Noise pollution

The dangers of noise pollution

It’s worse than you think.

Noisy intersection in a major city seen from above
What are your ears hearing right now?

Is it the bustling sounds of a busy office? Or maybe the commotion of vehicles in heavy traffic? Perhaps it’s the crying of babies in prams. Whatever it is, one thing is certain — it makes people feel awful. After all, noise pollution is still pollution. And even as other forms of pollution decrease, noise pollution is becoming more prevalent1.

In fact, you’ve probably been guilty of noise pollution too — whether it’s blaring music from your phone or talking just a little too loudly.

Noise is actually a common drawback of urban life. And the world is becoming more and more urbanised each day, with three million people a week moving to urban environments1. In the UK alone, cities take up 8% of the land whilst accounting for 54% of the population, 60% of jobs and 62% of all exports2.

As cities get larger and urban populations grow, the problem of noise pollution will only get worse. This stems from people and buildings being packed closer together, along with an increase in transit and industrial activity.

The thing is, noise pollution poses a threat to both our health as well as the attractiveness of a city.

Notable health issues that can be caused by noise pollution include stress, weakened mental acuity, and elevated blood pressure and heart rates. These issues could even lead to more serious problems. In fact, noise pollution has been linked to other dire health complications such as dementia, stroke, and heart attack3.

Therefore, a noisy environment may deter people from relocating to such a place4, and even encourage people already living there to move to somewhere less taxing on their body and mind. London, in particular, is a city that has suffered diminished appeal due to noise pollution. 

Noise pollution in megacities

Whilst London enjoys a reputation as the world’s number one preferred relocation destination for professionals and the globe’s most popular city for those considering working abroad5, research published in January 2017 also revealed that constant noise is one of the main reasons given by Londoners for moving out of the city, with 41% citing it as a reason for leaving6.

The National Noise Attitude Survey showed that between 2000 and 2012, noise increased from being the ninth environmental priority to the fourth, with 48% of the public feeling that their home life was spoilt by noise.

Sources of noise pollution

According to an analysis, conducted over the period April 2007 to March 2008, by the Westminster City Council in central London, the top five reasons for noise complaints were as follows:

  1. Residential noise (i.e. neighbours)
  2. Noise from commercial premises
  3. Building site
  4. Noise in the street
  5. Burglar alarm

What’s more, these noise complaints generally peaked between 8pm and midnight, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This means that noise pollution has a large impact on people who are likely at home and trying to sleep in the evenings or trying to relax during the weekends.

The truth is, London has the highest rate of noise complaints than any other region in England by a considerable margin, at 16.8 per thousand population (all other English regions have a rate between 4.2 and 6.7).

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Surveys have showed that

of the public feel that their home life was spoilt by noise.

Furthermore, 2.4 million people (25% of the population) in the Greater London Urban Area (including parts of adjacent districts) are exposed to noise levels equal to or over 55 decibels (dB) from road traffic alone7. This is equivalent to the noise of a loud conversation, which the WHO defines “as a noise level that can cause health problems for a community”8. In fact, research has shown that those surrounded by daytime traffic noise louder than 60dB are 4 percent more likely to die than those who only experienced noise levels below 55dB9.

(O106) Inline Page Link: The cost of noise pollution(2)

In the face of these overwhelming numbers, the reality is much more alarming. Based on research conducted on 50 different cities around the globe, London ranks only as the 24th noisiest city10. This means that there are many parts of the world that are dealing with even worse cases of noise pollution than the aforementioned dilemma in London.

Guangzhou tops the list as the worst city for noise pollution. Delhi comes in second worst, followed by Cairo, Mumbai, Istanbul, and Beijing. Barcelona, one of only two European cities to feature in the worst ten, came seventh, while capital cities Mexico City, Paris and Buenos Aires cam in at eighth, ninth, and tenth position respectively10.

In addition, reports show that there is a 64% positive correlation between noise pollution in cities and hearing loss. As the second worst city for noise pollution, Delhi has the most severe cases of hearing loss. On average, the residents of Delhi have hearing loss equivalent to people almost 20 years older than their actual age11.

(O106) Inline Page Link: Sustainable buildings: Developing cities for the future(2)

The perils of noise pollution are well documented. Regardless of whether or not you are fazed by the statistics, the message is clear: we need to be more aware of the impact of noise pollution, and protect ourselves from its negatives effects.

We can start with exploring new acoustic materials, such as stone wool products, that can help shield us from loud, unwanted noise when we are indoors. We can also speak to our neighbours and our fellow people about reducing noise pollution, both at an individual as well as industry and infrastructure level. After all, we all have a part to play if we want to save ourselves from noise pollution’s deadly grasp.


1. UN-Habitat, 2008, “State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009 – Harmonious Cities”

2. Centre for Cities, 2017, “Cities Outlook 2017”

3. European Union, 2015, “THEMATIC ISSUE: Noise impacts on health Environment Science for Environment Policy”

4. Greater London Authority, 2016, “Economic Evidence Base for London 2016”

5. London & Partners, 2015, “London: A Leading Destination For Headquarters”

6. Smith, Rebecca, 2017, “Air pollution would cause more than half of Londoners to move away”

7. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs UK, 2014.

8. World Health Organization, 1999, “Guidelines for community noise”

9. Jaana I. Halonen, Anna L. Hansell, John Gulliver, David Morley, Marta Blangiardo, Daniela Fecht, Mireille B. Toledano, Sean D. Beevers, Hugh Ross Anderson, Frank J. Kelly, Cathryn Tonne, 2015, “Road traffic noise is associated with increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality and all-cause mortality in London”, European Heart Journal, Volume 36, Issue 39:

10. Gray, Alex, 2017, “These are the cities with the worst noise pollution”

11. Mimi Defined, 2017, “ Worldwide Hearing Index 2017”

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