The Neglected Pollutants: the Effects of Artificial Light and Noise on Human Health

On 19 July 2023 the House of Lords published this report, the first to address the issue fully. Below is the summary of its findings. Although the Lords lacks the powers of the Commons, this is a significant step, calling on the government to take action.

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Noise and Soundscape Plan for Wales 2023 to 2028

`The Welsh government has released a draft plan for Wales which looks at almost all aspects of noise pollution.

The plan looks at many forms of noise, from onshore wind turbines to heat pumps and road traffic, examining the ill effects of mechanical noise on, for example, children’s development and the potential benefits of natural noises, such as water, birdsong and wind. The one major omission seems to be piped music, which has somehow escaped notice. See Noise and Soundscape Plan for Wales 2023-2028GOVWALES for details.

Do write in to protest at this omission.

The Open Consultation period closes on 2nd October 2023.

A deafened generation?

A whole generation of young people are facing a future half-crippled by hearing loss due to listening to excessively loud music through headphones and at concerts. A new report says that unsafe listening practices are ‘highly prevalent’ among young people at rock festivals and night clubs and when listening on personal devices, with 1.3 billion risking their hearing. Analysis of of 33 studies of almost 20,000 people found that one in four young people have ‘unsafe listening’ habits when on their headphones, with one in two endangering their long-term hearing at concerts. Scientists from the Medical University of South Carolina estimate that 23.8% of 665 million young people are risking their hearing from listening to music too loud on their headphones. And 48.2% or 1.35 billion people world wide are harming their hearing from listening to loud music at public venues.

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Hearing wellness brand Mumbli has joined forces with sound level crowdsourcing app SoundPrint to help give pubs, restaurants, shops etc ways to improve the acoustics better to please customers. As they put it:

‘Data crowdsourced from 1,350 venues by SoundPrint has shown that 50% of London restaurants have noise exceeding 80 decibels (dBA) during peak times – comparable to welding noise. About 80% of the venues have been found to be too loud for conversation.

Mumbli has found some venues are losing £20,000 in revenue every month due to excess noise, giving potential customers no choice but to move to a quieter place better suited to socialising.

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‘A kind of meditative peace.’

Newly published research in Australia (in The Conversation 10 November 2022) explores how ‘quiet hours’ in supermarkets, when noise from many sources, from piped music to handryers, and other sensory overloads such as flickering lights are turned off, affected people. It looked especially at people who are ‘neurodivergent’, a term which covers people with autism and ADHD, but the findings apply to others too.

‘The idea behind “quiet hour” shopping is to set aside a time each week for a retail experience that minimises noise and other sources of sensory overload…What began as a boutique or specialist retail strategy has become more mainstream. Major supermarket chains and shopping centres in Australia and overseas have introduced it in recent years. In newly published research we explored quiet hour as an aspect of the impacts of sound on how people experience city life. As expected, we found it did benefit people who are neurodivergent. But other people also welcomed the relief from sensory overload once they’d overcome the feeling of having wandered into an eerily quiet “post-apocalyptic scene”. 

Our work has made us question the acceptance of urban noise and light as being part and parcel of a vibrant city. Take the case of New Zealand actress and author Michelle Langstone. She reports visiting stores across Auckland and Rotorua that offer quiet-hour shopping. She stumbled upon it by “sheer luck”. At first, she admits, it felt “a bit like a post-apocalyptic scene”. Once she adjusted to the unfamiliar sensory environment, she felt herself succumbing to changed supermarket routines. Langstone also reports avoiding impulse buying. That first time she left with “only [the] bread and eggs” she had gone to the shop for. She was able to focus on shopping rather than “multi-tasking”, and quiet hour left her with a “feeling of goodwill towards all shoppers… I cruised every single [aisle], taking in the quiet for nearly 45 minutes, at the end of which I felt a kind of meditative peace come over me.”

Source: Sage Journals, October 26, 2022 ‘The sonic framing of place: Microsociology, urban atmospheres and quiet hour shopping’ by Eduardo de la Fuente and Michael James Walsh. Available on-line, paywall.

Join the 100,000! Sign the petition against leafblowers – both hellishly noisy and dangerously polluting


Emily Critchley is starting a campaign against a new menace that is both very noisy and chemically toxic. She is starting a petition to parliament to discuss the issue. Do sign it and pass it on. 100,000 signatures are needed to get it before parliament. <>

Another petition on the same lines has been launched on

Emily writes: ‘Noisy petrol leaf-blowers, ubiquitous in British gardens these days, are
also super-polluters which exacerbate asthma, a range of cancers and
permanently deform the growing lungs, brains, eyes and ears of children.

Hearing damage begins to occur when someone is around “extended exposure”
to any sound of 85 decibels or higher. Just two hours of operating a leaf
blower, which hits 90 decibels, can cause permanent damage and hearing
loss, even if it’s used at the house next door.

The 2-stroke leaf blower is 300 times more polluting than a car for
ozone-causing pollution.
Its engine has been banned for every other use
except lawn and road maintenance. Even a newer 4-stroke petrol leaf blower
recently tested emitted 50x more brain-damaging particulate pollutants
than all the engines in a busy intersection of cars at rush hour. This
particulate pollution ends up in our lung, and those of animals. About 30% of the fuel
(gasoline/oil mix) goes out the exhaust and becomes an aerosol for us to
breath. Many petrol components are carcinogens (e.g., benzene,
butadiene, formaldehyde). A person operating a leaf blower with its
fuel-laden exhaust is exposed to 10,000 parts per million or more fuel in

Let’s get this deafening and destructive practice banned! Sign the petition.>

London restaurants among the noisiest in the world!

London’s restaurants are considered among the best in Europe if not the world, but they are also among the noisiest. Only San Francisco’s are louder. More than half of the capital’s restaurants and bars are too noisy to let diners actually talk to each other. Decibel levels can be so high that you might as well be eating your dinner next to a bin lorry.

Sound data was collected at random in 1,350 popular London eateries for a survey. In more than half the cases decibel levels were above 76 dBA, defined as safe for hearing but difficult for conversation. Anything above 80 dBA is considered dangerous for the human ear. Among the worst-offending restaurants were Shak-Fuyu in and Duck and rice in Soho, Lobos Meat and Tapas in London Bridge, Rosa’s Thai Café in Spitalfields and Morito in Hackney. All had decibel levels of 90dBA or above, enough to wreck your hearing as well your evening. During peak times, 50 per cent of London restaurants exceeded the dangerous noise level of 80 dBA, and 80 per cent hit the point at which talking becomes a struggle.

The figures were released by SoundPrint, a global app that lets users look for restaurants, cafés and bars by sound levels on a database generated from recordings and sound measurements submitted by other users. The app was invented by Gregory Scott, a young New Yorker who has hearing loss. As a single man in New York, he often found it impossible to hear what the women he was dating were actually saying. He began recording the noise levels in places so that he could adjust his hearing aid and then began sharing his list of Quiet Corners with people who were suffering similarly. This led to the idea of a crowd-sourced database. ‘Forty or fifty years ago restaurants were a place for conversation, they had soft furnishing, carpets and curtains which meant that even in a packed dining room you could talk with ease over a meal,’ said Scott. ‘But things have changed in the last 30 years. Some restaurants are now like a nightclub or bar.’ Many factors have contributed to rising noise levels, from the fashion for stripped back hard surfaces and open-plan kitchens, to rising rents meaning that many restaurants pack tables into tight spaces. Others are in former industrial buildings with poor acoustics.’

Scott said: ‘Simple things like having an espresso machine on the bar or music playing can raise the sound levels significantly.’ Music does not have to be particularly loud to generate overall unsafe sound levels, he added. Because of the Lombard effect, where noise breeds noise, even limited background music can lead to shouting as guests raise their voice over one another to be heard. Teri Devine at the hearing charity the RNID (formerly Action on Hearing Loss), said: ‘Loud background music and environmental noise are the key factors making it impossible for people with hearing loss to have a conversation. Restaurants can consider using softer materials to absorb sound, such as carpet, tablecloths and curtains, inserting partitions into open plan spaces, and creating quiet areas. For many people, a combination of excessive noise, challenging acoustic environments, dim lighting, and lack of deaf awareness among staff ruins what should be a relaxing and enjoyable experience.’

The app categorises sound levels as quiet, moderate, loud and very loud. It classifies 70 dBA as safe for hearing and great for conversation, 71 to 75 dBA as safe for hearing and conducive to conversation, 76 to 80 dBA as probably safe for hearing but difficult for conversation and 81 dBA as not safe for hearing. The Health and Safety Executive states that employers must provide hearing protection to staff regularly exposed to noise of 85 dBA and higher. Very few of them do.

Noise in hospitals: a cause for concern

HOSPITAL NOISE has long been one of our chief concerns, so it is most encouraging to hear that it is finally receiving proper attention in medical circles. Dr David Oliver, a doctor unusually concerned with issues facing older patients, writes in the British Medical Journal for 27 April that noise in hospitals is indeed a major issue. ‘Hospital wards are meant to be therapeutic and healing environments, so we need more concerted action to tackle noise pollution in wards. Being surrounded by a cacophony of noise doesn’t help patients get better, and it’s not a nice environment for staff to work in. On a recent ward round, in one five bedded bay I found myself turning off radios next to three of the patients so that I could chat to them. They told me that they weren’t listening to the music anyway: “Leave it off!” they said, when I offered to switch it back on. And it’s not just music from the radio—there are multiple sources of noise: beeping devices with alarms that are often ignored (though they’re nominally there to prompt action); noisy patient call buttons and ward entry intercom bells; ward phones, often ringing unanswered; loud lids on metal waste bins; rattling cage trolleys full of ward supplies; dispensers for hand towels or aprons; staff pagers and phones; sometimes overloud conversations from staff in the course of their job or from visitors at bedsides; teams responding to emergencies; and—though they should never be blamed—other patients in distress or calling for help. Of course, noise annoys, but it’s more than an irritant. Sleep is crucial to recovery, yet so many of our patients complain of sleep disturbance in hospital. Numerous people have told me that noise was what they dreaded most about hospital admission or the reason they self-discharged. On any ward round some patients complain to me about it. A high proportion of inpatients have hearing loss or cognitive impairment. Background noise impairs communication and can be especially bad for patients with hearing aids or presbycusis. Whether in intensive care or more general ward areas, delirium is prevalent in hospital3—and multiple, alien, noises and voices can compound it.

Patients prone to sensory overload, for instance, and some with autistic spectrum disorder or a learning disability, can be especially upset by noise. Those with dysphonia, dysarthria, or dysphasia or for whom English isn’t their native language, or those who are sick or dying, can struggle to communicate with staff or visiting families above the noise. And, let’s face it, noise levels are also an irritant to many patients who don’t have those problems and to staff working there every day who can’t always hear themselves speak or think, let alone hear colleagues properly. Studies on intensive care wards have even found that decibel meters showed higher noise levels on wards than on busy main roads. What we lack is a concerted effort to move from awareness of the problem to implementing serious, sustained solutions. We’ve ignored the noise pollution problem for too long and grown too comfortable with accepting it. It’s time to do something about it.