Campaigners sound alarm over proposed change to road noise limits

Photo: CTK

The business freesheet E15 has reported that the Czech Transport Ministry is looking at ways to increase acceptable limits of noise pollution in order to build new roads without breaking health and safety laws. So far the government ministries allegedly examining the proposals have denied knowledge of them, but noise pollution campaigners are already ringing the alarm bells.

The transport ministry, it seems, has a problem. As the free newspaper E15 wrote on Thursday, strict noise pollution laws introduced in 2006 make it difficult for the ministry to keep open existing roads or build new ones without erecting costly sound barriers.

Photo: CTK
The Health Ministry, claims E15, has therefore been asked to find ways of increasing the maximum amount of noise pollution permissible from traffic on main roads from 60 decibels to 65 decibels in the daytime, and from 50 to 55 decibels at night. That might not sound like much, says Pavel Doucha, a lawyer for the Ecological Legal Service, but in fact it’s a considerable change.

“A five decibel increase is really quite a lot – just try turning up a radio from 65 decibels to 70, you’ll hear the difference for yourself. Human perception of sound can’t be measured in a linear fashion – each extra decibel increases the amount of noise pollution exponentially. At the upper levels – i.e. over 60 decibels – each extra decibel is felt by the human ear.”

E15 says the Health Ministry failed to respond to requests for interviews, and a spokesman for the Environment Ministry said they had no knowledge of any planned increase. But Pavel Doucha – whose organization helps Czech citizens fight for their environmental rights – says the planned change is evidently a request from the Transport Ministry.

“The Transport Ministry has big problems with roads that are near or over the acceptable limit of noise pollution, because sound barriers cost lots of money and they’re complicated to put up. So it seems the Transport Ministry simply wants to get around the problem by watering down the limits. I think that tells you a lot about how the government treats its citizens; it’s spending money on new motorways and saving money on protecting public health.”

The Health Ministry proposal, claims E15, is currently at the internal evaluation stage, awaiting comments from regional public health officials. A number of other official bodies will have to be consulted before it reaches the cabinet for approval. Groups such as the Ecological Legal Service are unlikely to accept the changes without making a good deal of noise.