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More than one million people exposed to traffic noise pollution in Switzerland

A recent report by Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) estimates that more than one million people in Switzerland are exposed to traffic noise above the legal limit.

© Stefano Ember |

The data, from 2015, was generated by software, traffic noise data and building maps.

During the day, 1.1 million people are bothered by noise, a figure which drops to 1 million at night.

The most frequent source of traffic noise pollution is the road traffic, followed by rail and air traffic. 90% of those affected live in towns and cities, where 1 in 6 is affected by the problem.

Noise pollution damages health by triggering the release of stress hormones, increasing heart rates and raising blood pressure. Research finds causal links between noise pollution and diabetes and depression, according to the report.

Every year, noise pollution shaves an estimated 47,000 disability adjusted life years (DALY) off Switzerland’s population.

Night time noise of 35 dB is enough to disturb sleep. Vehicle noise from 7.5 metres is between 60 dB and 80 dB. The sound of an aircraft taking off from a distance of 100m is around 100 dB.

Swiss rules ban aircraft from landing and takeoff between midnight and 5 am and place limits on noise between 10 pm and midnight and 5 am and 6 am.

Efforts to reduce the problem include: reduced speed limits, sound absorbant road materials, quieter trains, and sound barriers. Since 2008, around 120,000 people have been protected from excessive road noise and between 2000 and 2015, roughly 150,000 benefited from measures reducing excessive rail noise.

A study published last year, estimated that at least 2.5 million of the people living in Switzerland’s 13 largest cities are exposed to noise levels above 55 decibels.

The FOEN’s report does not mention the loud noise created by some motorcycles. Harley Davidson bikes, some of the loudest, when modified can produce noise close to 100 dB when idling. This noise level can easily rise to 120 dB when the bike is ridden – in this video the sound reaches 115 dB at half of the maximum engine speed. The logarithmic scale means 120 dB sounds 64 times louder than 60 dB.

A late night jaunt through central Zurich or Geneva on one of these bikes could wake thousands of people, knocking numerous disability adjusted life years (DALY) off the local population.


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