Talk about inspiration, as I sit writing this story my background “music” is the ceaseless hum of the Long Island Expressway, a jackhammer fixing a neighbor’s walkway and a large truck idling for well over an hour at my window.
Noise is unwanted sound; it is derived from the Latin word “nausea,” meaning seasickness. Noise is among the most pervasive pollutants today. Noise from road traffic, jet planes, garbage trucks, construction equipment, manufacturing processes, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and boom boxes, are among some of the unwanted sounds that are routinely broadcast into the air. We experience noise in a number of ways. On some occasions, we can be both the cause and the victim of noise, such as when we are operating noisy appliances or equipment.
There are also instances when we experience noise generated by others just as people experience second-hand smoke. While in both instances, noises are equally damaging, second-hand noise is more troubling because it has negative impacts on us but is put into the environment by others, without our consent. A national noise survey found that noise from barking dogs and road traffic have the greatest impact on residential communities. Noise from barking dogs is of particular concern because it is unpredictable and often happens repeatedly.
Exposure to noise is associated with a range of possible physical effects including: headaches, colds, sleep disruption and hypertension and changes in blood pressure, problems with the digestive system and general fatigue. Some costly problems are: increased health care costs to rectify loss of sleep, hearing problems or stress, increased mental hospital admission rates, greater susceptibility to minor accidents and increased reliance on sedatives and sleeping pills. It can include costs associated with building noise barriers alongside major transport routes, insulating affected buildings and the lowering of property prices for residential and commercial buildings.
A number of estimates have been made of the impact of environmental noise on housing prices and have found significant negative relationships between the two. These estimates show that noise negatively affects property values between 6-23%. Generally it appears that the impact per unit of noise increases at higher noise levels.
We measure sound by the decibel (dB) scale, which is a measure of sound intensity; that is, the magnitude of the fluctuations in air pressure caused by sound waves. The decibel scale is logarithmic, not arithmetic. This means that a doubling of sound intensity is not represented as a doubling of the decibel level. In fact, an increase of just 3 dB means twice as much sound, and an increase of 10 dB means ten times as much sound. A sound pressure level of 0 dB represents the threshold of hearing in the most sensitive frequency range of a young, healthy ear, while the thresholds of tickling or painful sensations in the ear occur at about 120 to 130 dB.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established 70 dB as a safe average for a 24-hour day. (This figure is based only on the risk to hearing, and does not take into account other health factors such as loss of sleep.) There is evidence that prolonged exposure to noise levels at or above 80 dB can cause deafness. With a sound level measured at around 96 decibels helicopters are louder than many other urban annoyances, such as traffic (80 decibels), the subway (90 decibels), lawnmowers (85 to 90 decibels) and diesel trucks (84 decibels). However, they are not as noisy as jackhammers (110 decibels), shotgun blasts (130 decibels), jet flyovers (103 decibels) or nightclubs (120 decibels).
A number of factors contribute to problems of high noise levels, including:
• Increasing population, particularly where it leads to increasing urbanization and urban consolidation; activities associated with urban living generally lead to increased noise levels
• Increasing volumes of road, rail and air traffic.
• Community awareness of environmental noise has increased and there is a higher expectation for commonwealth, state and local government to reduce noise levels.
For the sake of our kids, we must protect their hearing. As a parent, are you aware of how loud the toys you buy for your children are? Are you taking your children to movies with sounds so loud that the children have to hold their ears? Are you taking them to exceedingly loud video arcades or racing car events? Have you checked the volume of their children's headsets? According to Nancy Nadler of the League for the Hard of Hearing in New York City, many children's toys are dangerously loud. She measured rattles and squeaky toys as high as 110 dB, toy phones as loud as 129 dB, and cap guns measured beyond 140 dB. Parents should listen to toys before buying them. If they sound too loud, they will sound louder to the small child who will be holding the toys closer to the ear. Unfortunately, the federal government has not yet issued proper warnings about loud toys.
However, it is not only a child's hearing that can be harmed by sound. Unwanted sounds can be harmful even if these sounds are not that loud. In July 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that one of eight children between the ages of 6 and 19 is suffering noise-induced hearing loss. Our homes can be very noisy places. Blaring stereos and televisions, shouting voices, and loud appliances create a home environment that can be harmful to the child's development. Studies conducted in these noisy homes found that language and cognitive development in children were slowed. Unfortunately, our homes are located near noisy airports, highways, and railroads. Children exposed to sounds from these sources have been found to have higher blood pressure, lower reading scores, and a poorer quality of life. Parents must make an effort to lessen the noises in their own homes and bring some quiet into the lives of their children. When older individuals were interviewed, who had been high academic achievers in college, about their childhoods they learned that their parents provided them with quiet places at home to study, think, and read. These academic high achievers also recalled that their parents did not discipline them with shouts and screams, but with stern looks and firm voices. Their quieter homes very likely contributed to their achievements in school that turned out to predict later professional and personal success. Also, conversation flows easier in a quieter home, allowing for more interaction between parent and child. Quiet may even foster better parent-child relationships.
In our community we have a myriad of unwanted noise. The unwelcome noise from highway traffic is difficult to minimize because historically, land use planning has not been well integrated with transport planning, allowing residential developments and major transport corridors to occur in close proximity without appropriate buffer zones or treatment to buildings. Some reasons for increased traffic noise are:
• there has been an increasing community reliance on road transportation, and a reluctance to implement or accept partial solutions involving greater use of public transport
• traffic on many existing roads through built-up areas has increased well beyond expectations prevailing during planning or construction of the roadways
• potential solutions, apart from new vehicle noise standards are complex, often costly, and require coordinated actions by a number of agencies and the community
• while there is high community awareness of the problem, there is a general lack of understanding of its extent and possible solutions.
Rail noise can be considerable, but generally affects a far smaller group of the population than road or aircraft noise as it is generally confined to residents living along rail lines in urban areas While changes to locomotives and rolling stock mean that they have become quieter over the last few years, railway noise remains a problem because of longer, more frequent and faster trains and the build up of the urban environment.
Air pollution from commercial aircraft exhaust has long been recognized as an environmental problem, but what about noise pollution? As passenger volume increases and new and larger airports are built, noise is becoming even more of a concern.
According to SAFE (Sane Aviation For Everyone, Inc.,) a coalition of independent citizens groups and individuals in the New York City metropolitan area, Chicago residents receive a huge amount of money to protect their families from airport noise. However, New York City residents, who according to a Natural Resources Defense Council study have the highest number of aircraft noise-impacted people near any U.S. airports, get nothing! Not one cent is spent on residential home soundproofing. Why are New York City politicians ignoring the health impacts of aviation on New Yorkers and allowing New York City not to be in the FAA Part 150 Program, which would soundproof homes? Is New York City resident’s health less important than the people in other cities? Why is the local news media ignoring this clear case of anti-New York discrimination? SAFE is dedicated to stopping and reversing the environmental and health impacts of JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Airports and the fair sharing of these impacts. The JPCA is affiliated with SAFE.
What can we do? Unfortunately, in the United States there are no national, provincial, or state laws that give blanket protection against noise, though there are some specific regulations governing manufacturing standards, air traffic, vehicle mufflers, and so on. Criminal laws may also cover things like noisy parties. Governments have traditionally viewed noise as a “nuisance” rather than an environmental problem. As a result, most regulation has been left up to municipal authorities. For starters how about including all areas to receive the soundproofing barriers along the LIE? How about quieting the surface of the LIE itself? Hey cops, how about ticketing the belligerent Harley driver with the noisy straight muffler-pipe? We, as a community need to demand more tests and demand our government provide us with a quieter environment; that our health deserves! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your noise gripe.
Read: Noise & Health, edited by Thomas H. Fay and published by The New York Academy of Medicine (1991)
At http://www3.sympatico.ca/noise/ take a free noise test online by NoiseWatch Online
See: SAFE: http://pages.prodigy.net/rockaway/safe.htm, www.noisefree.org, www.Nonoise.org, www.cenyc.org (Council on the Environment for NYC), www.worldrevoltion.org and www.newrules.org.
Businesses: Pollution Control Consultancy and Design http://www.pccd.com.au/noise _dispersion.htm
1 out of 8 Americans suffers from some degree of hearing impairment
Rule of thumb: If you have to raise your voice while speaking to someone three feet away from you, then your immediate environment could be hazardous to your health.