It causes the premature death of 12,000 people a year, 48,000 cases of ischemic heart disease, 72,000 hospitalizations, cognitive impairment, hypertension, sleep disorders... These data from the European Environment Agency (EEA) give a good account of the effects of could be considered the cheapest pollutant in the world: noise.
The Spanish Society of Acoustics (SEA) demands legislative modifications to reduce the decibel values that the population supports. "Spain's Acoustic Quality Objectives exceed those recommended by the WHO by 10 decibels," says Antonio Pedrero, president of SEA, who, however, points out that "it is not true that we are the second noisiest country in the world." Pedrero points out that our legislation is based on the recommendations of the Green Book of the European Commission, of 1996, which "for residential use areas establishes 65 decibels during the day and afternoon periods and 55 during the night period.
These values, from almost 30 years ago, have not been revised in all this time and have become obsolete.
At least 20% of the European population lives in areas where traffic noise is harmful to health, at least 55 decibels.
“This noise associated with traffic depends on several factors, such as the quality of the vehicle fleet, the type of pavement and the individual attitude of the drivers”, says the president of SEA. For this reason, he considers it necessary to adopt "traffic and urban remodeling measures, with pavement improvement, speed reduction or change of the fleet of cars to others that are quieter." In the case of electric vehicles, these “have much lower noise emissions thanks to their motor, but this reduction is only effective at low speeds.
At more than 40 kilometers per hour, the main source of noise becomes the sound of its rolling and, above 80, the aerodynamic one».
For Pedrero, the great pending issue is the configuration of updated and reliable noise maps. "This year new maps have to be drawn up to present to the European authorities and from SEA we want to make as much noise as possible to make it clear that noise pollution is a public health problem," he says.
20% of the population lives with harmful traffic noise
Meanwhile, companies, startups and research laboratories are looking for solutions. Data in the cloud, IoT, Big Data or artificial intelligence are some of the advances applied to noise monitoring and reduction. These innovations, many of them “made in Spain”.
Noisense allows you to visualize the noise level
Great advances have already been made in the industrial sector and technology is now focused on Smart Cities. "It is necessary to provide cities with noise sensors that allow obtaining a real-time map of what is called ZAS, acoustically saturated zones," explains Miguel Morales, managing director of Inerco Acústica, who points out that for this to be possible, for having better equipment and more information on the noise maps of each locality that must be updated in order to carry out correct management policies.
This expert advances that work is being done to make sonographers less expensive, which would allow their massive installation in cities. "A single device is around 15,000 or 20,000 euros and to control just one area in the city you need to deploy between 50 or 80," says Morales, for whom every source of noise has its technological treatment, but to address it in some cases it will be necessary greater control, in other knowledge or data management».
The startup Noismart also develops innovative solutions to achieve an acoustically healthy society. "We offer a comprehensive service that combines 'big data', social and technical consulting, conditioning, acoustic insulation and awareness and training to promote education, health and coexistence," says Leire Atxa, CEO of the company.
Pioneers in the distribution of noise control traffic lights in Spain, Noisense is manufactured in the Basque Country. It is “an innovative device that allows the noise level to be displayed on the screen and the design of specific plans to reduce noise pollution. It combines the functions of a sound level meter (noise measurement) and a sonographer (graphic expression of that measurement), with the ability to collect and transmit data in different environmental conditions and to warn when the established limits are exceeded. It can be used as a tool for Smart Cities and Industry 4.0”, explains Atxa. In addition, he anticipates that they are investigating artificial intelligence parameters that will allow them to know not only the level, but also what the sources of noise are. "65% of Europeans live above the rates recommended by the health authorities. Calm and relaxed environments are needed," insists Atxa.
For this specialist, it is important to approach noise from different perspectives, both social and technical. “We cannot apply the same solution to a health center, to a town hall that wants to reduce noise pollution or to a community of neighbors that has a nightclub under their house. There are technical solutions, but we are all co-responsible for noise and we can change our habits to achieve quieter and more peaceful environments », she says.
Providing a solution to this environmental problem, combining it with recycling, is the pioneering initiative of Signus Ecovalor and Acusttel. Together they are developing a new acoustic shielding system in infrastructures that incorporates rubber from recycled tires. "They are made of porous concrete with high acoustic absorption power with recycled rubber granules as a fundamental element to improve noise-absorbing properties," explains Iñaki Miralles, commercial director of Acusttel.