Experts start work on EU noise law

Outline of draft framework law to be presented in September; expert working groups underway

Experts nominated by the European Commission are working on the details of a wide-ranging new framework directive on noise pollution, to be presented by the Commission's environment department (DGXI) at a conference in September.

The EU has already passed laws governing noise from several sectors. Most recently, the Commission proposed new limits on aircraft noise (ENDS Daily 13 March) and outdoor equipment such as construction machinery (ENDS Daily 25 February). But the forthcoming directive, which has its origins in a 1996 green paper, will be the EU's first coherent general framework noise law.

An outline of the directive was to have been presented by DGXI in May at a meeting in Copenhagen. The plan was disrupted by a general strike in Denmark and the conference will now be held in the Danish capital on 7 September, again jointly organised by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

The May conference was also to have marked the launch of working groups made up of Commission and independent experts to flesh out six key parts of the legislation. In an attempt to keep up the momentum, the groups have begun their work ahead of the rescheduled conference.

One group is working on a standardised system to measure ambient noise. According to a Commission official, the experts will examine not just noise levels generated from various sources but also how noise is perceived by the population so that a differential can be made between nuisance noises and those that the public accepts or likes. The group will consider whether some types of noise should be given a positive or negative "weighting" when it comes setting noise limits, he added.

The directive will require member states to produce "noise maps" for their cities based on the standardised measurement system. This would enable comparison of noise levels in different areas and would enable noise reduction targets to be set. Noise mapping will be new concept for many member states, while others, like Germany which already has noise mapping for about 300 towns and cities, might have to adapt their procedures to fit the standardised system.

Other working groups are discussing what form noise maps will take, technical aspects of computing noise levels, the effects of noise on human health, and abatement techniques.

A group looking at railway noise has yet to be formed. Rail is receiving special attention because, unlike other modes of transport, there is no established way of calculating railway noise. The ability to compare noise from different transport modes will be crucial if authorities want to make an informed choice about encouraging a move from road or air to rail for noise reduction purposes, the official said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; Danish Environmental Protection Agency, tel: +45 32 66 01 00.

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