A report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows at least 2.5 million of the people living in Switzerland’s 13 largest cities are exposed to noise levels above 55 decibels, a level at which noise becomes annoying and above the 50 decibels that disturbs sleep.
This number, which relates only those living in Switzerland’s 13 largest urban centres and only to exposure to noise from road traffic above 55 decibels at some point during the day, evening or night, translates to 64% of the 3.9 million residents of these cities. After rail, airport and industrial noise pollution are included the percentage is sure to be higher1.
50 decibels is the noise intensity of light traffic. 100 decibels is the sound of a handheld electric drill or a motorcycle. Anything above 50 decibels disturbs sleep.
The 13 cities included in the data are: Baden-Brugg, Basel, Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, Lucerne, Lugano, Olten-Zofingen, St. Gallen, Winterthur, Zug, and Zurich.
The main noise pollution culprit is road traffic. The EEA estimates that 25% of europeans are subjected to road noise above 55 decibels. Across Switzerland’s main centres the percentage is 64%. The cities with the highest percentages of residents affected by road noise over 55 decibels are Geneva (77%), Lausanne (74%), Basel (66%) and Lugano (65%). The figure for Zurich is 62%.
Rail is next on the list. Rail noise above 55 decibels afflicts around half a million of the 3.9 million of the residents of these 13 Swiss cities. That is around 13%. Ears in the city of Olten-Zofingen are the most heavily battered by locomotion. 23% of the city’s inhabitants are subjected to rail noise over 55 decibels. No other city comes close. Lausanne (16%), Basel (14%), Zurich (12%) and Geneva (11%) are well behind on the percentage affected by trains rattling by. Sitting in the centre of Switzerland’s plateau, Olten is a major hub on the Swiss Rail network.
On the other hand Olten-Zofingen ties with Zug for the city with the lowest percentage bothered by road noise (49%) over 55 decibels.
Third on the list is aircraft noise. However to suffer this you need to live near an airport, so it is no surprise Switzerland’s leaders are the cities of Zurich and Geneva, the only ones with major airports. City layout, airport proximity and population mean aircraft hit Genevan ears hardest. There, 12% of the population are disturbed by planes compared to 6% of Zurich’s population. In numerical terms the cities are closer. 73,500 Geneva residents have their ears bashed by aircraft noise, compared to 61,700 people living in Zurich.
The EEA describes noise as a pervasive pollutant that directly affects the health and well-being of humans and wildlife. Populations exposed to high noise levels can exhibit stress reactions, sleep-stage changes, and clinical symptoms like hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. All of these can contribute to premature mortality. The World Health Organization (WHO) reckons that humans exposed to noise levels above 40 decibels at night experience adverse health effects.
Across Europe it is estimated that noise contributed to at least 900,000 additional cases of hypertension in 2011.
Those living outside cities are also impacted, particularly those close to major highways and train lines. Figures published in early 2017 estimate there were 100 million city dwellers affected by noise pollution across Europe. Outside cities there were 40 million. Click here to see the EEA noise map and zoom in to see local data.
European Environment Agency factsheet on Switzerland – opens PDF (in English)
EEA european noise map (in English)
1 The data gives no aggregate numbers. Adding them does not account for overlap.