Most of us are accustomed to the sounds we hear every day. Whether it’s loud music, the television, people talking on their phone, 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 takes place when there is either an excessive amount of noise or an unpleasant sound that causes a temporary disruption in the natural balance.
This definition is usually applicable to sounds or noises that are unnatural in either their volume or their 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.
By and large, lack of urban planning increases the exposure to unwanted sounds. This is why understanding noise pollution is necessary to curb it in time.
Types of Noise Pollution
Even 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, 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 the mating call of animals to the sound of thunderstorms that often go up to 140 dB.
Various Causes of Noise Pollution on Humans and Wildlife
Multiple causes may attribute to noise pollution. Some of the most popular causes are listed below.
Most of the industries use big machines which are capable of producing a large amount of noise. Apart from that, various equipment like compressors, generators, exhaust fans, grinding mills also participates in producing big noise.
You’re probably familiar with the sight of workers in these factories and industries wearing earplugs to minimize the effect of noise.
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 of the developing countries, poor urban planning also plays a vital role. Congested houses, large families sharing small space, fight over parking, frequent fights over basic amenities lead to noise pollution, which may disrupt the environment of society.
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.
It 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. 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 on full volume and dance till midnight, which makes the condition of people living nearby pretty worse. In markets, you can see people selling clothes via making a loud noise to attract the attention of people.
While this may not seem like much at the outset, over time, it affects the hearing abilities of the individuals who are constantly exposed to these sounds.
A large number of vehicles on roads, airplanes flying over houses, 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.
5. Construction Activities
Under construction activities like mining, construction of bridges, dams, buildings, stations, roads, flyovers takes place in almost every part of the world.
These construction activities take place every day as we need more buildings, 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.
A part of it includes 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.
6. Household Chores
We people are surrounded by gadgets and use them extensively in our daily life. Gadgets like TV, mobile, mixer grinder, pressure cooker, vacuum cleaners, washing machine and dryer, cooler, air conditioners are minor contributors to the amount of noise that is produced. Still, it affects the quality of life of 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.
7. Noise From Air Traffic
While many find it difficult to believe, air traffic too 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 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. These can produce more than 100 dB. The noise from pubs and clubs are also included.
9. Animals’ Sound
The noise made by animals cannot go unnoticed, particularly a howling or barking dog. These can produce noise around 60-80 dB.
Fatal Effects of Noise Pollution
1. Hearing Problems
Any unwanted sound that our ears have not been built to filter can cause problems within the body. Our ears can take in a certain range of sounds without getting damaged.
Man-made noises such as jackhammers, horns, machinery, airplanes, and even vehicles can be too loud for our hearing range.
Constant exposure to loud levels of noise can easily result in the damage of our eardrums and loss of hearing, 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 as well as 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, racing pulse, and, in exposure to 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, which can lead to low-performance levels over time. Like other sound waves, too much noise when it goes to the brain leads to lower response rates as well as making the mind dull.
It is also poor for memory, making it hard to study. The studies have shown that school children living near railway stations or airports have problems in learning.
Research has 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 levels of noise are likely to hamper your sleeping pattern, thereby 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. It is therefore 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 on the rise.
Studies suggest that high-intensity noise causes high blood pressure and increases heartbeat rate as it disrupts the normal blood flow.
Since bringing these rates to a manageable level depends on our understanding of noise pollution, we need to be wary of the ill-effects and tackle these situations mindfully.
7. Trouble Communicating
High decibel noise can put trouble and affect free communication between people. This may lead to misunderstanding, and you may get difficult 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 a wide range of 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, disturbing the balance of the eco-system.
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. To cope up with the increasing sound around them, animals are becoming louder, which may further add to the 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.
- Governments can take measures such as 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 offload goods at certain times.
- Fines for exceeding noise limits.
- Other ways to battle noise pollution are by controlling the sound levels in clubs, bars, parties, and discos.
- Removal of public loudspeakers is another way in which pollution can be countered.
- Again, better urban planning can help create ‘No-Noise’ zones, where honking and industrial noise is 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:
- Keep checking the surrounding noise levels and limit the sounds that you produce.
- Stay in a green neighborhood full of trees as they are known to reduce the sound levels from 5 to 10 dB.
- Reduce noise in homes by lowering the volume of the radio, music system and the television.
- Avoid very noisy leisure activities and also going to areas that are too noisy.
- Doing your housework at the recommended time also makes a difference.
- Use proper noise absorbents in machines that make too much noise.
- Listening to music with headphones is also a good step forward.
- Use earplugs when you are in a noisy area because it lowers the overall noise of the surroundings.
- Try alternative means of transport such as bicycles or electric vehicles instead of taking the car.
- Get your vehicle checked regularly and lubricate it properly that it doesn’t produce too much noise.
- In the case of new buildings, you can insulate your home with noise-absorbing materials.
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