Towards a general framework for including noise impacts in LCA

Stefano Cucurachi*, Reinout Heijungs, Katrin Ohlau

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Purpose Several damages have been associated with the exposure of human beings to noise. These include auditory effects, i.e., hearing impairment, but also non-auditory physiological ones such as hypertension and ischemic heart disease, or psychological ones such as annoyance, depression, sleep disturbance, limited performance of cognitive tasks or inadequate cognitive development. Noise can also interfere with intended activities, both in daytime and nighttime. ISO 14'040 also indicated the necessity of introducing noise, together with other less developed impact categories, in a complete LCA study, possibly changing the results of many LCA studies already available. The attempts available in the literature focused on the integration of transportation noise in LCA. Although being considered the most frequent source of intrusive impact, transportation noise is not the only type of noise that can have a malign impact on public health. Several other sources of noise such as industrial or occupational need to be taken into account to have a complete consideration of noise into LCA. Major life cycle inventories (LCI) typically do not contain data on noise emissions yet and characterisation factors are not yet clearly defined. The aim of the present paper is to briefly review what is already available in the field and propose a new framework for the consideration of human health impacts of any type of noise that could be of interest in the LCA practice, providing indications for the introduction of noise in LCI and analysing what data is already available and, in the form of a research agenda, what other resources would be needed to reach a complete coverage of the problem. Main features The literature production related to the impacts of noise on human health has been analysed, with considerations of impacts caused by transportation noise as well as occupational and industrial noise. The analysis of the specialist medical literature allowed for a better understanding of how to deal with the epidemiological findings from an LCA perspective and identify areas still missing dose- response relations. A short review of the state-of-science in the field of noise and LCA is presented with an expansion to other contributions in the field subsequent to the comprehensive work by Althaus et al. (2009a; 2009b). Focusing on the analogy between toxicological analysis of pollutants and noise impact evaluation, an alternative approach is suggested, which is oriented to the consideration of any type of noise in LCA and not solely of transportation noise. A multi-step framework is presented as a method for the inclusion of noise impacts on human health in LCA. Results and discussion A theoretical structural framework for the inclusion of noise impacts in LCA is provided as a basis for future modelling expansions in the field. Rather than evaluating traffic/transportation noise, the method focuses on the consideration of the noise level and its impact on human health, regardless of the source producing the noise in an analogous manner as considered in the fields of toxicology and common noise evaluation practices combined. The resulting framework will constitute the basis for the development of a more detailed mathematical model for the inclusion of noise in LCA. The toxicological background and the experience of the analysis of the release of chemicals in LCA seem to provide sufficient ground for the inclusion of noise in LCA: taken into account the physical differences and the uniqueness of noise as an impact, the procedure applied to the release of chemicals during a product life cycle is key for a valuable inclusion of noise in the LCA logic. Conclusions It is fundamental for the development of research in the field of LCA and noise to consider any type of noise. Further studies are needed to contribute to the inclusion of noise sources and noise impacts in LCA. In this paper, a structure is proposed that will be expanded and adapted in the future and which forms the basic framework for the successive modelling phase.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)471-487
    Number of pages17
    JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - May 2012


    • Generic noise sources
    • Human health
    • LCA
    • Noise impact assessment


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