We are surrounded by sound. Sounds that we don’t like or want are ‘noise’.
Noise is not easy to define. The dirt bikes that generate a lot of sound from their engines and disturb my Sunday peace, in my view create noise. I dislike the intrusion. For me, it’s definitely noise. For the riders, it might be sound loud enough to damage their hearing, but they don’t mind it, and may even like it. For them, it’s not noise.
To my brother, currently listening to the Glastonbury festival from his otherwise quiet village home, the music is noise. For most of the attendees, it’s certainly not noise.
Most people are surrounded by noise. In Australia, semi-rural areas are not quiet. Noise comes in the form of neighbouring chain saws, ride on mowers, log splitters, power tools and more. On a 10 acre property, they are likely to be well within an annoyance range.
Full rural areas have so much noise that hearing loss is higher in rural workers than manufacturers.
I live in the country and my late husband would do noisy jobs when I was at work, so I could have quiet, but semi-rural Australia is full of noise from dirt bikes, chainsaws, guns…
What WHO says about Noise
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Guidelines for Community Noise state that “Worldwide, noise induced hearing impairment is the most prevalent occupational hazard”. There is growing evidence that loud sounds and noise have more general health effects and with increased urbanisation, this is increasing due to the lack of noise regulation.
So rurally, people get irreversible hearing damage, and in the city, people get generally decreasing health due to increasing noise. They have identified noise annoyance as a health risk, as well as damaging hearing.
Transportation noise is probably regulated the best, but is also still major problem, and the impact is growing, despite repeated environmental protection reports. In the European Union, about 56 million people (54%) living in areas with more than 250 000 inhabitants are exposed to road traﬃc noise of more than average of 55 dB per year. Whilst not damaging to hearing, this level of noise is thought to be hazardous to health.
The WHO has published a book (Night Noise Guidelines for Europe) that reviews the health effects of exposure to night-time noise, examines dose–effect relations, and presents interim and ultimate guideline values for exposure.
Noise has more impact than you’d think
We mostly think of noise as having bad effects on hearing, and loud sounds do irreversibly damage hearing. However, the evidence of the non-auditory eﬀects of environmental noise exposure on public health is growing.
Recent research confirms that noise can have a negative effect on general health including the risk of high blood pressure.
A small area study in the vicinity of London, Heathrow airport, showed a higher incidence of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
The white paper “The American Noise Pollution Epidemic, published by Noise Free America, examines the effect of noise on quality of life. They found that “noise has devastating effects on neighbourhoods and communities.
Noise forces citizens to live in unhealthy environments or abandon their homes altogether in an attempt to escape. One example of a noisy, unhealthy community is Stockton, California, a city of about 290,000, 60 miles east of San Francisco.
Stockton lies on the San Joaquin River in the Central Valley of California. In recent years, thousands of people have fled the crime and the expense of the San Francisco Bay area, hoping to find a new life in Stockton. Instead, they have found a city where boom car operators have no fear of the police. Jim Tarantino, who left Oakland two years ago, states: “There is little or no enforcement of noise ordinances in Stockton, so ‘boom car’ thugs roam our community with impunity, weekends and weekdays, day and night.
Interestingly, the paper makes no mention of gun noise, despite the fact that impulse noise from gun fire is particularly damaging and that the cause of the noise may be extremely bad for someone’s health.
We know that noise causes the human body stress symptoms
According to Lisa Goines, RN, and Louis Hagler, MD, “…noise acts as a non-specific biologic stressor eliciting reactions that prepare the body for a fight or flight response. For this reason, noise can trigger both endocrine and autonomic system responses, and it’s believed that Noise also accelerates and worsens the development of mental problems.”
Goines and Hagler state that noise pollution cause and contribute to:
- Emotional instability
- Sexual impotence
- Change in mood
- Social conflicts
They believe that noise is also a major cause of:
- chronic fatigue,
- sight disturbances,
- physical weakness,
- a compromised immune system,
- viral infections,
- swollen lymph nodes,
- loss of memory, and
- muscle and joint pains.
In short, noise makes a person tired.
Noise levels above 80 decibels are associated with an increase in aggressive behaviour. Numerous scientific studies indicate that noise may trigger:
- social disengagement,
- distraction and;
Noise can lead to a sense of helplessness. Noise-related agitation has been the cause of shootings, stabbings, and murder.
Apparently, the number of violent incidents spurred by noise is on the rise as noise pollution increases.
Problems caused by noise are common in manufacturing
The USA National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provide some facts and figures on hearing loss that is caused by noise. The more noise exposure you have the worse the hearing loss and it’s irreversible.
Four million workers go to work each day in damaging noise. Ten million people in the U.S. have a noise-related hearing loss. Twenty-two million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise each year.
In 2007, approximately 23,000 cases were reported of occupational hearing loss that was great enough to cause hearing impairment. Reported cases of hearing loss accounted for 14% of occupational illness in 2007. In 2007, approximately 82% of the cases involving occupational hearing loss were reported among workers in the manufacturing sector.
I have partly drawn on an excellent review article in The Lancet in 2014 (383: 1325–1332 ) “Auditory and non-auditory eﬀects of noise on health, by Mathias Basner, Wolfgang Babisch, Adrian Davis, Mark Brink, Charlotte Clark, Sabine Janssen, and Stephen Stansfeld Lancet 2014.