Baroness Brown calls for government to strengthen co-ordination to ensure meaningful improvements in public health and quality of life
Noise and artificial light are neglected pollutants whose effect on human health is poorly understood and poorly regulated, states a new Science and Technology Committee report.
Such pollution can disrupt sleep and circadian rhythms – the physical, mental, and behavioural changes occurring during a 24-hour cycle – and costs the UK economy £34 billion a year. Epidemiological evidence suggests noise pollution increases the risk of stroke and heart disease, whilst studies from UKHSA found the equivalent of 130,000 healthy life years are lost annually in Britain.
“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,” said Baroness Brown, Chair of the Committee. “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.”
Thomas Münzel of University Medical Centre Mainz explained that chronic noise leads to manifest cardiovascular diseases, including ischemic heart disease, stroke, arrhythmia, heart failure, manifest hypertension, and diabetes.
Over 83% of the world’s population live under light-polluted skies, Münzel added. This causes a “misalignment in circadian rhythm, an essential contributor to non-communicable diseases. There is a close association between light pollution and CVD morbidity and mortality. Light pollution induces distinct epigenetic changes accompanied by a unique pattern of circadian gene disruption.”
Despite this, light and noise seem to have become “neglected pollutants,” said Baroness Brown. The Committee is concerned the government’s 25-Year Environment Plan only briefly mentions noise and light pollution and that there are no specific targets for regulating them.
The government 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,” Baroness Brown added.
The report recommends that DEFRA coordinates with organisations, including UKHSA, to evaluate the growing evidence on the harmful health effects of noise, and establishes a standard methodology for tracking, monitoring, and reporting light pollution, including night-time artificial light.
“These recommendations…may go some way to strengthening the UK’s determination to tackle the public health problem posed by noise pollution."
It also recommends establishing a noise expert advisory group to provide independent advice, quantify the health effects of noise and light pollution, and set targets and a framework for regulation to reduce the overall disease burden.
Expert members from CIEH’s Environmental Protection Panel gave evidence to the Committee, and together with the IOA and UKHSA emphasised the need for a national plan with targets for reducing the burden on health and quality of life from noise. They suggested a specific noise reduction target for the regulation of noise pollution to reduce the calculated exposure, and disease burden.
Panel member, Colin Cobbing said: “These recommendations represent an important contribution and may go some way to strengthening the UK’s determination to tackle the public health problem posed by noise pollution.”
The Committee also acknowledged the importance of the role Local Authorities play and reiterated the CIEH view that the funding and competence of officers is key to successful interventions at a local level.
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