Most of us are accustomed to the sounds we hear every day. Whether it’s loud music, the television, people talking on their phones, the traffic, and even pets barking in the middle of the night, these have all but become a part of the urban culture, and they rarely disturb us.
However, when the sound of the television keeps you from sleeping all night or the traffic starts giving you a headache, it transcends the boundaries of mere noise and qualifies as noise pollution.
For many of us, the concept of pollution is limited to nature and resources. However, the noise that tends to disrupt the natural rhythm of life makes for one of the biggest pollutants.
Noise Pollution: The Basics
By definition, noise pollution occurs when there is either an excessive amount of noise or an unpleasant sound that causes a temporary disruption in the natural balance.
This definition usually applies to unnatural sounds or noises in either their volume or production.
Our environment is such that it has become difficult to escape the noise. Even electrical appliances at home have a constant hum or beeping sound.
And generally, the lack of urban planning has been in the frontline of increasing the exposure to unwanted sounds. This is why understanding noise pollution is necessary to curb it in time.
Types of Noise Pollution
Before taking a closer look at the various causes of noise pollution, let us first understand the two primary types of noise.
This refers to the noise created due to man-made activities. It can be anything from construction work, noise from the air, vehicular traffic, household noise, or noise from pubs and bars, to name a few. Ranging from 30 to a whopping 140 dB, this form of noise is extremely harmful to humans.
Environmental Noise refers to the kind of noise occurring from a range of environmental activities. This can be anything from animals’ mating call to thunderstorms and can often go up to 140 dB.
Various Causes of Noise Pollution on Humans and Wildlife
Multiple causes may contribute to noise pollution. Some of the most popular causes are listed below.
Most industries use big machines capable of producing a large amount of noise. Apart from that, various equipment like compressors, generators, exhaust fans, and grinding mills greatly contribute to noise pollution.
In fact, the fact that we’ve all seen workers in these factories and industries wearing earplugs to minimize the effect of noise tells you about the level of noise these activities produce.
However, even after taking precautionary measures like these, extensive exposure to high levels of noise might damage their hearing abilities in the long run.
2. Poor Urban Planning
In most developing countries, poor urban planning also plays a vital role in causing noise pollution. Congested houses, large families sharing small space, fight over parking, and frequent fights over basic amenities have all caused this type of pollution, disrupting the environment and society.
Of course, that’s not all, as noise pollution in urban settings may also be caused when residential properties and industrial buildings are in proximity. In situations like these, the noise from the nearby industrial property might hinder the basic well-being of the individuals living in residential properties.
This noise doesn’t just affect their sleep and hours of rest but also has an adverse effect on the development and well-being of children.
3. Household Chores
We’re surrounded by gadgets and use them extensively in our daily lives. Devices like TVs, mobile, mixer grinders, pressure cookers, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and dryers, coolers, and air conditioners are minor contributors to the amount of noise in our environment. Still, it affects the quality of life in your neighborhood in a bad way.
While this form of pollution may seem harmless, it, in fact, has far-reaching consequences. The adverse effects on the health of the environment are quite severe. Not only is the local wildlife affected by pollution, but humans also face a number of problems due to it.
4. Social Events
Noise is at its peak in most of the social events. Whether it is marriage, parties, pub, disc, or place of worship, people normally flout rules set by the local administration and create a nuisance in the area.
People play songs at full volume and dance till midnight and sometimes morning, making the condition of people living nearby worse. In markets, you can see people selling clothes by making a loud noise to attract people’s attention.
While this may not seem like much at the outset, it affects the hearing abilities of the individuals constantly exposed to these sounds over time.
Many vehicles on roads, airplanes flying over houses, and underground trains produce heavy noise, and people find it difficult to get accustomed to that.
The high noise leads to a situation wherein a normal person loses the ability to hear properly.
6. Construction Activities
Under construction activities like mining, construction of bridges, dams, buildings, stations, roads, and flyovers are in almost every part of the world.
These construction activities occur daily, owing to our constant demand for more buildings and bridges to accommodate more people.
However, while this does help us to some degree, in the long run, the noise from construction activities hinders the hearing abilities of individuals exposed to this sound.
Part of those affected is construction workers who participate in these activities, while another part of it consists of people who encounter these noise either from their homes or while traveling.
7. Noise From Air Traffic
While many find it difficult to believe, air traffic also contributes to significant levels of noise pollution. Noise from a single aircraft may produce sounds of up to 130 dB. Now, imagine the amount of noise produced by the numerous aircraft traveling in our airspace.
8. Catering and Nightlife
When the weather is good, restaurants, bars, and terraces spill outside. Late-night parties continue with loud music, and unnecessary noise made by the party mongers persists. These can produce more than 100 dB. Of course, noise from pubs and clubs is also included.
9. Animals’ Sound
The noise of animals cannot go unnoticed, particularly a howling or barking dog. This type of noise can range between 60-80 dB.
Fatal Effects of Noise Pollution
Like other types of pollution, noise pollution isn’t harmless. Here are some of the effects it can cause:
1. Hearing Problems
Our ears can take in a certain range of sounds without getting damaged. Any unwanted sound that our ears have not been built to filter can cause problems within the body.
Man-made noises such as jackhammers, horns, machinery, airplanes, and even vehicles can be too loud for our hearing range.
Constant exposure to loud noises can easily damage our eardrums and hearing loss, causing tinnitus or deafness. It also reduces our sensitivity to sounds that our ears pick up unconsciously to regulate our body’s rhythm.
2. Psychological Issues
Excessive noise pollution in working areas such as offices, construction sites, bars, and even in our homes can influence psychological health.
Studies show that the occurrence of aggressive behavior, disturbance of sleep, constant stress, fatigue, depression, anxiety, hysteria, and hypertension in humans and animals can be linked to excessive noise levels.
The level of irritation increases with increased noise, and people tend to become less and less patient. These, in turn, can cause more severe and chronic health issues later in life.
3. Physical Problems
Noise pollution can cause headaches, high blood pressure, respiratory agitation, and racing pulse, and if extremely loud, constant noise, gastritis, colitis, and even heart attacks may occur.
4. Cognitive Issues & Behavioral Changes
Noise affects brain responses and people’s ability to focus, leading to low performance levels over time. Like other sound waves, too much noise when it goes to the brain leads to lower response rates and dulls the mind.
It is also poor for memory, making it hard to study. Studies have shown that schoolchildren living near railway stations or airports have problems in learning.
Elsewhere, another research has also shown that people who live near airports or busy roads usually have a higher incidence of headaches, take more sleeping pills and sedatives, are more prone to minor accidents, and are more likely to seek psychiatric treatment.
5. Sleeping Disorders
While it may not seem like much at this point, excessively high noise levels are likely to hamper your sleeping pattern, leading to irritation and uncomfortable situations.
Without a good night’s sleep, you might experience multiple problems related to fatigue. This will affect your performance in the office as well as at home. Therefore, it is recommended to take a sound sleep to give your body proper rest.
If a certain noise is disturbing your sleep, take an actionable measure to reduce it. While in some instances it is completely unavoidable, there are other instances (like noise from TV or gadgets) that can be easily avoided by making good lifestyle changes.
Interestingly, our ears need rest for 16 hours and even more to make up for two hours of exposure to 100 dB.
6. Cardiovascular Issues
Blood pressure levels, cardiovascular disease, and stress-related heart problems are rising.
As aforementioned, studies suggest that high-intensity noise causes high blood pressure and increases heartbeat, disrupting normal blood flow.
Since bringing these rates to a manageable level depends on our understanding of noise pollution, we must be wary of the ill effects and tackle these situations mindfully.
7. Trouble Communicating
High-decibel noise can cause trouble and affect free communication between people. This may lead to misunderstanding, and you may have difficulty understanding the other person. Constant sharp noise can give you a severe headache and disturb your emotional balance.
8. Effect on Wildlife
Wildlife faces far more problems than humans because of noise pollution since they are more dependent on sound. Animals develop a better sense of hearing than us since their survival depends on it.
A recent study published in Biology Letters found that human-created noise affects many animals. The ill effects of excessive noise begin at home. Pets react more aggressively in households where there is constant noise.
They become disoriented more easily and face many behavioral problems. In nature, animals may suffer from hearing loss, which makes them easy prey and leads to dwindling populations. Others become inefficient at hunting, while some opt to migrate, disturbing the balance of the ecosystem.
9. Effects on Species Depending on Mating Call
Species that depend on mating calls to reproduce are often unable to hear these calls due to excessive man-made noise.
As a result, they are unable to reproduce and cause declining populations. Others require sound waves to locate and find their way when migrating.
Disturbing their sound signals means they get lost easily and do not migrate when they should. Animals are becoming louder to cope with the increasing sound around them, which may further increase pollution levels. This is why understanding noise pollution can help us lower the impact it has on the environment.
Noise Pollution Infographic
Solutions to Lower Noise Pollution
WHO agrees that awareness of noise pollution is essential to beat this invisible enemy. As of now, there are not many solutions to reduce sound pollution.
However, governments can help in the following ways:
- Establishing regulations that include preventive and corrective measures.
- Protecting certain areas, parts of the countryside, areas of natural interest, city parks, etc., to ensure noise management and reduce noise pollution.
- The mandatory separation between residential zones and sources of noise, like airports.
- Creating pedestrian areas where traffic is not allowed to enter other than to offload goods at certain times.
- Fines for exceeding noise limits.
- Controlling the sound levels in clubs, bars, parties, and discos.
- Removal of public loudspeakers
- Promote better urban planning as a way to create ‘No-Noise’ zones, where honking and industrial noise are not tolerated.
- Replacing traditional asphalt with more efficient options can also help reduce traffic noise by up to 3 dB.
On a personal level, everybody can help to reduce the noise in the following ways:
- Keeping check of the surrounding noise levels and limiting the sounds you produce.
- Staying in a green neighborhood full of trees, as trees are known to reduce sound levels from 5 to 10 dB.
- Reducing noise in homes by lowering the volume of the radio, music system, and television.
- Avoiding very noisy leisure activities and going to areas that are too noisy.
- Doing your housework at the recommended time also makes a difference.
- Using proper noise absorbents in machines that make too much noise.
- Listening to music with headphones.
- Using earplugs when you are in a noisy area because it lowers the overall noise of the surroundings.
- Trying alternative means of transport such as bicycles or electric vehicles instead of taking the car.
- Getting your vehicle checked regularly and lubricate it properly so that it doesn’t produce too much noise.
- In the case of new buildings, you can insulate your home with noise-absorbing materials.