Many of us live and work in places where noise pollution is a nuisance. You can hear traffic, airplanes and construction work. Yet not enough people appreciate the impact on human health and the natural world. What are the real causes of noise pollution?
As the wise band AC/DC once sang, “rock and roll ain’t noise pollution” — so we can rule that out. Here’s a look at these sounds are and how they take a toll.
What Is Noise Pollution?
Noise pollution is any sound that bothers you. It’s something that’s unpleasantly loud or comes from an unnatural source. Ultimately, it disrupts the natural balance in the area.
Most types of pollution, like smog or dirty water, is easy to detect. Sound is different. It’s measured in decibels, something we can’t determine with our ears. Extended exposure to noise at or above 85 decibels — like running the vacuum — can cause hearing loss.
Factors That Contribute to Noise Pollution
Many causes of noise pollution exist, including the five contributors below.
Industrial Areas and Equipment
Generators, fans, power tools and compressors create significant amounts of noise pollution for workers and nearby residents. Personal protective equipment (PPE) — which protects your hearing — is required by OSHA in certain work environments. However, using it correctly is a personal choice.
Vehicles and Transportation Infrastructure
It’s easy for people who live near trains or subways to get used to the background noise, yet it’s not healthy. Busy streets and highways also contribute to noise pollution, as do planes as they depart and approach airports.
Social Events and Gatherings
It’s all too easy to forget how loud events can get. Concerts and parties — even some bars, restaurants and dance clubs — create unsafe levels of noise pollution. Many shows pump out 110 decibels or more, which is enough to damage your hearing in less than five minutes.
New structures built by the construction industry are worth trillions. Yet with numerous projects underway at any given moment, noise pollution from heavy vehicles, tools and traffic can be intense.
Shortsighted Urban Planning
The way we design our cities, housing areas and streets has a direct impact on noise pollution. Logically, densely-populated areas have higher levels of noise pollution than rural ones.
Some cities find erecting taller buildings between roadways and homes shields residents from noise and pollutants. Still, builders can do more with materials and interiors to mitigate the pollution.
Many of us play fast and loose with our hearing daily. Listening to overly loud music using headphones, attending sporting events and operating power tools, all activities that can damage your hearing if sustained too long.
Why, exactly, is noise pollution so dangerous?
How Noise Pollution Affects Human Health
The human body does not rank high in the animal kingdom when it comes to durability. Sustained or intense noises can cause severe health problems, including:
- Heightened stress levels
- High or irregular blood pressure
- NIHL (noise-induced hearing loss)
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep
- Heart and cardiovascular disease
Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common problem people experience due to prolonged exposure to sound. However, 610,000 Americans die from some form of heart disease every year, making it the leading cause of death for men and women. Not every risk factor for heart disease is avoidable. However, exposure to loud sound is something we can reduce.
Noise pollution disrupts natural sleep patterns and makes it harder to get restful and restorative rest. This problem results in fatigue that worsens over time. With fatigue, it’s hard to give it your all at school and work, even in personal relationships.
Humans can do plenty to reduce personal noise levels. They can wear earplugs or headphones in loud areas, especially if they work in a factory or regularly attend concerts. They can also shut off sound-producing devices when not in use. Unfortunately, much of the noise pollution we experience comes from outside forces.
When it comes to heightened stress levels, studies reveal a correlation between exposure to noise pollution in the workplace and higher tension. Noise also leads to a higher likelihood of aggressive behaviors.
Is It Time for Peace and Quiet?
Now that we better understand the many causes of noise pollution and their effects on public health, it’s time to reduce our collective output. As the public becomes aware of the threat posed by air and water pollution, we consider how individuals and companies can make a change. The world needs the same kind of awareness toward noise pollution.
Excessive sound does’t merely pose a risk to humans. It also has adverse effects on the environment.
High noise pollution from naval sonar, ocean vessels and seismic surveys is associated with whales losing their bearings and beaching themselves. This issue disrupts mating and feeding behaviors in many animals and leads to lower biodiversity among bird populations. Biodiversity is the foundation upon which healthy ecosystems and scientific progress are built.
Environmental groups, urban planners, interior designers, public health experts and everyday citizens all have a role to play as we get serious about the impact of noise pollution. In this situation, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.