The neglected pollutants: the effects of artificial light and noise on human health Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

Scientific evidence of health effects

1.There is increasing epidemiological evidence of the harmful effects of noise on human health. Aggregated over the whole population, even small effects on the individual can be a significant public health concern. New evidence is likely to change the understanding of these effects, for example the role played by intermittency. (Paragraph 16)

2.DEFRA should work with the UK Health Security Agency and other organisations to assess the significant, growing evidence on the health effects of noise. This should include refining existing estimates for the disease burden from well-established health impacts of noise pollution, for example on the cardiovascular system. UKHSA should also assess whether health effects for which evidence is emerging, such as on the metabolic system, meet the evidentiary threshold for policy action. (Paragraph 16)

3.More laboratory and field studies are needed to supplement epidemiological evidence and to establish the mechanisms by which noise might affect health. The current metrics used to characterise noise pollution are mostly long-term average intensity (decibel) metrics, which do not capture peak volume, pitch and intermittency. The latter influence annoyance and may correlate more closely with health outcomes but are not widely measured. Quantifying the health effects of interventions to reduce exposure is important for cost-benefit analyses. (Paragraph 27)

4.The UK should seek opportunities to collaborate with similar countries, sharing research data and methodologies. Alongside these efforts, DEFRA should commission and fund a research programme into noise and health. This should include:

5.Although UKHSA has a noise and health team which summarises research in this field for policymakers, there is no advisory group as there is for air pollution. (Paragraph 30)

6.An interdisciplinary, independent advisory panel should be established to provide independent advice to the Government and a forum for new evidence, particularly on emerging health effects and technologies, to be assessed. (Paragraph 30)

7.There are concerns that light pollution has been increasing rapidly in recent years. Evidence for the health effects of light pollution is at a less mature stage than noise pollution, but it may influence health by disrupting circadian rhythms and sleep. (Paragraph 35)

8.The Government should commission research to establish how light intensity, wavelength, duration, time of exposure, light history and age affect the circadian system. This should move beyond laboratory-based studies and investigate more realistic light exposure patterns for humans. Such knowledge would provide an evidence base for guidelines that could mitigate the harmful effects of light pollution on human biology, including the circadian system, mood and alertness. (Paragraph 35)

9.Flicker, glare and dazzle can cause visual disturbance. There is not clear evidence that LEDs cause ill-effects in healthy people when used properly. However, there is widespread concern that the LED rollout has been associated with poor lighting practice and over-lighting. (Paragraph 40)

10.Research should be carried out in order to establish the level of risk from glare, flicker, and dazzle, for example in night-time driving. (Paragraph 40)

11.Regulating light pollution is difficult if it is not measured; our current approach is inadequate. It is also difficult to assess the health implications if it is not known how people are exposed to light pollution, particularly indoors at night. (Paragraph 45)

12.DEFRA should establish a standard methodology for tracking, monitoring and reporting on light pollution. This should be in place by the next five-year Environmental Improvement Plan cycle. The Government should commission a regular survey to track light pollution once the methodology is agreed. The research should aim to understand both indoor and outdoor exposure to artificial light at night, so its health impact can be quantified. (Paragraph 45)

13.The Government should have a team of experts in UKHSA, on circadian rhythms and impacts of light on health to act as a single point for evidence gathering and co-opting external expertise. As the field develops, it may be appropriate to set up an independent advisory panel, as for noise and air pollution. (Paragraph 47)

14.The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence should review evidence for the effectiveness of therapies such as light boxes that might promote improved circadian rhythms and therefore physical and mental health. (Paragraph 53)

15.The National Institute for Health and Care Research should commission research to establish the mechanisms by which green social prescribing may affect health. (Paragraph 54)

Public policy implications

16.The Noise Policy Statement for England sets a good overall framework for noise policy but should be re-emphasised. DEFRA does not collect the data that demonstrate national policy interfaces with local policy appropriately. (Paragraph 60)

17.The Government should collect data to determine whether planning authorities and other relevant parties are making use of the Noise Policy Statement for England. (Paragraph 60)

18.There should be a specific noise reduction target for the regulation of noise pollution. Strict decibel exposure limits are impractical, but a target based on reducing the calculated exposure to, and hence disease burden from, noise pollution would allow cost-effective interventions to be pursued. This target should be in place for the next five-year Environmental Improvement Plan cycle. (Paragraph 61)

19.The Committee welcomes DEFRA’s noise pollution mapping and modelling exercise, which provides an opportunity for a renewed focus on noise pollution. However, mapping is only the first step: interventions to reduce the noise burden must follow. (Paragraph 65)

20.The Government should use its mapping to identify key cost-effective interventions. The noise mapping and modelling should be made public. The Government should use this to update the burden of disease calculations used for noise pollution, including any new scientific evidence. Policy on noise pollution should be updated accordingly. This should include funding to carry out public health interventions that reduce noise burden in line with its noise reduction target. (Paragraph 65)

21.It is essential that the Government commit to extending the mapping beyond 24-hour averaged noise exposure to include metrics of pitch, peak volume and intermittency of exposure. (Paragraph 66)

22.The hierarchy of interventions for noise pollution should be: reduce, restrict, remodel. It is generally more effective to reduce noise at source, through planning and engineering, than it is to restrict transmission using sound barriers or to remodel the receiver’s environment with sound insulation. (Paragraph 73)

23.Mapping and modelling tools should be used to identify the most cost-effective interventions to reduce the disease burden of noise pollution, including determining where retrofits make sense. Information on how to reduce noise pollution must be made available at the planning stage for infrastructure projects, as intervention at source is generally more effective. (Paragraph 73)

24.The Government should issue a Light Policy Statement for England which details the Government’s policy on minimising light pollution and the roles it expects different departments to play. (Paragraph 81)

25.Good practice guidance for lighting already exists. (Paragraph 84)

26.The Light Policy Statement and planning guidance should incorporate up-to-date guidance from the Society of Light and Lighting, the Institution of Lighting Professionals and the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers, on best practice for lighting. (Paragraph 84)

27.The Government should make clear that exempt facilities are still expected to conform to best-practice lighting guidelines. (Paragraph 87)

28.Local authorities should report on complaints about light pollution to Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities so that central government can compare local authorities and highlight any issues. (Paragraph 88)

29.The Government should take steps to ensure that the implications of the technological shifts required for net zero and adapting to climate change for noise and light pollution are understood and addressed early on. (Paragraph 91)

30.Light and noise pollution cut across a number of departments. The levers for acting on problems identified by DEFRA often sit in other departments, such as the Department for Transport. This is unlike other pollutants, where DEFRA takes ownership of mapping and, through public bodies, regulation. There seemed to be little co-ordination between departmental policies in these areas. (Paragraph 95)

31.The status of light and noise pollution as policy areas under the aegis of DEFRA should be reviewed and interdepartmental co-ordination on these issues strengthened. The Government should make clear where in each affected department responsibility for noise and light pollution lies. Other departments should apply the environmental principles in the Environment Act 2021 to their approach to light and noise pollution. (Paragraph 95)

32.It is unclear how, and how consistently, national policies are implemented at local authority level. The Committee remains unconvinced that co-ordination on these issues is sufficiently effective. DEFRA does not appear to be receiving the information it needs to conclude whether its policies are being effectively implemented by local authorities and trends in that effectiveness over time. It is also unclear whether local government actions on noise and light pollution feed back data into DEFRA about whether the policies are successful. (Paragraph 100)

33.The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities should set out what resources local authorities should have to respond adequately to light and noise pollution policies. Local authorities should be sufficiently resourced and incentivised, both in funding and access to information and expertise, to ensure they can properly regulate light and noise pollution. (Paragraph 100)

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