We live in a busy active environment. Drivers honking horns. Construction workers digging, drilling, hammering. Aircraft flying overhead. Sirens screaming. All contributing to the invisible pollution of noise. Noise pollution is considered to be any unwanted or disturbing sound that affects our health and well-being.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines noise above 65 decibels (dB) as noise pollution. And studies show noise becomes harmful when it exceeds 75 dB and is painful above 120 dB. WHO recommends noise levels be kept below 65 dB during the day and nighttime noise levels at 30 dB or below. WHO uses the value of 55 dB as the ideal maximum for exposure most of the time.
Common sources of noise pollution
- Traffic noise – accounts for most urban noise pollution. Heavy traffic produces 85 dB while honking horns produce up to 110 dB.
- Air traffic noise – The level of activity or volume may be less, but the impact is significantly greater. A single aircraft produces 140 dB.
- Construction sites – From building construction to road repair, the equipment used is very noisy. A pneumatic drill produces 120 dB.
- Urban activity – Restaurants (85 dB), sporting events (117 dB), concerts (110-120 dB), and associated activities cause repeated exposure to harmful noise.
- Animals – a howling or barking dog can produce between 60-110 dB.
Impact of noise pollution
As well as damaging our hearing, constant loud noise can damage our overall health in many other ways:
- Physical – Headaches are the most common symptom, but respiratory distress, poor digestion, high blood pressure, hearing loss, and, in case of extremely loud, constant noise, gastritis, colitis, and even heart attacks.
- Psychological – Noise can trigger high levels of stress, mood changes, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and hysteria in both humans and animals.
- Sleep and behavioral disorders -Noise above 45 dB can prevent restful sleep. Poor sleep can result in irritably and aggressive behavior.
- Memory and concentration – Noisy environments can negatively affect our ability to focus, concentrate, learn, and be productive whether at home, in the office, or in the classroom.
Protecting yourself from noise pollution
Steps that can be taken to protect your hearing and health against harmful noise pollution:
- Turn off appliances – Reduce cumulative din by turning off TVs, games, music, computers, etc.
- Shut the door when using noisy machines – When using the dishwasher or washing machine consider closing the door, turning them on before leaving the house, and/or running one at a time to avoid overlapping of exposure.
- Lower the volume – Be sound aware by listening to songs, radios, TVs at a lower volume when listening from headphones or speakers.
- Avoid noisy areas – Stay away from noise-producing areas with heavy industries, airports, vehicle traffic, loud concerts, and sporting events.
- Plant trees – Trees absorb noise. According to studies, they can reduce noise by 5 – 10 dB.
- Lower transportation sound – Use alternatives modes of transport such as bicycles or electric vehicles. Don’t unnecessarily idle your car.
- Use noise-absorbing material – Use rugs, carpets, wall décor, and other furnishings to absorb noise.
- Insulate with noise-absorbing materials and install sound-blocking windows in buildings.
Public policy and noise pollution
Looking at the larger picture, consider being an advocate for:
- Promoting noise pollution education and overall environmental education.
- Protecting natural areas like countrysides, green buffer zones, city parks, etc. from noise.
- Creating silent zones in areas near schools and hospitals.
- Creating pedestrian areas where traffic is only allowed to enter to offload goods.
- Replacing traditional asphalt with alternative options that reduce traffic noise.
- Establishing regulations, which include preventive and corrective measures, for zones between residential areas and sources of noise like airports and highways.
Noise impacts our health. People, traffic, electronics, and urban activity are everywhere. While it is possible to manage our exposure to noise, it is just as important to recognize the impact on our quality of life and consider realistic and sustainable ways to manage and reduce noise pollution.
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