Noise pollution and its impact on cities today
The importance of its control and management. The real case of Girona.
Until relatively recently noise pollution as one of the biggest environmental problems of our society was not taken seriously. In other times it was even seen as something positive and considered synonymous with modernity and dynamism. For most, noise was part of everyday social life and economic activity.
The reality today is a natural migration trend from rural areas to cities which are experiencing an exponential growth in people, activity, vehicle traffic, congestion and, therefore, pollution in various forms. If we consider that by 2050 it is forecast that 70% of the global population will live in urban areas, ensuring both a sustainable economic and social environment represents a huge challenge.
The increase in population and frenetic activity of our cities is causing a proportional increase in the noise generated by vehicle traffic, followed by industrial, business and night-life activity.
While it is true that the threshold of noise tolerance varies according to the situation, individual and culture, a survey conducted by the Environmental Agency of the CAM in France showed that people exposed to noise levels of more than 85 dBA suffered a 12% increase in cardiovascular problems, 37% in neurological problems and 10% in digestive problems, in contrast to people exposed to lower levels.
Noise can also affect individuals differently depending on its factors. Depending on the type, duration, place and even the moment when it is produced, it can annoy, irritate and cause convenience, even in some cases altering a person’s physical and psychological state.
Temporary, irreversible or progressive hearing loss is one of the physical effects described and related to noise pollution, as well as blood pressure and heart rate disorders, muscle tension and digestive disorders, among other problems.
Noise can also have psychological consequences for individuals, affecting the stress, mental concentration, learning and productivity of people.
Although the ultimate objective of any city is to improve the life quality of citizens, economic effects are also considered, particularly bearing in mind the budgetary constraints that all administrations are facing currently. Economic costs are clearly reflected in the prices of homes in areas that suffer noise pollution and also evident in the amount of sick leave days and resources allocated to public health resulting from the physical and psychological effects of noise pollution.
Noise monitoring in the city of Girona
One of the main concerns of citizens of Girona was noise pollution in some areas of the city due to directly affecting their quality of life.
The origin of the problem was traffic and road works on public roads, as well as industrial areas, business and leisure activities. However, the main source of noise in the city was traffic which became an environmental background noise. This situation led to complaints and the general discomfort of citizens.
The Girona City Council decided to tackle this problem by implementing the “Environmental monitoring programme”, included in the local government’s global “Smart Green” project.
5 strategic measuring points were chosen for installing suitable noise sensors to measure any source of noise pollution and were integrated aesthetically on existing street lamps. This technology is used to measure pollution levels in these areas in real time.
The data captured by the sensors translates into useful and understandable information shown in the “Visoracústic” application through which anyone can check noise levels at any time.
The application can be used to display the real-time evolution of noise indicators, percentiles and optional indices as well as to obtain reports generated with different periodicities (daily, weekly, monthly or yearly), and in different formats.
The City Council is in the process of preparing an action plan to improve and recover the sound quality of Girona. The plan is based on the results obtained from sensors and noise map studies carried out.
It establishes actions to preserve those places that enjoy good sound quality and others to improve the situation in areas with high levels of noise pollution.
Results and conclusions
Thanks to constant technological innovation, the necessary autonomous systems exist today for the continuous real-time monitoring of noise in cities. These systems enable the implementation of new, more efficient, economically viable management models, and therefore improve the quality of life of citizens, which is the priority of any urban action:
- Transparency with citizens, local awareness and respect.
- Reduce number of complaints and, therefore, the administrative work associated with it.
- Reduction in physical and psychological effects to boost citizen well-being and satisfaction.
- Reduce the economic effects caused by sick leave days and public health costs resulting from noise pollution.
NÚRIA MAYOL RAMON. Finance and Sustainability Area of the Girona City Council