Skip to main content
EU Urban Mobility Observatory
News article4 April 20221 min read

European cities significantly affected by noise pollution, study shows

The Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) recently published a study which analysed noise pollution in European cities. The study suggested that 60 million people are negatively affected by noise pollution, which is mostly caused by road traffic.

The study analysed noise pollution levels in 749 cities across Europe and assessed their compliance with World Health Organisation (WHO) noise-level standards. The WHO recommendation is that the average noise level recorded over a 24-hour period should not exceed 53 decibels.

The results of the analysis showed that more than 48% of people covered by the study (a total of 123 million adults aged 20 years or older) were exposed to noise levels that exceeded the WHO-recommended limits. The rates ranged from 30% in Berlin to 86% in Vienna, with 44% of those people in Madrid and 60% of those in Rome being adversely affected. The city in the study that had the highest overall population exposed to harmful noise levels was actually Sofia (Bulgaria) with 99.8%. However, the report noted that data collected in Sofia were considered to be of low quality.

The research underlined that long-term exposure to road traffic noise can cause a sustained stress reaction, which results in the release of stress hormones and increases in the heart rate, blood pressure and vasoconstriction, that can eventually lead to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety disorders. High noise levels can also contribute to an increased incidence of coronary artery disease and strokes, and can also have a serious impact on those living with autism and other developmental conditions. Road traffic is the main source of environmental noise in cities.

The analysis concluded that compliance with WHO's noise-level guidelines could prevent 3,600 deaths annually in these cities from ischaemic heart disease alone. Finally, the study found that more than 11 million adults were highly annoyed by road traffic noise. Annoyance was defined as the repeated disturbance of everyday activities, such as communicating, reading, working and sleeping, which can also lead to stress.

The researchers noted that, due to differences in methodologies and sources of traffic noise data, the results obtained for the various cities were not always comparable.

The full breakdown of the data and rankings can be consulted on the dedicated project website.

Original article published by on 25 March 2022.



Publication date
4 April 2022
  • Policy and research
  • Europe-wide