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Action Urged on Health Harms from Noise and Light Pollution

Light and noise pollution are "neglected pollutants", poorly understood, poorly regulated, and in need of renewed focus, according to a parliamentary committee report.

Noise and light pollution "impact negatively on human health", but despite their social and economic impacts, are insufficiently quantified or monitored, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said.

The Government's 25 Year Environment Plan "briefly mentions" noise and light pollution, it noted, "but with no specific targets and seemingly little impetus from central Government to address them". Light and noise pollution all too often "fall through the cracks between departments", and the responsibilities of central and local government for tackling the issues were also unclear, according to the findings.

Committee chair Baroness Brown said: "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."

Significant Aggregate Health Burden

Baroness Brown, who is an engineer and university vice-chancellor, said that whilst the risk to individuals may be low, the exposure of millions of people resulted in "a significant aggregate health burden". Research from the UK Health Security Agency suggested that 130,000 healthy life years were lost annually in the UK due to noise pollution, which the agency described as "one of the leading contributors to the environmental disease burden".

Similarly, according to the Noise Abatement Society, the physical and mental distress caused by excessive noise "profoundly affects health and wellbeing, learning, productivity, and social cohesion".

Witnesses told the inquiry that light pollution and consequent circadian disruption were also associated with "adverse consequences for healthy physiology", including promoting cancer and disturbing metabolic, cardiovascular, and cognitive functions. 

A recent study suggested that insufficient sleep, to which noise and light pollution contribute, costs the UK economy around 1.86% of GDP — around £42 billion — annually.

Government Urged to Act

The report urged the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to assess "the significant, growing evidence on the harmful health effects of noise", and to establish a standard methodology for tracking, monitoring, and reporting on nighttime artificial light pollution both indoors and outdoors, to quantify its health impacts.

It also recommended that the Government establish a noise expert advisory group, set a specific target to reduce the health burden from noise pollution, commission research to establish how light characteristics affect the circadian system, strengthen interdepartmental coordination, and incentivise local authorities properly to regulate light and noise pollution.

Baroness Brown said that the Government should set targets and a framework for regulation to reduce the overall burden of disease due to noise and light pollution to ensure "meaningful improvements in public health and quality of life in the UK".

Asked to comment by Medscape News UK, a Government spokesperson said: "As the committee notes, further research is required to better understand the impacts of noise and artificial light on the environment and public health. We will continue actively to engage with emerging research in this field and our new national noise modelling system, which was welcomed by the Committee, will significantly advance the evidence base.

"We are considering the Committee’s recommendations and will publish our response in due course."

The Government is due to respond to the report by 19 September 2023.

The neglected pollutants: the effects of artificial light and noise on human health.

House of Lords Science and Technology Committee; 2nd Report of Session 2022–23; HL Paper 232; 19 July 2023