Life is sometimes noisy: babies cry, dogs bark, lawns have to be mowed and garbage trucks need to do their rounds. But when do the everyday sounds of a neighborhood go from being merely a nuisance to a health hazard? Studies are revealing more and more that loud noises, such as those created by a construction site, a loud club, or a freeway, can do real damage to our health–and hearing damage is only the beginning. Other symptoms of prolonged exposure to noise pollution include increased stress levels, psychological problems, high blood pressure, heart issues and insomnia. Noise can even disrupt a child’s cognitive development. As the public becomes more aware of these very real health hazards, people are asking what they can do to reduce their exposure to noise pollution in their neighborhoods. Read on for some common sources of noise pollution, and a few steps you can take to ensure you, your loved ones and your neighbors are protected.
What constitutes noise pollution?
When there is an excessive level of noise or an unpleasant sound that harms the natural balance of life, either for people or animals, we define it as noise pollution. Disruptive outdoor noise is largely caused by machines, construction activities, and transportation such as motor vehicles, aircraft, and trains, though other city sounds such as clubs, bars, and outdoor social events contribute to noise pollution as well.
Les Bloomberg, executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (NPC), an anti-noise advocacy group based in Montpelier, Vermont, says: “The old definition of noise was ‘unwanted sound’. But we [should] define noise as any sound that impacts or harms the health of people. This definition is more consistent with definitions of other forms of pollution, including air pollution.”
In most developed countries, the water and air are cleaner than they were 30 years ago; noise pollution, however, is increasing.
Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when someone is exposed to noise above 85 decibels for a prolonged period of time (though it varies from person to person). Noise that is between 120 and 140 decibels can actually cause pain in the ears.
Common sources of noise pollution:
Traffic is the primary cause of noise pollution in cities, and a major concern for health officials. Living near a freeway or a busy road exposes people to the sounds of constantly passing traffic, honking horns, police and ambulance sirens, loud trucks and cars that are not properly maintained.
Traffic decibel (dB) levels:
When a car has a hole in its muffler: 111 dB
When a car does not have a muffler: 115 dB
Police sirens: 118 dB
Heavy street traffic: 70 dB
Busy freeway at 50 feet: 80 dB
Passing train at 50 feet: 88 dB
Subway train at 200 feet: 95 dB
Airport traffic is another major concern, as living in close proximity to an airport has been linked to a number of issues including a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and lifelong problems for children growing up under a flight path. At a busy airport, planes take off and land as frequently as every 90 seconds, and this constant noise intrusion can take a heavy psychological and physical toll on the health. In addition to the noise of passing aircraft, people who live near airports often turn up the volume of their televisions and stereos to compensate, adding to the din.
Air traffic decibel levels:
Jet engine at 100 feet: 140 dB
Living near an airport: 55-75 dB
Many of the sounds that come from residences or businesses in a neighborhood contribute to noise pollution, and can lead to noise-induced hearing loss as well.
-Music coming from a concert venue, bar, home or car stereo system: up to 150 dB, as loud as a jet engine
-Living near dogs with high-pitched barks: 80-90 dB
-Leaf blowers, lawn mowers, power tools and other loud at-home machinery: 60-110 dB
-Vacuum cleaner: 74 dB
-An air conditioning unit: 60 dB
How can you protect yourself against noise pollution?
You might be someone who lives in relative peace or someone who constantly feels the effects of noise pollution in your home. Either way, it’s important to know what your rights are regarding sound levels and how to limit noise within your home environment.
Issues of noise pollution in the U.S. are handled by local and state governments. The Environmental Protection Agency Act of 1992 provides for various actions to be taken to prevent or limit noise pollution, and local authorities have powers to prevent or limit noise. As such, if you have a noise nuisance that is not being resolved, you should report it to the Environment Section of the relevant local authority. Most cities and states have quiet hours, often between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., during which noise pollution is not permitted.
Unfortunately, poor urban planning in cities often leads to increased noise levels for citizens, and in certain cases (such as living near a factory or freeway) there may not be much the authorities can do to help you. But as a homeowner who wants a peaceful and quiet neighborhood, there are a few things that you can do to limit your exposure to damaging noise, as well as reduce the levels of noise pollution that you produce:
-If you have a yard, building a fence can help to block out the noise pollution. Vegetation acts a great buffer, so plant plenty of it.
-In your own home, limit noise pollution by putting foam or vibration mounts under major appliances.
-Install carpet or linoleum, which are good at absorbing sound, as are window drapes.
-Seal cracks and holes in your doors with foam sealant or caulk.
-Talk with your neighborhood association about the noise problem, and work together with your neighbors for a solution.
-Also worth checking out: howloud.com. This website, created by an LA-based company with the mission to map the world of noise, can give you a “sound score” for different geographical locations within cities.
If you are concerned about noise-induced hearing loss, the first step is to take a hearing test. Contact us at Preferred Hearing Solutions today to schedule an appointment.