Stirling Council Taking Steps to Monitor Noise and Vibration

Stirling Council are issuing letters to residents who have made noise and vibration complaints about the Stirling Alloa Kincardine (SAK) railway line prior to taking measurements. Clackmannanshire Council asked residents who complained to keep a diary of the impact of the trains, and now, we have been told, are going to measure levels.

Again, we encourage anyone who is exposed to significant levels of noise to put in a complaint form, this is the trigger for the Council to act on your behalf.

Medical issues of noise

Noise Stresses the Cardiovascular System

IMPORTANT  This is not just about noise as a possible ‘nuisance’, it is not about hearing loss, and it is definitely not about  ‘being used to it’. Noise is a Public Health issue. It stresses the whole body. You are more likely to be taken into hospital with cardiovascular problems. This  Report from Harvard University  gives some idea of what is at stake . . .

Note the 55dB advised noise level in the Harvard article. Official figures outside homes beside the SAK line are, typically, 80dBlamax; the maximum night level advised by the World Health Organization (WHO) is 60dBlamax. The dB noise scale is logarithmic, 80dB is significantly louder than 60dB, in fact it is four times louder to the human ear. That means the night levels beside SAK are four times louder than the level at which adverse health effects start to occur. Risks such as high blood pressure and ischaemic heart disease from constant exposure build up over time. This risk does not depend on whether or not the noise is seen as a nuisance, whether the person is ‘getting used to it’, or is able to sleep through it.

The Harvard report is not a lone study. The World Health Organization have analysed dozens of research reports and warns about the health, social, and child development problems from noise health in major publications in 1995, 1999, 2005, 2009, 2011, each time with additional evidence, deeper understanding, and greater emphasis on the health consequences of exceeding advised levels. In fact the WHO 60dBLamax night level was supposed to be applied on the SAK line and was presented to Parliament as the ‘sleep disturbance’ level in the Environmental Statement. It was abandoned after the line was opened when the levels were found to exceed this at all properties tested. Transport Scotland, the key promoters of the SAK line, ‘adopted’  a non-health based level from 1982 and said that it could be exceeded twice an hour during the night. Using the standard in the Environmental Statement would have required night them to provide noise mitigation, acoustic glazing and ventilation, at many homes along the line.

NHS Forth Valley hold approx 500 pages of World Health Organization reports on noise, disease and the impact on noise on child development. They also hold the 2009 SAK Noise Assessment that lists the noise levels beside the SAK line. The night noise levels in the SAK data are far higher than those in their World Health Organization documentation, typically four times louder and with noise pressure levels a hundred times higher.

There is absolutely no doubt that these levels of noise are a Public Health issue and that the issue goes beyond SAK. Other lines carrying the same freight trains are probably at the same high levels but most haven’t been measured. It’s likely that night levels at such locations will be causing the same risk to health.

NHS Forth Valley have a Public Health remit that requires them to ensure that there is a safe environment, free from hazards and to issue advice on health issues, yet the decline to tell the public. Each year they put out Public Health warnings about algal blooms in lochs, taking exercise, diet. Why, knowing the high exposure levels involved, do they not advise the public about noise? This question was put to them at their Annual Review in November 2013. They didn’t answer the lack of information issue, but said that the Stirling Council Noise Vibration Working Group, on which they were represented, were working on the problem.

THE FUTURE Councils take the view that if you do not complain, you are not being affected; they will not act to reduce the noise at your home, nor will they check to ensure that noise levels are safe. Many of the risks these reports warn about, such as high blood pressure and ischaemic heart disease are chronic and take many years to develop. Some, such as those resulting from sleep deprivation or disturbance (disrupted sleep pattern) can impact on aspects of health, well-being, reaction time and judgment, a persons’ ability to function the following day.

High risk groups are children, the infirm, and those who are already stressed, though all sectors of society are affected. Like most health risks, some seem immune, others more susceptible.

CHECK IT OUT Anyone who wants to check the facts for themselves will find the World Health Organization noise reports available online. The Stirling Alloa Kincardine Railway Noise Assessment from 2009 was done by AECOM and is also available online from the Clackmannanshire Council website. This report is about night noise levels,  not levels average over time (relevant to daytime) but noise levels as you hear them measured in dBLamax.

Report by A McIver, NVAG chairman 31 Jan 2014

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