Environmental Noise (Booklet)

About this booklet

This booklet deals with environmental noise − for example, noise from industrial sites, road and rail traffic, airports and fairgrounds. It does not cover related issues such as building acoustics, building vibration or domestic noise. Neither does it cover human response to vibration nor industrial uses of sound and vibration measurements. Please contact your Brüel&Kjær representative to receive
further information regarding these issues.

While we have made every reasonable effort to present an up-to-date overview of standards, practices and methods, we cannot guarantee that we have covered all relevant aspects. Please consult your local authority to obtain further detailed information pertinent to your country, state, region or area.

Brüel&Kjær would like to thank DGMR Consulting Engineers bv, The Hague, The Netherlands, for their assistance with the text and illustrations in the Environmental Noise Propagation section and the Calculating Noise Levels (Noise Prediction) section.


Introduction News stories related to environmental noise problems abound. Some stories are dramatic, most less so, but huge effort and great sums of money are often invested in conflicts involving environmental noise. Environmental noise is a worldwide problem. However, the way the problem is dealt with differs immensely from country to country and is very much dependent on culture, economy and politics. But the problem persists even in areas where extensive resources have been used for regulating, assessing and damping noise sources or for creation of noise barriers. For example, huge efforts have been made to reduce traffic noise at source. In fact, today’s cars are much quieter than those manufactured ten years ago, but the traffic volume has increased so much that the effect of this effort has been wiped out and the annoyance level has increased. Manufacturing quieter cars might have eased the problem for a period but it certainly hasn’t removed it.

There are no worldwide estimates of the impact and cost of environmental noise. However, one prominent example covering most of Europe does exist − the European Union’s Green Paper on Future Noise Policy (1996).

  • The Green Paper estimates that, in terms of the number of people affected by noise, 20% of the population (i.e., 80 million people) suffer from unacceptable noise levels that cause sleep disturbance, annoyance and adverse health effects. An additional 170 million citizens in Europe live in areas where noise levels cause serious annoyance during the daytime
  • In financial terms, environmental noise costs society an estimated 0.2% to 2% of the Gross Domestic Product. Even the lower of these figures represents an immense cost

Environmental Noise Protection.

Noise protection programmes differ from country to country. Legal requirements are not identical, techniques and methods differ, and political focus varies.

However, there are common aspects to the work of all environmental noise officers.

  • Planning new developments of residential areas, industrial sites, highways, airports, etc.
  • Handling complaints from citizens, either during the planning process or afterwards
  • Assessing the compliance/non-compliance of noise sources (industrial plants, fairgrounds, airports, highways, railroads, etc.) according to regulations and legislation

Within any of these major areas of work, the environmental officer can be called upon to perform many tasks including:

  • Making measurements in the field
  • Assessing noise from specific sources
  • Calculating expected noise levels
  • Mapping noise levels
  • Preparing reports for citizens or decision makers
  • Archiving and retrieving data
  • Acting as an expert witness

These tasks are demanding and, considering the extent and significance of noise pollution, a proper level of understanding of the issues is required, not only from professionals working in the field but also from decision makers and citizens. This booklet is designed for all.

The booklet presents the problems that arise when working with environmental noise and current solutions. Unfortunately, space prevents us from dealing with each subject in depth. We cannot, for example, cover national and regional legislation in detail. However, we have done our utmost to provide a comprehensive overview of the most important issues. Please feel free to contact your local
Brüel&Kjær representative to learn more.

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