Leicester researchers contribute to House of Lords report on light and noise pollution

Research into the significant impact of noise pollution on public health carried out by academics at the National Institute for Heath and Care Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) forms part of a new report by the House of Lords, released on 19 July 2023. 

The report: The neglected pollutants: the effects of artificial light and noise on human health, features the findings of academic papers by Professor of Environmental Epidemiology and Director of the Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability at the University of Leicester, and the Lead for the NIHR Leicester BRC’s Environment Theme, Professor Anna Hansell. 

Professor Hansell also gave evidence to the committee earlier this year. 

The report warns that environmental noise and light remain neglected pollutants, and are poorly understood and poorly regulated. This is despite their negative impacts on human health, which can lead to premature death.

Research from the UK Health Security Agency shows that 40 per cent of the population are exposed to harmful levels of road traffic noise and suggests the equivalent of 130,000 healthy life years are lost from noise pollution each year in Britain.

Noise and light pollution also have a significant impact on the economy: sleep disturbance is estimated to cost the UK economy £34 billion a year, according to RAND Europe, and noise and light pollution are contributing factors.

Both noise and light pollution impact negatively on human health through disrupting sleep and circadian rhythms. Noise pollution causes annoyance and increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

On the evidence for the health impacts of noise, Professor Hansell summarised the report’s findings: “There is obviously good evidence for annoyance and for sleep disturbance. There is now good evidence for impacts on cardiovascular disease; the strongest evidence is on ischaemic heart disease, that is, heart attacks, in relation to road traffic noise. There is some evidence on metabolic impacts, for example diabetes.”

Light pollution is not currently well-measured in the UK, but evidence from satellite data and citizen science projects suggests it has increased significantly since the rollout of LEDs. 

The report states that more research is needed to update and refine our understanding of the exposure to light and noise pollution, and their health impacts.