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Perceiving the physical living environment in the Netherlands : Annoyance inventory 2016

Beleving Woonomgeving in Nederland : Inventarisatie Verstoringen 2016


The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), in collaboration with Statistics Netherlands (CBS), carried out the seventh 'Inventory of Disturbances' (IV-7) in 2016. It was commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. The IV-7 is a questionnaire survey among a representative sample of residents of the Netherlands on how they experience their physical home environment. The survey examines environmental aspects such as sound, odour and vibrations, satisfaction with their living situation, anxiety and their opinion on the state of the home environment. The government closely monitors the development of disturbance in the home environment as well as satisfaction and concern about the home environment. In the autumn of 2016, more than 8,000 Dutch residents aged 16 and older completed an 'on-line' survey. They answered questions on the annoyance and degree of sleep disturbance from more than 60 different sources of sound, odour and vibrations.

The main causes of noise annoyance are road traffic, noise produced by neighbours and air traffic. These are the same top 3 that were found in previous inventories of disturbances. Within road traffic, it is the roads with speed limits up to 50 km/h and mopeds and scooters that cause the most noise annoyance. The percentage of people who are disturbed by this is higher in the western part of the country and in the province of Limburg.

Noise annoyance caused by neighbours is difficult to address with policy measures. This is also evident from the figures on annoyance, which have remained stable over the years. Contact noises (walking stairs, slamming doors, hard floors) and outdoor activities are the main causes of noise annoyance. Noise and odour annoyance often go hand in hand with outdoor activities when the use of BBQs and fire baskets is involved. Odour pollution caused by neighbours occurs more often nationwide than pollution caused by factories, companies and the agricultural sector. Odour caused by commercial activities has clearly declined since the beginning of the century.

There is a clear reduction in noise pollution caused by military air traffic, while annoyance due to civilian aviation has remained about the same at the national level.

Noise pollution caused by train traffic is not among the top 3 at the national level, while rail transport may cause a lot of noise annoyance at the local level. This has to do with the reduction in the number of people who live near the railroad compared with the number of people who live near roads. The most serious noise annoyance is particularly noticeable in the vicinity of rail lines with a lot of freight traffic, often in combination with annoyance caused by vibrations. Research specifically aimed at nuisance near railways also shows that freight trains are more annoying than passenger trains.

Odor annoyance is mainly caused by neighbors' activities, in which combustion processes (barbecue, fire pits, fireplaces and all-purpose burners) play an important part. At the national level, the odor nuisance has decreased in recent decades due to business activities. This applies to factories and companies as well as to the agricultural sector.

Road traffic is by far the most important source of annoyance due to vibrations, followed by construction and demolition activities, and aircraft and helicopters. Wind turbines are a source of complaints at local level, but are still a minor source of nuisance due to vibrations at national level.

Sleep disturbance caused by sounds is less common than noise annoyance. But the potential health effects are greater, which makes the impact on the Dutch population greater. For most sources of noise, the developments in sleep disturbance are equivalent to the noise pollution. The top 3 sources of noise that cause sleep disturbance are road traffic, neighbours and recreational activities. Sleep disturbance caused by air traffic mainly occurs in the vicinity of Schiphol Airport and less near the other civilian airports. This is related to the small number of night flights at the regional airports. However, there is a striking increase in sleep disturbance caused by helicopters flying overhead, particularly in the western part of the country.

The survey includes several new sources that may cause nuisance now and in future. It is noteworthy that 8% of the population indicates experiencing at least some annoyance from low-frequency noise, described as a low, buzzing or humming sound from e.g. ventilation or air conditioners. The percentage of sleep disturbances is virtually the same as the percentage of people who are annoyed. It is difficult to speak of a single source for low-frequency sound since the cause of the nuisance cannot be clearly identified in many cases. But the extent of the problem indicates that the disturbance needs to be seriously considered in government policy.

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