Skip to main content
State of the environment

Exposure to noise is widespread

Environmental noise is still a common scourge in residential areas. Most of the noise pollution is caused by road traffic and quiet areas are few and far between.
City traffic.
© Pirjo Ferin

Environmental noise affects a significant proportion of the living environment in Finland. Noise has an adverse effect the well-being of residents, and it reduces the amenity of living environments and decreases the value of housing. Truly quiet areas can only be found far from population centers, if at all.

In addition to noise intensity, the level of noise disturbance is also influenced by the quality and timing of the noise and the individual characteristics of the person hearing it. This poses challenges for both noise impact assessment and noise abatement. Environmental noise abatement is governed by the EU Environmental Noise Directive and the Finnish legislation based on it, which includes, among other things, guideline values for noise levels in residential areas.

Noise affects a wide range of people

At least 700,000 people in Finland are exposed to environmental noise levels above the guideline values. These values are based on an average noise level of 55 decibels or less in residential areas during the day and 50 decibels or less at night. However, the average noise level does not give a complete picture of the noise situation. For example, pulsating noise or short, intense peaks can disturb life and sleep even where the guideline values are not exceeded.

Silence is rare

To counterbalance a noisy living environment, many people long for experiences of silence. There are few places in Southern Finland where deep silence with an average noise level of less than 30 decibels can be found. The wilderness of Lapland has the quietest areas, but even there the silence is easily broken by the sound of an airplane or snowmobile. In cities, areas with average noise levels below 45–50 decibels are considered moderately quiet.

Most of the noise comes from road traffic

Around 85 percent of noise exposure exceeding the guideline values comes from road traffic. Other significant sources of environmental noise are rail and air traffic, ports, and industrial plants, as well as air conditioners and other technical equipment. Temporary noise sources include construction and repair work and outdoor events.

Noise affects Finns' health

Environmental noise has been shown to have a direct health effects, and it also puts a strain on people's daily lives, causing stress and making it difficult to concentrate. The damage to health caused by noise is measured in years of good life lost. The serious health effects of traffic noise - heart disease and sleep disturbance - are estimated to cause nearly 2,000 good years of life lost in Finland annually.

Noise surveys provide the basis for noise abatement

The EU's Environmental Noise Directive requires noise surveys to be carried out every five years for the largest population centers and the busiest roads, railways, and airports. The implementation of these surveys is laid down in a government decree. On the basis of these surveys, noise abatement action plans are drawn up for the areas concerned to reduce the number of people exposed to noise and to reduce the adverse effects of noise.

Noise is combated in different ways

The range of noise abatement measures is wide. Noise emissions are reduced, among other things, by regulations and guideline values for equipment and activities. The spread of noise from the source is prevented by various structures, and residents are protected from noise by good soundproofing of buildings. Regional planning provides an effective means of preventing noise problems. Planning can also help to preserve quiet areas, which have been identified in many cities and regions.


Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)