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21st Century Noise Pollution Facts

The Facts About Noise Pollution

According to the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, “Noise is among the most pervasive pollutants today. The problem with noise is not only that it is unwanted, but also that it negatively affects human health and well-being. Problems related to noise include hearing loss, stress, high blood pressure, sleep loss, distraction and lost productivity, and a general reduction in the quality of life.”

In business, excessive noise can cause irreversible hearing loss, increased worker compensation claims, and higher insurance costs.

Noise problems are hardly confined to industrial areas. Whatever space, there are three essential approaches to controlling or eliminating noise:

  1. Contain the noise at the source by using mufflers, engineering controls, etc.
  2. Identify, isolate and treat the many paths noise will take with barriers, absorbers and dampers.
  3. Cancel the noise by reducing sound at the listener with headphones, earplugs, etc.

Twenty-first century noise pollution has evolved significantly from the clamor our forebears contended with in past centuries. Before there was vehicular traffic, jack-hammers, aircraft, and teenagers with radios, human hearing concerned itself with those sounds in nature that defined survival: the peal of thunderstorms, the vocalized threats of carnivorous beasts, and other naturally occurring environmental hubbub. Thus evolved the “fight or flight” response to noise, which today translates to noise-related stress.

Noise pollution is inescapable to all but those living in the most remote places on earth. From the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you drift off to sleep at night, you are bombarded with ambient noise; alarm clocks, construction equipment, automobile horns, cell phones – the list is endless, as is the list of mental and physical challenges human-created noise can cause, including:

• elevated blood pressure
• hearing loss
• increased stress
• fatigue
• stomach ulcers
• vertigo
• headaches.
• sleep disturbance
• frustration
• speech problems
• muscle-motor movement disorders
• aggression
• anxiety
• withdrawal
• lost productivity

Managing Noise Pollution: Going Green with Unwanted Sound

Many organizations and publications that promote green living, green construction, green manufacturing, and greenenergy focus on unhealthy pollutants that take the form of toxic or non-biodegradable waste.

Isn’t it time to include noise in the roll call of un-green, unhealthy pollutants?

Green living has taught us that every time a SUV is driven solo (no passengers), it’s adding more than 1.5 pounds per mile of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases to the environment. In the spirit of living green, many of us have changed our driving habits for the sake of the environment. We drive smaller cars, we carpool, and we take short trips on foot or by bike instead.

We buy reusable containers for carrying around water, and when we do buy bottled, we recycle the empties. We feed our families more organically-grown foods these days, and clean our homes with non-toxic cleansers because living green is healthier.

So when you consider the toll that noise pollution is taking on our health every day, you would think that addressing noisy matters would be number one on the list of “green living” priorities, or at least in the top five.

Noise pollution is a modern plague; it affects our hearing, our sleep patterns, our performance levels, and even the way food tastes. It has been documented to increase risks of heart disease and stroke. Noise pollution – from the neighbor’s constantly barking dog, to the unwelcome sounds of air and ground traffic, construction, manufacturing plants, lawn equipment and the hundreds of sources of ambient sounds that infiltrate our space daily – is not a component of green living.

Exposure to sound levels in excess of 85 decibels for more than eight hours is potentially unhealthy. Eighty-five decibels is roughly equivalent to the noise of heavy truck traffic on a busy road.

Above 85 decibels, hearing damage is related to sound pressure (measured in decibels) and to time of exposure. The major cause of hearing loss is occupational exposure to noise, although other sources (particularly recreational noise) are also culprits. Studies suggest that children seem to be more vulnerable than adults to noise induced hearing impairment. Children in noisy environments are also found to have more difficulty reading and learning, and experience a diminished quality of life.

Children, the elderly, and those with underlying depression may be particularly vulnerable to noise pollution because they may lack adequate coping mechanisms.

Noise pollution impairs task performance at work and in school, increases errors, and decreases motivation. Focusing, problem solving, and memory are most strongly affected by noise.

Although noise pollution is not believed to be a cause of mental illness, it is assumed to accelerate and intensify the development of latent mental disorders, anxiety, stress, nervousness, nausea, headache, emotional instability, argumentativeness, sexual impotence, changes in mood, increase in social conflicts, neurosis and psychosis. Population studies have suggested associations between noise and well-being, the use of psychoactive drugs and sleeping pills, and increased mental-hospital admission rates.

Noise levels above 80 decibels are associated with both an increase in aggressive behavior and a decrease in behavior helpful to others. News agencies regularly report violent behavior arising out of disputes over noise, often ending in injury or death. The effects of noise may help explain some of the dehumanization seen in the modern, congested, and noisy urban environment.

Noise pollution effects the environment very differently than regular fossil fuel pollution, but it can still have very negative effects. For this reason, many states and counties have developed noise control laws that designate exactly how much noise a vehicle can legally emit, or how loud a band can play in an outdoor restaurant. The problem with noise control laws, however, is they can be very difficult to enforce.

Green living is the healthy result of decades spent educating people on the ill effects of pollutants and ways to undo their damage. It’s time to include noise in the green education process that has produced citizens who recycle, compost, preserve water and energy, and look at the items bought and used every day differently than their parents and grandparents did.

It’s time to up the bar; involve citizens in managing noise wherever possible, and demand that businesses and other noise offenders do the same.

Noisy generators and HVAC units, pool pumps, car stereos played at heart-pounding volume and noise generated from a cranked home stereo all contribute to noise pollution. Even the drive to work and the eight-or-more hours spent there expose us to onslaughts of noise – construction, traffic, sirens and horns blaring, manufacturing plants, machinery and more – that take a toll on our health and wellbeing.

Even after years of living with noise in our daily lives, when we think we have become accustomed to it, our bodies are singing a different tune in the form of gradual hearing loss, cardiovascular disease, stress, sleep deprivation and other symptoms.

For one week, everyone shoud take note of the various noise sources that have become a part of their everyday lives. This might be a good start to recognizing those sounds that are harmful, and finding solutions to managing or eliminating the most damaging culprits.

We can even adapt some existing green slogans to eradicating noise:

Green revolution, the best solution to noise pollution.

I hear the Eco.

Be Quiet! Go Green!

Controlling Noise Pollution

Sound that is undesirable for human hearing is called as noise. When there is a lot of noise in the environment, it constitutes what is known as noise pollution. Noise pollution can be caused due to various sources – there is street noise, traffic noise, noise in public transport places, noise in playgrounds and parks, noise in the shopping malls, noise in workplaces… the list is endless. One of the greatest sources of noise pollution is the airports, and anyone staying close to an airport will attest to that.

Sources of Noise Pollution

Sound is measured in a unit known as decibel. Though there is no fixed particular decibel limit to decide when sound becomes noise, it is understood that a continuously high decibel limit will constitute noise pollution. Some areas do designate their own sound limits, which of course vary from one legislation to another. In the United States, most states have a sound limit of 65 dB in the daytime and 55 dB in the nighttime, applicable to the streets. Anyone crossing this limit would be causing noise pollution.

However, all these designated sound limits are too ambiguous, because most appliances we use in factories as well in the household go much beyond the prescribed limits. The following are some of the sources of noise pollution that we are quite familiar with, but generally ignore:-

* Appliances in the home such as mixer grinders, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, etc. together cause a cumulative sound of about 87 dB. This itself is above the sound limits in most areas. On top of that, if loudspeakers, television sets and music systems are used with high volumes, then we can well imagine how much noise pollution is being created.
* Small factories using single unit machines would cause a sound of about 98 dB and above. The sound will definitely go higher as the number of machines increase.
* Airplanes cause the highest sound among all – 150 dB. But road vehicles are also great contributors of noise pollution. These vehicles include the trucks, buses, tractors, SUVs and even motorcycles and most cars.
* Then there are lots of environmental sources of noise pollution that cannot be ignored. Continuous noises are the most distressing. Noise coming from sources such as dripping taps and ticking of clocks can contribute to environmental noise pollution.

Effects of Noise Pollution on Health

Noise pollution can take a severe toll on human health in the long run. These effects will not become apparent immediately, but there could be repercussions later on. The following is a list of the kinds of effects noise pollution will have on human health after continuous exposure for months, and even years:-

* The most immediate effect is a deterioration of mental health. As an example, people who are living too close to airports will probably be quite jumpy. Continuous noise can create panic episodes in a person and can even increase frustration levels. Also, noise pollution is a big deterrent in focusing the mind to a particular task. Over time, the mind may just lose its capacity to concentrate on things.
* Another immediate effect of noise pollution is a deterioration of the ability to hear things clearly. Even on a short-term basis, noise pollution can cause temporary deafness. But if the noise pollution continues for a long period of time, there’s a danger that the person might go stone deaf.
* Noise pollution also takes a toll on the heart. It is observed that the rate at which heart pumps blood increases when there is a constant stimulus of noise pollution. This could lead to side-effects like elevated heartbeat frequencies, palpitations, breathlessness and the like, which may even culminate into seizures.
* Noise pollution can cause dilation in the pupils of the eye, which could interfere in ocular health in the later stages of life.
* Noise pollution is known to increase digestive spasms. This could be the precursor of chronic gastrointestinal problems.

Controlling Noise Pollution

Governments are making their efforts for controlling noise pollution, but we must appreciate the difficulty of the task. Unless and until we take care of ourselves, the problems of noise pollution will always loom large. Here are some ways in which we can make individual efforts at reducing noise pollution for ourselves and for others:-

* We must constantly check up on the appliances we use at home. Most of them have rubber insulation that act for sound proofing. But over time, this insulation may wear out, and that is when the noise pollution will begin. Keep track of which appliances need maintenance, and replace insulation if needed.
* Growing trees is a very significant way in which roadside noise can be curtailed. Trees act as buffers for absorbing the sound that is produced on the streets and hence reduce noise pollution. That is the reason why roads with trees on both sides seem to be more silent and peaceful. Grow trees around your house if you can. It will protect you from the noise on the streets. This will also help if you stay close to an airport.
* Do not honk horns in your vehicles unless it is absolutely necessary. We all know how easily traffic sound limits are trespassed when there is a traffic jam. We might be desperate to get through, but honking horns will not solve any issues. It will only add to the noise pollution.
* If you are working in a factory that has a lot of noise issues, make it a point to wear earplugs and muffs. If you are the owner of the factory, provide these things to your workers.

(Excerpted from an article by By Neil Valentine D’Silva)

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