The growth of cities has been a defining part of human history since the Industrial Revolution. However, the concentration of such large populations into a relatively small geographic area brings its own problems. One of the problems that have unfortunately defined the modern city is growing noise pollution. This article will discuss this issue and how one city, Paris, aims to reduce noise pollution to manageable levels.
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The Problem with Noise Pollution
Noise pollution is a problem that pervades the life of urban populations. A car backfiring, the rattle of heavy machinery during roadworks, noise from passing aircraft – noise pollution is a real and ever-present public health issue.
Long-term exposure to high levels of noise can have a deleterious effect on human health. It can cause health problems such as sleep disturbance, annoyance, negative impact on the metabolic and cardiovascular systems, and cognitive impairment in children. Recent reports have shown that noise pollution contributes to 48,000 yearly cases of ischemic heart disease and up to 12,000 premature deaths in Europe alone.
Additionally, it is estimated that 6.5 million people suffer from chronic levels of sleep disturbance, 22 million are affected by chronic levels of annoyance. 12, 500 children suffer from reading impairment at school due to noise pollution, primarily aircraft noise.
While air pollution causes significantly more premature deaths, noise pollution seems to have a higher impact on issues related to mental health and quality of life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), noise pollution is only second to air pollution as an environmental cause of health problems.
Noise pollution has an environmental impact: certain species of predators such as bats and owls rely on noise to find their prey. This is disrupted by noise from human activities, which leads to animals expending more time and energy catching food, causing negative effects on their ability to thrive and leading to a decline in population numbers.
Noise pollution is a growing problem, with increased focus placed on reducing it.
A New Approach – Using Sound Sensors to Reduce Noise Pollution
Across the world, national and local governments are concerned with noise pollution and its impact on populations, but local regulations and ordinances are sometimes insufficient. It is down to innovation to tackle the scale of the issue, and one city is implementing a new approach to cancel noise pollution – remote sound sensors.
US police have been using the technology for years to locate the direction and location of gunshots. Now, Paris is applying the technology to the issue of endemic noise pollution from traffic. The rollout of the technology is part of a multi-year plan to tackle the French capital’s noisy streets and industrial areas. Paris’s city council has already implemented strategies and infrastructure to calm traffic and even ban them from the center of Paris completely.
The technology being implemented is called ‘Medusa’. It works by triangulating the noise and using CCTV to capture the offending vehicle’s license plate and send the driver a fine when the noise surpasses a certain decibel level. The system is comprised of four microphones and two cameras that map sound levels in the area.
Medusa was developed by Bruitparif, a non-profit noise-monitoring organization. Starting in 2019, Medusa was installed in a suburb of Paris, and two more neighborhoods will see the introduction of the system in November 2021 in a pilot scheme that will last three months.
The technology will be tested in the real world, although no fines will be issued and no threshold for the system will be set. There will also be a 2-month public comment period starting in October 2021.
The Human Cost of Noise Pollution in France
The impact of noise pollution in French cities is extremely concerning. The results of a study commissioned by Bruitparif, the company behind the technology, found that noise pollution in the city and greater region can lead to the average person dying ten months earlier than someone who is not exposed to excessive noise levels.
As well as human costs, there is an economic one. A study released in July 2021 found that noise pollution causes social costs, including loss of productivity, illness, and hospitalization.
The financial impact of these social costs in France alone is staggering, in the region of €156 billion per year. The urgency of the problem is so pressing that Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo made tacking noise pollution a central part of her 2020 reelection campaign.
The Future Impact of this Project
Noise pollution in our growing cities is a critical issue for governments and lawmakers in the 21st century. In the UK, the social cost of urban noise pollution is estimated to be around £20 billion. Globally, the economic scale of the problem is almost unimaginable.
By implementing innovative solutions that tackle the issue at a ground level, such as using sensors to provide enforcement and monitor problem areas, scientists and local authorities can start tackling noise in our cities.
Part of a wider plan to tackle the problem of noise in the city aims to utilize law enforcement. Other measures like speed reduction will likely help.
The impact of this project could be significant, making cities quieter and more pleasant places to live. Enhanced protection for vulnerable wildlife populations and a reduction in health impacts are further benefits of reducing noise pollution.
Continue reading: The Future of Sensors for Detecting Air Pollution in Cities.
Further Reading and More Information
Eea.europa.eu (2021) Noise pollution is a major problem, both for human health and the environment | European Environment Agency. [online] Available at: https://www.eea.europa.eu/articles/noise-pollution-is-a-major
Simonsen, J (2019) The cost of noise pollution [online] Rockwool.com. Available at: https://www.rockwool.com/group/advice-and-inspiration/blog/the-cost-of-noise-pollution/
Squires, C. (2021) Paris will try using sound sensors to fine vehicles causing noise pollution [online] Quartz. Available at: https://qz.com/2069124/paris-could-use-sound-sensors-to-crack-down-on-noise-pollution/