“What do you consider to be the most urgent human rights issues which should be addressed in Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights?” Question by Scottish Human Rights Commission, SHRC, as part of consultation.
Response by NVAG to SHRC: The right to health, peaceful enjoyment of ones home and to the fundamental human needs of sleep and good health are currently being actively denied to many thousands of Scottish residents.
The consequences of noise exposure has been published by the World Health Organization in 1999, 2005, 2009, 2011. In the last publication, Burden of disease from environmental noise. Quantification of healthy life years lost in Europe, noise was upgraded to the environmental pollutant with the second highest burden of disease in Western Europe. It also noted, that whilst other pollutants are being tackled and the impact decreasing, harm from noise is increasing. On the railways much of this comes from increasing levels of night freight. On one line surveyed, ten to fifteen trains run between 23.00 and 07.00. This appears typical. Children are exposed to significantly more train passes due to their longer sleep requirements.
Key bodies in Scotland refuse to acknowledge scientific and medical evidence regarding noise and vibration exposure for residents and the need to protect against chronic sleep deprivation.
The Scottish Government, through one of its agencies, Transport Scotland, promotes high noise- level standards for night rail traffic that bear no relation to any modern health standards. Their argument, based on a 20yr old report, is that it is appropriate to allow unlimited levels of noise, twice an hour (in excess of 82dBLamax) during the night without mitigation for residents. This contradicts all modern health standards and defies common experience: loud noise wakens people. Official noise assessments show levels are four times louder than the 60dBLamax level at which the WHO advises conscious awakenings start to occur. The result, not surprisingly, is repeated awakening by residents and chronic sleep deprivation.
Network Rail has a policy of running trains 24/7 and claims that it is unable to refuse freight access if paths are available on the line. It also refuses to accept any responsibility for noise or vibration exposure to residents. Repeated enquiries to NR eventually ascertained that they acknowledge no noise or vibration standards. Regardless of how high the exposure to residents, NR does not regard it as a fault or a reason to cease operating. NR were asked as to what residents should do, when, having been woken repeatedly night after night, they are faced with driving, operating machinery, or performing tasks that require concentration, judgment or responsibility. Do they put themselves and others at risk or phone in sick? Network Rail refused to advise. Residents have to make that choice.
The Office of Rail Regulation requires Network Rail to have a sustainability policy but emphasizes that they do not do environmental monitoring and that the local authority are the body charged with dealing with environmental health problems.
Local authorities deal with domestic noise issues but are extremely reluctant to do so for noise or vibration from bodies who have statutory authority. In one instance in Scotland, on a modern railway line, where standards in the Environmental Statement approved by Parliament are being exceeded every night, repeated requests by residents to serve noise abatement orders have been refused. The environmental health officers said that they’d taken legal advice and had been told that they’d have no chance of winning if they took the case to court. Instead of a court deciding, the decision was made without the chance of those afflicted to present evidence, based, not on the consideration of a judge but on the advice of an anonymous expert, with no record taken of the discussion or points made and no public or independent scrutiny.
Many public health officers and even doctors in the UK are not aware of the problems caused by noise and sleep deprivation. This is surprising. A huge amount of detailed analysis and documented evidence has been published by the WHO over the past 14years; many internationally-recognized research groups, University-based, have presented studies. The public, however, are largely unaware of the impact of noise beyond that of damage to hearing and presume wrongly that they are not harmed if they ‘get used to’ the levels of noise. The WHO advises of stress, high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, physiological, psychological and social deterioration. A Cambridge study in 2013 found that sleep deprivation for just one week caused several hundred changes in the DNA of the human body. A study into HIV immunization in the USA IN 2012 found, as have several other studies, that sleep deprivation has a highly adverse impact on the immune system. The British Medical Journal states that there is now no doubt that sleep deprivation has a serious impact on health. Children are worst affected and suffer significant developmental and educational issues in addition to the health problems.
The noise and vibration pollution caused by traffic can be difficult to attribute but for railways it is both attributable and systematic in nature. Studies of parliamentary and business communication (FOISA) indicate that ignoring or downplaying the issue is part of a deliberate policy by promoters, often the Government working with private companies, and operators, to avoid the cost of providing protection from the noise and vibration they produce. Mitigation measures are available and are employed widely in the EU. When asked to apply practices or measures by petitions committee PE1273 at the Scottish Parliament during 2009-2011 the response from the organizations involved was that it was not commercially viable. It is viable in mainland EU.
A framework of complaint bodies and regulations exist but, whilst some daytime noise issues are addressed, night noise is almost unregulated. The public are left to suffer. If a corporation were to release toxins or ionizing radiation into residents’ homes at levels far exceeding those advised by health bodies to prevent physiological, psychological and behavioural problems, there would be immediate action and prosecutions. Strangely, once the label ‘noise’ is added, there is intransigence, disbelief, denial of medical evidence, failure to monitor and refusal to apply legal measures. What is particularly insidious is that there is no escape for residents: this is a pollutant that relentlessly penetrates their homes, their place of rest and refuge; they are subjected to this in the commercial interests of the polluters.
[Please note: this is the case put by NVAG for consideration by SHRC. SHRC is not affiliated or in any way connected to NVAG ].