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Hazards of noise pollution

19 March 2019 - 142   - 1

Our environment is such that it has become difficult to escape noise. The Noise is everywhere, all the time; whether you drive, walk along the road, at work, at home relaxing, engaged in other activity or just standing still, you are subject to some sort of noise. Noise pollution is so omnipresent in today’s society that we often fail to even notice it anymore. Whether we realize we are subjected to it or not, noise pollution can be hazardous to our health in various ways.

Most of us are used to the sounds we hear in everyday life both in urban and rural areas and rarely does it disturb us. Road traffic, sounds from cars, buses, ambulances etc. In construction, sounds like drilling or other heavy machinery in operation, workplace sounds, loud music in or near commercial venues, industrial sounds like fans, generators, compressor, mills, firecrackers, loudspeakers at religious places and social events, etc.

The noise made in our households; we not even consider as noise pollution. But the gadgets and equipment we use; the sound from the television to music playing on the stereo or computer, vacuum cleaner, fan, refrigerator, cooler, mixer, grinder, washing machine, dishwasher, lawnmower etc. we make considerable amount of noise. This type of noise is common in today’s society that we often don’t notice it.

 Proper understanding of the hazards of noise pollution can help us to lower its impact on the human beings and the environment. The worrisome effects of noise are dangerous enough that noise problem can be considered next to crime. Noise at certain levels and durations of exposure, can cause physical damage to the eardrum and the sensitive hair cells of the inner ear and result in temporary or permanent hearing loss. Hearing loss does not usually occur at below 80 dB.  But most people repeatedly exposed to more than 105 dB will have permanent hearing loss to some extent.

Noise louder than accepted levels has been correlated with significant risks to cardiovascular health. Excessive noise exposure can raise blood pressure and pulse rates, cause irritability, anxiety, and mental fatigue. Sleeplessness, recreation, reduced efficiency, annoyance, depression, increased stress, and mental breakdowns are not ruled out. Noise pollution control is therefore of importance in the public places, workplace and in the community.

The urban population is more affected by, and exposed to such pollution. The small towns/villages in rural areas along side roads and closer to industries are also victim of this problem. Noise is becoming an increasingly omnipresent, yet unnoticed form of pollution. The human activities are the major sources of this unwanted sound that are routinely pumping into the air.

By and large there are laws to deal with most hazardous situations. However, it’s not the lack of law, but it is the lack of enforcement. In the past there was enforcement of the law concerning the limits of “sound level” of vehicle horns and sirens, also music played inside passenger transport busses. There were laws limiting “Sound level” originating from religious places, musical shows and so on. There are “Sound pressure level” laws for buses when the buses are in a stationary position and the engine is switched on and when it’s switched off.

Law is already there relating to many activities and sources producing noise. Accordingly areas are designated as Low, Medium, High and silent, noise Zones with maximum permissible noise limits within each area. Maximum Noise Levels for the construction activities during the Day time and the Night time distinguishing the type of the Residential area are also gazetted. There are laws indicating maximum noise levels for Industrial and commercial activities. Some noise producing activities may have been left out. Nevertheless, for example, Noise Control Regulations under the National Environmental Act, the Police Ordinance, Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code provisions on public nuisance could possibly be used to control noise.

The noise pollution made by deliberately adapted vehicles with thrumming engines, screaming horns and the motorcycles with modified super-loud exhaust pipes are an utterly unnecessary, obnoxious noise disturbing quiet environment and peaceful atmosphere. They disregard everyone else when roaring down the road, rattling windows as it goes in all hours of the day and night. When it’s a real nuisance, it stops becoming just a noise, and start turning into an annoyance and noise pollution, tends to disrupt the natural rhythm of life. The apparent cause for disturbing people in their homes is the egos of these inconsiderate people. The drivers who deliberately adapt their vehicle and motorcyclists with modified super-loud exhaust pipes to make noise may be just saying “look at me.” They are ill-considered, thoughtless and lacking in basic levels of civility.  

The authorities have to try out ways of curbing this utterly unwanted noise pollution. The authorities can formulate a system such as issuing spot fines to drivers with excessively loud cars or motorcycles bringing it out as an offence under the Motor Traffic Act. It would be a deterrent to the motorist and the motorcyclist while it’s a source of revenue to the coffers.

The current law enforcement offers a more reactionary approach to curbing noise, rather than provide a direction on curbing it.  The Authorities should adopt an approach aimed at bettering noise pollution by setting a goal to decrease noise over a period of time. They could also consider new challenges, which wasn’t nearly at the level as it is now when the original laws were formulated. It’s not probably ever going to be perfect, but there certainly could be a much better way to manage excessive noise. The trick with any push against noise polluters is strict enforcement. The rules are pretty clear on paper. Laws should be enforced by all enforcement authorities equally against all offenders covering everything from loud music and persistent honking horns and banging, clanking, squealing vehicle sounds.

Changing attitudes are as important as catching violators. People who wouldn’t dream of emptying a trash can onto the street think nothing of polluting the sounds cape. The Local Authorities can play an important role in this effort to address noise though the bylaw system. One idea is putting up Decibel Readouts at key points in the cities much like vehicle speed limits. That at least would send a message to passing noise-makers.  

- RAJA  WICKRAMASINGHE

  Comments - 1

  • Elena Monday, 25 March 2019 10:36 AM

    We are very, very much looking forward to the adoption of such a law. I live in a house where 60 apartments and speakers on poles, which are hung in the immediate vicinity of the house 5-10 meters from the bedroom balcony, is unbearable. I use earplugs and headphones, but they don't help. Music until late at night and sometimes around the clock, terribly loud. Thanks for writing about this issue, this is an extreme problem. There should be a law restricting noise near residential buildings, both in terms of sound strength and the time of day, protecting its citizens.

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