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SoundScapeIssue 0210The effects of excessive noise on adults' wellbeing are well known. Noise has been linked to stress, depression and potential cardiovascular and blood pressure problems. Lesser known, or at least less publicised, is the negative effect noise can have on children and the impact it has on their learning. There is now evidence showing that noise can impede both children's cognitive and memory skills. More than 20 studies into the effects of noise have confirmed this, with leading research conducted in the UK, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Spain. This year the World Health Organization (WHO) released a worrying report, entitled Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise, which aims to quantify the damage caused by environmental noise to Europeans. In a section devoted to the effect of noise on children, the report concluded that "reliable evidence" indicated the "adverse effects" of chronic noise exposure on children's cognitive abilities. Using the DALY unit (DALY = disability-adjusted life year), effectively the number of years lost because of bad health, the WHO report calculated that in Europe alone 45,000 DALYs were lost every year due to environmental noise affecting children's cognitive abilities. In layman's terms this means that 45,000 years are lost per year in Europe. Or in even simpler terms, the effect of noise on children's learning is now quantifiable and is directly affecting their quality of life. With such research in mind, members of the Institute of Acoustics (IoA), the Association of Noise Consultants (ANC) and the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) have been putting pressure on the UK government for years to make sure that modern schools have good acoustics. Well designed classrooms with lower reverberation times help diminish the level of background noise travelling around the room. In effect, good acoustics in schools can help reduce the effect of noise on children's learning and ultimately on their health. A major breakthrough for acousticians, teachers and lobbyists came in 2003 when it became UK law that school building regulations had to follow guidelines set out in Building Bulletin 93 (BB93). As a result, the UK became the first country in the world to introduce legislation for the acoustic design of school buildings. Since 2003, several other countries, including Australia, Denmark, Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the USA, have introduced or revised similar guidelines or legislation. Maintaining current regulationsHowever, the combined result of a change in government and a global recession has meant that, at the time of writing, acoustic regulations are currently under threat. In Whitehall, BB93 is being reviewed while a recent consultation document sent out by the Department for Communities and Local Government presents a proposal that non-school buildings should be exempt from the planning process. Such an exemption could herald the birth of hundreds of acoustically catastrophic schools, potentially costing thousands of pounds to fix retrospectively. For a while it seemed as if years of progress were about to be wiped out by the stroke of a ministerial pen. However, lobbyists and acousticians are made of sterner stuff and the news prompted both the IoA and the ANC to meet up with MPs and governmental officials to express their concerns. Armed with a crib sheet, this determined group has patiently reminded ministers that a) neglecting acoustic design in schools could have considerable financial implications, b) bad acoustics can impede children's cognitive abilities and, finally, c) that it would be a shame for Britain to lose its lead on the world stage in terms of acoustic design in part of NAS' Love Your Ears campaign, SoundScape asked Matthew Cresswell to investigate the cost of poor acoustics on our children's education and the need for urgent action to protect the next generation

SoundScapeIssue 0211