Global Noise Pollution Issues

EU Gets Serious About Noise Pollution

Global Noise Pollution Issues – Traffic-related noise may account for more than one million healthy life years lost in Europe, according to the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s in-house science service.

That’s one million healthy life years lost due to traffic noise alone. If you’re still not alarmed by the effects of noise pollution on well-being, it’s time to pay closer attention.

Europe is getting serious about noise pollution, as it proved this past summer when London police abruptly shut down Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen in observance of local noise ordinance rules. Plenty of people were upset about that, but the fact is noise is having a seriously negative impact on the health and quality of our lives and the wildlife with whom we share this planet. Someone had to take a leadership role and begin the pioneering task of quieting the world. Europe has taken on the challenge in earnest.

It’s time to give the EU credit for not only creating fairly strict laws to curb noise pollution, but enforcing them as well. When it comes to noise ordinances anywhere in the world, they always seem to fall short when it gets down to enforcement.

EU Member States last week published a new set of common noise assessment methods that will make evaluating noise exposure easier, thus allowing officials to set up appropriate policies to reduce noise pollution across Europe. The new methods, formally known as Common Noise Assessment Methods in Europe (CNOSSOS-EU), evaluate noise from roadways, air traffic, rail, and industry, and provide consistent data on noise levels to which people are exposed.

Global Noise Pollution Issues

Global Noise Pollution Issues

This common set of noise assessment methods will be the basis by which officials obtain comparable figures by the end of 2013. All EU Member States will be required to start using the CNOSSOS methods for Europe’s next round of strategic noise mapping in 2017.

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik calls noise a serious environmental risk noise a serious environmental risk to public health, especially in urban areas, due to increased traffic and inefficient urban planning. The CNOSSOS-EU will aid European Commission in coordinating the methods used to assess exposure to noise so that data collected from all 27 countries can be compared uniformly, and efficient solutions to noise exposure across Europe will be more effective. The concept is an EU-wide systematic approach to managing noise pollution.

I compare this approach to traffic laws in the U.S. – they’re universal. No matter where you drive in America, you know what yellow, red, and green lights mean. Roadway signage is immediately identifiable, and everyone – well, almost everyone – knows what is expected of them in order to comply with traffic laws anywhere in the U.S.

It makes sense that the EU is approaching its noise pollution issues this way, not just economically speaking, but enforcement will be more widely accepted and it seems that in a decade or so, Europeans will be uniformly adhering to noise ordinances. There is no other way any noise pollution solution is going to work.

I imagine there may be some resistance, or at least I think there would be here in the U.S., where noise is almost a civil right to many of us. Americans like their car stereos loud and their parties rambunctious, but as we all begin to realize that a noise-free restaurant meal, or hotel room, or home near an airport would be a welcome thing, it’s never going to happen without the kind of intensive planning and orchestration that the EU has so carefully planned and begun to instigate.

Are Americans ready to pull the plug on Springsteen at 10 p.m.? I think not, which is why Europe will beat us to peace and quiet by at least decade or more. They’ll leave us in their noise pollution dust if the same serious initiative isn’t taken this side of the pond.

Americans are suffering from the same noise-related sleep disorders, health effects, and hearing loss as the Europeans, and yet Americans are reluctant to give up some of the worst noise offenders – boom cars, for instance, which are illegal in some countries, continue to (literally) blow out the eardrums of drivers and passengers before they’re 20. Helicopters, motorcycles, and most forms of transportation are filling the environment with noise. We like our concerts and radios loud, we build our gymnasiums, restaurants, bars and hotels with inadequate consideration of acoustical consequences.

Global Noise Pollution Issues

Global Noise Pollution Issues

We are attached to our noise, although the love affair is waning as noise pollution has reached epidemic proportions globally.  Like second hand cigarette smoke, eventually noise will be understood as the health hazard it is, and taking measures to curb it will become a universal effort. I hope.

If the U.S. were to adopt a common framework for noise assessment methods similar to the EU version, it could facilitate the preparation of detailed action plans to reduce and eventually prevent harmful noise levels in our everyday environments.

The EU’s Environmental Noise Directive was introduced in 2002, but the first EU-wide noise mapping exercise, performed in 2007, found considerable differences in assessment methods, data collection, and quality. Because of the inconsistency of the data collected in the first study, officials identified the need to devise the new common noise assessment methods being put in place now.

Some chilling stats:

In addition to traffic-related noise accounting for more than one million healthy life years lost in Europe, the economic costs of traffic, rail and road noise pollution across the EU were recently estimated at € 40 billion per year (just less than 52 billion U.S. dollars), equivalent to 0.35% of the EU’s GDP. According to the European Commission’s 2011 White Paper on Transport, traffic noise-related external costs will increase €20 billion (about 26 billion U.S. dollars) per year by 2050 (compared to 2005) unless further action is taken.

Strategic noise maps identify EU priorities for action planning and to provide global assessments of noise exposure across Europe. The information they glean helps to inform the general public about the levels of noise to which they are exposed, to enable reliable estimates of noise-associated disease, and to inform the public about actions in progress to reduce noise pollution.

Noise Pollution in the Most Unlikely Places

Global Noise Pollution Issues – In the ancient, picturesque Town of Kendal, County of Cumbria in the UK’s Lake District just under 300 miles north of London, you could almost doze off just looking at the gentle green pastures, rolling hills, and soft puffy clouds against pale blue skies. This quiet, peaceful place, seemingly devoid of anything remotely resembling noise pollution, borders Scotland to the north and the Irish Sea to the West (just beyond the Lake District National Forest.)

There are dells with grazing sheep, and nearby towns with names that sound like they were lifted from the pages of Harry Potter.

Kendal is actually famed for its peace and quiet – despite the fact that for the past 120 years, a series of iconic bells in the Kendal Town Hall bell tower have rung every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Night and day.

Every 15 minutes.

For 120 years.

But that’s about to change.

Two ladies who own the Rainbow Tavern pub (across the road from the Kendal Town Hall), Carol Page and Sharon Clement, have been trying to undo 120 years of tradition since they took ownership of their pub for months, citing noise levels well above the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 45 decibels – well above. The pub owners have measured decibel levels of 79 and higher, and they say they have had enough.

Global Noise Pollution Issues

Global Noise Pollution Issues

Page and Clement aren’t the first people to complain about the noisy bells, but they are apparently the first not to back down to the locals who grew up within earshot of those bells ringing every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, and are rather attached. It’s the locals who hold the bells in high esteem, and do not want them turned off at night, which is what the pub ladies and a few other local hotel and B&B owners have requested. Just turn them off from 11.p.m. to 7 a.m. is all they’re asking.

See, the Town of Kendall depends on tourism for its livelihood, and those bells – an important part of the tiny British country town’s identity for more than a century – are bad for business. They’re disturbing the sleep of residents and vacationers alike, and they’re stressing Page and Clement out. They need their vacationers to be happy and well rested, not only so they come back, but so they don’t leave bad reviews on the travel websites.

The landladies of the Rainbow Tavern pub say the bells’ peal interferes with their sleep and enrages their guests.

The bells risk ‘crippling’ their business, just across the road.

“We get so many complaints from guests,” Page told a British tabloid reporter. “If someone complains on Trip Advisor, it could cripple us.”

Page and Clement took ownership of the Rainbow Tavern just three months ago and the women have been trying to get the noisy bells turned off at night ever since.

Local environmental health officials had in the past ruled the bells sound levels to be “appropriate,” but the pub ladies say no one never actually tested the sound levels.

Now, after monitoring the decibel levels from the pub for 24 hours, the decibel reading measured up to 79, well in the range of unacceptable, and constitutes a statutory noise nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act.

The constant clamor of the bells was increasing anxiety and stress levels in some of the town’s residents, including Page and Clement, and finally the town council last week ordered a bell curfew between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

We have seen other incidents here in the U.S. of neighbors complaining about noisy church bells in residential communities that were so loud they constituted noise pollution in the ears of the neighbors who were stuck listening to them all day on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

Global Noise Pollution Issues

Global Noise Pollution Issues

Noise abatement notices are being doled out to churches in the U.K and the U.S. lately, as awareness of the dangers of noise pollution spreads. In the U.S., a battle began brewing when legal action was taken against a Phoenix, Arizona church after the pastor defied a legal action demanding he stop ringing his church’s electronic chimes incessantly on weekends and holidays. In fact three Phoenix worship centers were closed down due to their bell clamor, and worshipers are calling foul, claiming their freedom to worship is being infringed upon. Similar battles are being waged in San Francisco and elsewhere.

It’s not always easy to explain why a sound that is joyous to one person can be excruciating to another, but in the church bell dramas unfolding across the U.S. and Britain, it seems high decibel levels are causing courts to side against the bell ringers.

Back in Kendal, generations of locals who grew up listening to those bells every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are incensed that people moving to the area are changing the town’s traditions.

Kendal Civic Society member Patricia Hovey said she spoke for a majority of locals who grew up in Kendal, stating ‘So, for 120 years we’ve all been subjected to unacceptable noise?

‘I think it’s ridiculous – certain noises are unacceptable but this isn’t one of them, it is part of the town’s charm and history,” Hovey said.

“I don’t see why (the bells) should be turned off; it should be for local people to decide – if you move next to a pig farm, you wouldn’t complain about the smell!”

Page, Clement, and other bell noise whistle blowers say that they’re only asking for a break at night so their guests and they can get a good night’s sleep.

“One or two people have argued that the bells have been around for a long time, but so was slavery,” Page said. “It’s a beautiful sound and we respect tradition, but I don’t understand who benefits at night.”

But the issue has been raised in the past. In the 1980s, a similar struggle to quiet the bells at night was rejected by the town council. But in the 1940’s, residents of a local hotel had the bells muted at night after much complaining.

Christian groups in the U.S. and the UK say they believe the move to silence church bells is driven by secularists to restrict Christian freedom to worship. However, folks who want the bells quieted insist the