Regular MNN readers already know human noise pollution can harm polar bears and coral reefs — but now comes scary news about the effect of human noise pollution on — humans. Turns out, noise can kill us -- a lot of us!

“Western Europeans suffer a heavy toll of death and disability through exposure to excessive noise, making it second only to air pollution as an environmental cause of ill health,” reports New Scientist, summarizing the findings of the World Health Organization and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Rome.

Where does all that noise come from? The WHO/JRC report points primarily to traffic noise. How exactly does noise kill? Mainly by contributing to heart disease. The report explains how chronic noise pollution can trigger a heart attack:

In the long run, chronic noise stress may affect the homeostasis of the organism due to dysregulation, incomplete adaptation and/or the physiological costs of the adaptation (9–17). Noise is considered a nonspecific stressor that may cause adverse health effects in the long run. Epidemiological studies suggest a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure and myocardial infarction, in people chronically exposed to high levels of road or air traffic noise.
But death isn’t the only downside of noise pollution. Excess noise can make living miserable too. From just annoyance to sleep disturbances to cognitive impairment for children, the study estimates that “at least one million healthy life years are lost every year from traffic related noise in the western part of Europe.”

If you’re hoping that those dire findings only apply to Western Europeans, think again. The reason we’re not hearing much about the effects of noise pollution on Americans isn’t because we’re unaffected — but because we’re not doing the research. “The US is lagging about a decade behind: President Ronald Reagan abolished the Environmental Protection Agency’s noise programme in 1982 and it has never been resurrected,” reports New Scientist. “Members of the US Congress are currently organising a seminar on the topic.”

Noise is a loud concern for me personally. I didn’t consider noise pollution when chose my current apartment in West Hollywood, but since moving, I’ve found that the larger number of motorcycles on the streets and helicopters hovering overhead are noticeably affecting my quality of life. Don’t even get me started about the leaf blowers!

What do you do to reduce noise pollution in your life?

The death toll of noise pollution
A World Health Organization report shows the high human cost of traffic noise.