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Light and noise pollution remain neglected pollutants despite significant health impacts, Lords report warns

Wednesday 19 July 2023 

Environmental noise and light remain neglected pollutants, poorly understood and poorly regulated, a House of Lords report has warned. 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.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has today, Wednesday 19 July, published its report, The neglected pollutants: the effects of artificial light and noise on human health, examining the effects of artificial light and noise on human health.

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

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.

More research is needed to update and refine our understanding of the exposure to light and noise pollution, and their health impacts. The Committee is concerned that the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan only briefly mentions noise and light pollution, with no specific targets to reduce them, and that there is seemingly little impetus from central government to address them.

Baroness Brown, Chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said:

“Throughout our inquiry we’ve heard of the growing global evidence base for the significant negative impacts of environmental light and noise pollution on our health.

“Not only can they cause annoyance, impacting quality of life, but through the disruption of sleep and circadian rhythms, both noise and light pollution can contribute to heart disease and premature death.

“Whilst the increased risk to an individual may be low, the exposure of millions of people results in a significant aggregate health burden. Forty per cent of the British population are exposed to unhealthy levels of noise pollution from road traffic and research from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that in 2018, 130,000 healthy life years were lost in the UK.

“Yet, despite these significant health impacts, light and noise in the UK seem to have become neglected pollutants, poorly understood and poorly regulated. We are concerned that there are no specific targets for regulating light and noise pollution, and a lack of coordination between departments, and between central and local Government, which is preventing the Government from tackling these problems.

“The Government should focus on quantifying the health effects of noise and light pollution, set targets and a framework for regulation to reduce the overall burden of disease. It should do this by the time of the next five-year Environmental Improvement Plan cycle. It must also strengthen co-ordination between departments and between central and local government, to ensure meaningful improvements in public health and quality of life in the UK for the benefit of all.”

Key conclusions and recommendations include:



  • The Committee calls for DEFRA to work with UKHSA and other organisations to assess the significant, growing evidence on the harmful health effects of noise including more laboratory and field studies to supplement epidemiological evidence and to determine the mechanisms of harm. The research should seek to determine indoor exposure to noise, and to establish whether alternative metrics for noise, including pitch, maximum volume and intermittency should be measured and used to better understand health outcomes.
  • DEFRA must establish a standard methodology for tracking, monitoring and reporting on light pollution, as this is not currently done. This should be in place by the next five-year Environmental Improvement Plan cycle: it should commission a regular survey to understand both indoor and outdoor exposure to artificial light at night, so its health impact can be quantified.
  • The Committee further calls for a scientific noise expert advisory group to be set up, as exists for air pollution, to provide independent advice to the Government and a forum for new evidence, particularly on emerging health effects, to be assessed. There should be a dedicated group within UKHSA assessing the evidence for the health impacts of artificial light, which can assess the evidence base for guidelines about healthy exposure to light.
  • There is widespread concern that the LED rollout has been associated with poor lighting practice and over-lighting. The Committee calls for research to establish the level of risk from glare, flicker and dazzle, for example in night-time driving.



  • The Government accepts the need to regulate light and noise pollution – for example, in the 25 Year Environment Plan – but there are no specific targets to do so. The Committee recommends that the Government should establish an explicit target for reducing the health burden from noise pollution, and that it should use its noise-mapping exercises to identify cost-effective interventions to achieve it. It should work towards a methodology for quantifying the light pollution issue with a view to establishing a target to limit light pollution there as well.
  • There seemed to be little co-ordination between departmental policies in these areas. DEFRA takes overall responsibility for these pollutants, but the “levers” to act on them are often in other departments. 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.
  • 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 effective. The Government should collect data to determine whether planning authorities are acting on noise and light pollution, and help them to share best practice. 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.

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