Noise pollution is excessive, displeasing human, animal or machine-created environmental noise that disrupts the activity or balance of human or animal life. The word noise comes from the Latin word nauseas, meaning seasickness.
The source of most outdoor noise worldwide is mainly construction and transportation systems, including motor vehicle noise, aircraft noise and rail noise. Poor urban planning may give rise to noise pollution, since side-by-side industrial and residential buildings can result in noise pollution in the residential area.
Indoor and outdoor noise pollution sources include car alarms, emergency service sirens, mechanical equipment, fireworks, compressed air horns, groundskeeping equipment, barking dogs, appliances, lighting hum, audio entertainment systems, electric megaphones, and loud people.
Chronic exposure to noise may cause noise-induced hearing loss. Older males exposed to significant occupational noise demonstrate significantly reduced hearing sensitivity than their non-exposed peers, though differences in hearing sensitivity decrease with time and the two groups are indistinguishable by age 79. A comparison of Maaban tribesmen, who were insignificantly exposed to transportation or industrial noise, to a typical U.S. population showed that chronic exposure to moderately high levels of environmental noise contributes to hearing loss.
High noise levels can contribute to cardiovascular effects and exposure to moderately high levels during a single eight hour period causes a statistical rise in blood pressure of five to ten points and an increase in stress and vasoconstriction leading to the increased blood pressure noted above as well as to increased incidence of coronary artery disease.
Noise pollution is also a cause of annoyance. A 2005 study by Spanish researchers found that in urban areas households are willing to pay approximately four Euros per decibel per year for noise reduction.
Noise can have a detrimental effect on animals by causing stress, increasing risk of death by changing the delicate balance in predator/prey detection and avoidance, and by interfering with their use of sounds in communication especially in relation to reproduction and in navigation. Acoustic overexposure can lead to temporary or permanent loss of hearing.
An impact of noise on animal life is the reduction of usable habitat that noisy areas may cause, which in the case of endangered species may be part of the path to extinction. Noise pollution has caused the death of certain species of whales that beached themselves after being exposed to the loud sound of military sonar.
Noise also makes species communicate louder, which is called Lombard vocal response. Scientists and researchers have conducted experiments that show whales' song length is longer when submarine-detectors are on. If creatures do not "speak" loud enough, their voice will be masked by anthropogenic sounds. These unheard voices might be warnings, finding of prey, or preparations of net-bubbling. When one species begins speaking louder, it will mask other species' voice, causing the whole ecosystem to eventually speak louder.
European Robins living in urban environments are more likely to sing at night in places with high levels of noise pollution during the day, suggesting that they sing at night because it is quieter, and their message can propagate through the environment more clearly. The same study showed that daytime noise was a stronger predictor of nocturnal singing than night-time light pollution, to which the phenomenon is often attributed.
Zebra finches become less faithful to their partners when exposed to traffic noise. This could alter a population's evolutionary trajectory by selecting traits, sapping resources normally devoted to other activities and thus lead to profound genetic and evolutionary consequences.
Impact in the United Kingdom
Figures compiled by Rockwool, the mineral wool insulation manufacturer, based on responses from local authorities to a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request reveal in the period April 2008 – 2009 UK councils received 315,838 complaints about noise pollution from private residences. This resulted in environmental health officers across the UK serving 8,069 noise abatement notices, or citations under the terms of the Anti-Social Behaviour (Scotland) Act. In the last 12 months, 524 confiscations of equipment have been authorised involving the removal of powerful speakers, stereos and televisions. Westminster City Council has received more complaints per head of population than any other district in the UK with 9,814 grievances about noise, which equates to 42.32 complaints per thousand residents. Eight of the top 10 councils ranked by complaints per 1,000 residents are located in London.
Mitigation and control of noise
Technology to mitigate or remove noise can be applied as follows:
There are a variety of strategies for mitigating roadway noise including: use of noise barriers, limitation of vehicle speeds, alteration of roadway surface texture, limitation of heavy vehicles, use of traffic controls that smooth vehicle flow to reduce braking and acceleration, and tire design. An important factor in applying these strategies is a computer model for roadway noise, that is capable of addressing local topography, meteorology, traffic operations and hypothetical mitigation. Costs of building-in mitigation can be modest, provided these solutions are sought in the planning stage of a roadway project.
Aircraft noise can be reduced to some extent by design of quieter jet engines, which was pursued vigorously in the 1970s and 1980s. This strategy has brought limited but noticeable reduction of urban sound levels. Reconsideration of operations, such as altering flight paths and time of day runway use, has demonstrated benefits for residential populations near airports. FAA sponsored residential retrofit (insulation) programs initiated in the 1970s has also enjoyed success in reducing interior residential noise in thousands of residences across the United States.
Exposure of workers to Industrial noise has been addressed since the 1930s. Changes include redesign of industrial equipment, shock mounting assemblies and physical barriers in the workplace.
Noise Free America, a national anti-noise pollution organization, regularly lobbies for the enforcement of noise ordinances at all levels of government.
Noise laws and ordinances vary widely among municipalities and indeed do not even exist in some cities. An ordinance may contain a general prohibition against making noise that is a nuisance, or it may set out specific guidelines for the level of noise allowable at certain times of the day and for certain activities.
Dr. Paul Herman wrote the first comprehensive noise codes in 1975 for Portland, Oregon with funding from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and HUD (Housing and Urban Development). The Portland Noise Code became the basis for most other ordinances for major U.S. and Canadian metropolitan regions.
Most city ordinances prohibit sound above a threshold intensity from trespassing over property line at night, typically between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and during the day restricts it to a higher sound level; however, enforcement is uneven. Many municipalities do not follow up on complaints. Even where a municipality has an enforcement office, it may only be willing to issue warnings, since taking offenders to court is expensive.
The notable exception to this rule is the City of Portland Oregon which has instituted an aggressive protection for its citizens with fines reaching as high at $5000 per infraction, with the ability to cite a responsible noise violator multiple times in a single day.
Many conflicts over noise pollution are handled by negotiation between the emitter and the receiver. Escalation procedures vary by country, and may include action in conjunction with local authorities, in particular the police. Noise pollution often persists because only five to ten percent of people affected by noise will lodge a formal complaint. Many people are not aware of their legal right to quiet and do not know how to register a complaint.
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