Although sound is something that is essential within our daily lives, noise is not. Sounds that cause discomfort to the ears, that produce unpleasant effects, or are unwanted, are considered to be noise. Noise pollution generally interferes with normal activities, for example, conversing or sleeping. This type of pollution can also diminish or disrupt quality of life. Not all noise is considered to be pollution. If it happens on an intermittent basis, noise is usually termed as “nuisance.”
Noise pollution is not only an issue that affects humans, it is also harming the world’s whale population. These mammals, who use their ears more than their eyes, make calls that travel distances of 20 miles and more. They need to do this to communicate, in much the same way as humans need to. It also helps prevent them from becoming lost during migration. However, with today’s heavy, and constant ship traffic, drowning out their voices, these majestic creatures are suffering in silence.
How Sound is Measured
Sound and noise is measured in decibels (dB), and according to statistics from the Center for Hearing and Communication, continued exposure to noise levels measuring more than 85 dBA (adjusted decibels) will cause hearing loss over time.
Both the length of exposure to the sound, and the volume (dBA) will tell you how harmful the noise is. dBA are expressions of the relative loudness of sounds in the air as picked up by the human ear. What this also means is that with these adjusted decibels, the values of low frequency sounds are reduced as the human ear is less sensitive at this frequency. This is different to regular unweighted decibels, where no correction is made for audio frequency.
Environmental Noise Levels Measured in dBA
This list will help illustrate the range of environmental noise levels that affect everyone in society today.
- 0 – the quietest sound audible via normal hearing
- 10 – normal breathing
- 20 – whispering from 5 feet away
- 30 – soft whispering
- 40 – quiet office
- 50 – rainfall / refrigerator
- 60 – regular conversation
- 70 – freeway traffic
- 85 – noisy restaurant / heavy traffic
- 100 – shouting directly into the ear
- 120 – thunder
According to statistics from the Dangerous Decibels, prolonged exposure to noise over the threshold of 85 decibels can become an issue, especially when the exposure time to the sound increases. With these figures in mind, it is important to note that the effects of noise pollution on humans are best understood by examining the different types of noise an individual is exposed to daily.
Types of Noise
There are various different types of noise pollution, including:
- Man Made Noise – including traffic, subway noise, airports, constructions sites, transport, and so on. In fact, figures from Dangerous Decibels indicate that the sound of an idling bulldozer can reach as high as 85 decibels, and people who work closely with the machines can sustain irreversible damage to their hearing within just one day.
Other types of man made noise pollution are recreational in nature. Dangerous Decibels states that at maximum volume, personal music players can exceed 100 decibels, which can cause irreversible damage to the hearing of people who listen for only 15 minutes a day.
The household environment isn’t safe either, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), household vacuum cleaners can reach an astoundingly loud 70 decibels, with food processors being able to reach an incredible 80 to 90 decibels.
- Environmental Noise – including animal sounds, barking dogs, and loud thunderstorms. It might not seem like it, but according to Dangerous Decibels, the sound of thunder during a particularly bad storm can hit over 120 decibels.
The Effects of Noise Pollution on Humans
The effects of noise pollution on the health of humans can be vast – including having mental, behavioral, and physical effects. For usually nervous individuals, noise can make them feel even more nervous, angry, and irritable. Looking beyond these symptoms, the other long-term effects of noise pollution are often even worse.
Information from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) shows that even short term exposure to loud noise can have a temporarily disruptive effect on a person’s ability to hear, even potentially causing tinnitus. Worryingly, it’s not just the hearing that is adversely affected by noise pollution. Information from Conserve Energy Future (CEF) indicates that noise pollution is connected to sleeping disorders, elevated blood pressure, stress, and cardiovascular problems. Furthermore, the fatigue that living with noise pollution presents to an individual must not be downplayed.
Chronic Noise Exposure
When an individual is constantly exposed to chronic levels of noise, he could easily begin to suffer from a loss of hearing. There are various ways in which this chronic exposure can occur; these include:
- Living in the city – Background noise is just something that city-dwellers live with without noticing. Even though this tends to be so, city noise can have a significantly detrimental impact on an individual’s quality of life.
- Work-related noise – According to OSHA, noise pollution-related hearing loss has been a huge occupational health problem in the U.S. for over 25 years. There have been many steps taken within various affected industries to protect their employees from hearing loss via the introduction of protective equipment such as noise-reduction earplugs.
Protection from Noise Pollution
For anyone worried about the potential effects of noise pollution, it is a good idea to keep the noise within the controllable home environment to a minimum. Utilizing home improvement methods such as soundproofing walls, and installing double glazing are also useful for in-home noise pollution. It is also good practice to check the noise ratings of all tools, and appliances you introduce into the home, choosing only the quietest products where possible.
For noise pollution that originates outside the home, often there isn’t much that can be done. However, in the case of neighbors with barking dogs and such, it is always possible to negotiate and to come to some form of agreement in terms of handling the problem.
Life can be incredibly difficult for people who have to live with the crippling fallout of noise pollution on a daily or regular basis, and this is why the issue is something that needs to be looked at in detail, and addressed as soon as possible.
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