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‘Citizen Science’ takes off...

By [email protected] - 3rd June 2008 - 16:54 residents tackle neighbourhood noise!Living with too much noise can be damaging to health and make life unbearable. This year residents in two of London‟s noisiest neighbourhoods have tackled their problems by setting up their own noise monitoring systems.
People living in the Pepys Estate in Lewisham and in the Royal Docks area in Newham have led the way with a new way to tackle noise. The Pepys Estate currently suffers noise pollution from a scrapyard near the centre of the estate and very close to both a primary and nursery school, while Royal Docks suffers noise problems resulting from flights in and out of London City Airport (LCA), where a major expansion is threatened.Residents in both areas have had help from a new project âMapping Change for Sustainable Communitiesâ run by the London 21 sustainability network and University College London under the UCL-led UrbanBuzz Programme, with help from the artist Christian Nold. London Sustainability Exchange, under the Environmental Justice programme provided the second pilot area. The project supplied local residents with noise meters and trained them in how to use these devices. They went on to ake a over 1500 measurements at all times of day and night and developed their own \"noise maps‟.The results of this \"citizen science‟ have been remarkable. On the Pepys Estate members of the Community Forum found disturbingly high levels of noise, often continuing outside normal working hours. This noise affected quality of life up to 350 metres from the scrapyard. They have been trying to deal with this problem for over six years, initially raising concerns with the Mayor of Lewisham and others in September 2002. Since this time the disturbance has actually escalated. Now armed with this information they called a public meeting on May 15th to present their findings to the council and the Environment Agency.Lewisham Council and the Environment Agency accept that there is a problem. After seeing the results of the survey the Agency has appointed an acoustic consultant to carry out a detailed analysis of noise in and from the scrapyard. The residents who carried out the survey will meet with the consultant to share their information, and will work with the council to agree an action plan for moving forward.Colleen Whitaker of London 21, who led the work on the estate, said âThere is no doubt that the Pepys Estate has a real noise problem. We‟re happy to have helped the Community Forum tackle this issue. We hope that the problem can now be resolved.âLewis Herlitz, Director of the Pepys Community Forum says âThe Noise Mapping work is a major breakthrough for residents. It allowed them to develop an evidence base about how noise damages their quality of life. It shows that their long-standing concerns are real and need to be acted on. It provides an opportunity for greater community engagement around monitoring and speaking up for an improved environment. There is no going back.âThe communities surrounding LCA, including Virginia Quays and Thamesmead also found troubling results.Many readings exceed levels deemed to cause serious annoyance under the World Health Organisation community noise guidelines. The measurements gathered by the community revealed a clear correlation between unacceptable levels of noise and the LCA operational hours. More interestingly, the results obtained by both communities indicate that people are quite accurate in their perceptions of noise levels and the survey enabled them to express how these affected them. One of the residents said âthe noise is irritable, I can\'t relax or have the window open - but I can\'t shut-out the noise so have to turn the TV up - but everything is then so loud.âThe open meeting held on April 24th in the Royal Docks was attended by the Environment Officer for London Borough of Newham and provided a chance for local residents to find out what the local authority does in terms of monitoring noise. It was made clear that social surveys are what are missing from noise data collection and there is definitely a potential benefit of extending such surveys to a wider audience. A further meeting is to be scheduled to show the results to the planning officer involved with LCA‟s planning application, and other officers within the local authority.London 21‟s Louise Francis who led the work in Royal Docks said âTackling something as big as an airport can seem an overwhelming task for a group of residents. But the people who participated in this work have shown that they are willing to take on this task to ensure their health and that of their families are not put at risk for the sake of business.â Contrary to the recently published online noise maps found on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website, which are created using computer-based models on noise samples taken from 2006/07, the results collected by both communities reflect actual ambient noise readings.Despite an increasing body of evidence on the long-term health impacts surrounding noise exposure, it is uncertain to what extent the Local Authorities themselves understand and act on such issues, as evidenced by these examples.____________________________________________________________________________Some useful notes....NOISE MAPPINGOver seven weeks from January to February 2008 a core group of residents on the Pepys Estate, Royal Docks and surrounding areas conducted a cohesive noise pollution mapping survey. Using noise level meters supplied by UCL and a scientifically sound survey methodology designed by UCL, London 21 and artist Christian Nold) they were trained to take noise readings at all hours of the day and night across the whole of the estate and areas surrounding the airport. In total over 1500 individual readings were taken across all the sites. The data was then analysed by UCL and London 21 using a Geographical Information System (GIS) to produce noise pollution maps for the area.In addition to collecting noise level readings, residents also collected qualitative information expressing how they felt about the noise. They were asked to choose words such as ârelaxingâ âannoyingâ or âdisturbingâ to describe the sounds they heard. The results showed that the vast majority of readings were described as either Loud, Very Loud or Extremely Loud by residents.In the Pepys Estate, the survey results also allowed us to identify the loudest sources of noise. As expected the scrapyard was most often identified as the loudest source of noise (even as far as 350 metres from the site itself!), but traffic (including lorries bound for the scrapyard) and airplanes were also identified as contributing to the overall noisy atmosphere on the estate. This highlights the importance of addressing noise pollution in residential/urban areas as a cumulative problem with potentially many sources.A similar situation was found in the Royal Docks and surrounding areas, where the main contributor to local noise pollution was airport related. Traffic related noise was the second largest contributor. Many of the residents expressed the fact that they have become accustomed to the constant background noise generated by traffic but found the harmonics, frequency and irregularity or plane related noise, very intrusive and disturbing.ACTIONAfter seeing the results of the Pepys Estate mapping, the local councillor agreed to attend a public meeting along with two Lewisham Pollution Control Officers and representatives of the Environment Agency, which took place on May 15th 2008. The meeting was also attended by the regional representative for the Environment Agency. At the meeting the residents involved presented their findings to the wider community and an open question and answer session was facilitated by the Director of the Pepys Community Forum.In Royal Docks a meeting was held on April 24th 2008 to discuss the results of the resident‟s survey. Following this, the Environment Officer from LB Newham has agreed to set up meetings for the information to be shown to other key people within the council.RESEARCHIt has recently been acknowledged that noise pollution is more than a nuisance and is increasingly becoming an important public health problem. Researchers have found that long-term exposure to noise constitutes a health risk hazard and can modify social behaviour, cause annoyance (i), increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases (ii) and adversely affect levels of attentiveness and the ability to read in children. (iii) The current exclusive system used to calculate various noise sources does nothing to look at cumulative ambient noise (community noise; environmental noise). Continued growth in industry, transport systems and housing will generate more noise which current policy fails to be able to control at the community level.THE PROJECTThe mapping methodology and survey design used within this project was developed as part of the Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities project, and was first implemented within the Royal Docks â one of four pilot areas involved in this project.âMapping Change for Sustainable Communitiesâ is a project funded by the UCL-led UrbanBuzz Programme, within with UEL is a prime partner. Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities is run by London 21 and UCL.The methodology was later duplicated under London 21‟s Environmental Inequalities Programme, funded by the City Bridge Trust and London Sustainability Exchange‟s Environmental Justice Programme funded byCity Parochial.__________________________________________________________________________________________References:(i) Passchier-Vermeer, W. and Passchier, W.F. 2000) Noise exposure and public health, Environ Health Perspect. 2000 March; 108(Suppl 1): 123â131(ii) Babisch, W., Beule, B., Schust, M. Kersten, M. and Ising, H. (2005) Traffic Noise and Risk of Myocardial Infarction, Epidemiology, 16 (1): 33-40(iii) Haines, M.M., Stansfeld, S.A., Job S.R.F., Berglund, B. and Head, J. (2001), A follow-up study of effects of chronic aircraft noise exposure on child stress responses and cognition. Int. J. Epidemiology, 30: 839-845 Noise monitoring in the Royal Docks area.

Author: Louise Francis

Bio.: Mapping and Development Project Officer

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