UPM’s Instrumentation and Applied Acoustics Research Group is leading a research initiative to explore the effectiveness of inclusive management policies to reduce the health impact of noise pollution.
The World Health Organization considers noise as the second most important pollutant in our society, affecting about 20% of EU citizens, with an estimated cost of 0,35% of its GDP (that’s around € 40 billion a year!).
It’s a known problem in our cities, which affects us in our daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. And although we usually underestimate it as a health threat, it can have severe impacts on our health, such as: cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, hearing impairment, reduce performance, and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.
Lots of efforts are being put in reducing citizen’s noise exposure, in many cases through regulations. But the efficiency of these policies is sometimes questioned, as citizens do not feel necessarily involved.
As citizens we are not only victims of noise, but a key part of the problem, so we need to be involved. It’s a tricky thing, as many of the activities that produce that noise which affects us, are also related to economic growth.
The aim of this study is to use ICT as a means to reducing the health impacts of noise by increasing citizen awareness though more efficient policy making. Figure 1 summarizes the new Policy making 3.0 model (applied to noise management) that is highly dependent on the development of ICTs and social media, and tries to gain the participation and involvement of citizens and stakeholders in the solution of citizen’s demands.
Annoyance, which could be thought of as trivial, can in fact lead to anger, stress and exhaustion and, because of the large number of individuals affected, is estimated to be the second most important cause of health impacts due to environmental noise. If we reduce annoyance, and we increase citizen’s awareness, we should reduce the health impact of noise pollution.
Annoyance is the most documented subjective response to noise, it being defined “as a feeling of resentment, displeasure, discomfort, dissatisfaction or offence which occurs when noise interferes with thoughts, feelings or activities”.
Research on annoyance started in the 1970s, and for decades it has been one of the main topics regarding environmental acoustics, especially in residential areas near transport infrastructures. But, while many studies have focused on trying to establish the correlation between sound level metrics and the adverse reaction of the population, the effect of non-acoustic factors on the annoyance response has recently emerged as a hot topic in international transport research groups.
The state of the art has shown that non-acoustic factors are important, but has not yet reached any definitive conclusions as to which of them are likely to be the most important in any different situations. Furthermore, very recent qualitative research using focus groups and in-depth interviews has found that the information provided by transport managers and industry to the public with the aim of reducing annoyance, e.g. noise contours, can often be perceived as overly technical, poorly understood, counter-intuitive and inconsistent with subjective experience.
In this project we address a novel approach, under research, that explores the possibility to take advantage of those non-acoustic factors related to awareness in noise management and the mitigation of noise effects.
Awareness comprises several non-acoustic factors pointed out previously, as affecting annoyance: information (accessibility, transparency and understanding), trust, influence/voice, attitude towards the source, predictability of the noise situation, awareness of negative effects, interaction of stakeholders, and engagement. The research project that we are starting aims to obtain knowledge regarding this awareness factor, analyse its influence, and take advantage of it to mitigate annoyance.
This is an approach that has not been exploited in depth in the past, and that is closely linked to the rise in information and communication technologies. It does not imply the reduction of noise emissions either at the source or in the path, and it will not replace traditional noise mitigation methods aimed at reducing or shaping exposure, but it can be managed together with these other noise control measures, complementing them with the subjective response of the community. The goal of this initiative is to reduce noise annoyance by exploring the hypothesis that “bringing information closer to citizens will reduce noise annoyance”, and trying to answer the following question: How does awareness influence noise annoyance? To what extent can communication or other non-acoustic measures modify awareness in order to help residents to cope with noise?
This approach is particularly necessary in today’s technologized world, where the irruption of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and social media give voice to citizens, creating wider audiences, and opening the possibility to create debates on any topic on any geographical scale.