is directly and seriously affected by noise or other pollution, an issue may arise under Article 8”. It leaves the state a “wide margin of discretion”, by essentially ensuring that ”the decision-making process leading to measures of interference must be fair and such as to afford due respect to the interests safeguarded to the individual by Article 8” (Hatton and Others v. the United Kingdom, 8 July 2003). In this judgment, concerning a complaint by people living close to Heathrow Airport exasperated by night-time plane noise, the Court held that, given the regulatory measures taken by the airport and the fact that residents’ property had not lost its market value, there had been no violation by the state of Article 8 of the Convention.

62.       The Court’s case law on noise and light nuisances remains limited. A search using the keywords “noise pollution” and “light pollution” in its HUDOC database identifies only a handful of judgments, relating to disputes over the deterioration of life quality of individual residents living close to a transport infrastructure, an airfield or a noisy establishment (such as a nightclub), where noise is just one of the issues complained of, and light pollution is hardly ever mentioned. In its interpretation of Article 8, the Court generally rejects applications directed against the nuisance facility itself (such as a transport infrastructure) but does find against a state which fails to enforce police measures intended to guarantee the individual rights enshrined in Article 8 (in the case of nightclubs, for example).

ii.       Activities in progress

63.       On 27 June 2003 the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendation 1614 (2003) on environment and human rights and, on 30 September 2009, Recommendation 1885 (2009) on drafting an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the right to a healthy environment, in which it recommends that the Committee of Ministers draw up such an additional protocol, which would recognise the right to a healthy and safe environment (Doc. 12003).

III.       Corrective measures adopted

i.       Regulatory and control measures

a.       At the level of the United Nations Organisation

64.       It was the Stockholm Declaration adopted by the United Nations Conference on the human environment in 1972 that was the first to expressly recognise the link between environmental protection and human rights.

65.       The World Health Organization (WHO) published Guidelines for community noise in 2000, which are shortly to be updated on the basis of a 2007 report. These guidelines are not binding in their own right but are there to guide the legislator.

66.       The WHO sets 35 dB as the maximum sound level in bedrooms for a good night’s sleep and in classrooms for proper teaching conditions. Its evaluation of the effects of noise on sleep is as follows:

§ less than 30 dB: no problem;

§ from 30 to 40 dB: slight annoyance, sleep disturbance, without being a real disturbance of vulnerable individuals (children, elderly, sick);

§ from 40 to 55 dB: disturbance of vulnerable individuals;

§ over 55 dB: danger for public health, effects on cardiovascular system.

67.       The WHO also recommends levels lower than 50 dB outside residential areas to avoid any noise disturbance during the day or evening. This level is set at 45 dB for night-time.

68.       The WHO guidelines are a good guide, even if they seem difficult to apply in densely populated urban areas.

69.       Light pollution is not dealt with by the WHO at present. It will be for its general assembly to decide whether to include it in the organisation’s activities, the next session being in May 2010.

70.       The WHO has set up a European Centre for the Environment and Health in Bonn and Rome. One of the issues focused on by the centre is noise. It has produced analyses of the effects of noise on target populations (city-dwellers, people living near airports, children) which confirm its negative impact on health. It is currently working, together with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, on a guide to the evaluation of health risks resulting from exposure to community noise.

b.       At European level

71.       The Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, adopted on 25 June 1998 at the initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, upholds “the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being”.

72.       The European Union has focused on the problem of noise nuisances for many years. Its regulations firstly provided a framework for motor vehicles (Directive 70/157/EEC for cars and lorries). The maximum noise levels authorised were then gradually lowered, by around 10 dB over a quarter of a century, making it possible to peg noise levels near major roads despite increases in traffic. It should be emphasised that without the tightening of these regulations, the noise level by roads would now have increased by 10 dB. Two-wheel vehicles were regulated at a later date (Directive 92/61/EEC). The European Union then tackled sound emissions by equipment for use outdoors (Directive 2000/14/EC, the so-called Outdoor Directive). This text applies to certain types of construction and outdoor maintenance machinery, setting maximum noise levels in some cases. It also imposed EU marking on equipment and a declaration of EU conformity.

73.       More recently the European Union has produced two major legislative texts:

• Directive 2002/30/EC of 26 March 2002 on the establishment of rules and procedures with regard to the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions at Community airports;


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