The effects of noise pollution on humans is best understood by examining the various types of noise that a person is exposed to on a daily basis. Concerned citizens can learn more about the different types of noise pollution and find out how it affects people.
Types of Noise
There are many types of noise pollution. Some are manmade noises, such as those created by city traffic, construction sites, airports and subway terminals. In fact, most forms of transportation have an associated noise factor. The other types of noise that can be disruptive and irritating are environmental, such as loud thunderstorms or the noises created by barking dogs and other animals.
The sound pressure of most conversations that occur between people can be measured at 60 decibels, which is a safe level according to Dangerous Decibels (DD). Sounds that get to the threshold of 85 decibels can start to become problematic according to DD, and DD stresses the fact that the risk of damage increases as the sound exposure time increases. DD indicates that a nearby gunshot can be as loud as 190 decibels, and can instantly damage a person's hearing.
Environmental Decibel Levels
When people are close enough to the storm, the sound of thunder can reach 120 decibels, according to DD. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) notes that moderate rainfall can reach 50 decibels, which is too low to cause damage. However, moderate rainfall may be paired with legitimate sources of noise pollution.
Manmade Decibel Levels
Many types of manmade products and equipment cause noise pollution.
- Household appliances, televisions, electronic cooling fans, vacuum cleaners, and HVAC equipment all contribute to daily noise pollution. ASHA indicates that vacuum cleaners can reach 70 decibels, which is considered very loud, and food processors can reach 80 to 90 decibels.
- The sound of idling bulldozers can reach 85 decibels, according to DD, and people that work around bulldozers can sustain irreversible hearing damage within a single working day.
- Some types of noise pollution are recreational in nature. DD indicates that personal music systems playing at a maximum volume level can exceed sounds of 100 decibels, which can irreversibly damage hearing even among people that only listen to music at that level for 15 minutes daily.
Effects of Noise Pollution on Humans
The effects of noise pollution on human health is a complex topic since since it has a physical effect, and also behavioral and even mental effects. Noise can make a person nervous, antsy, irritable and in some cases, angry. However, the long-term effects of noise pollution can be even more troubling.
Underlying Effects of Noise Pollution
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) indicates that even significant short term loud noise exposure can temporarily disrupt a person's ability to hear and cause tinnitus, which is a ringing sensation within the ears. However, noise pollution has many subtler biological effects.
Conserve Energy Future (CEF) links noise pollution to a wide range of health consequences, including cardiovascular problems, stress, high blood pressure, and various sleeping disorders. However, CEF also emphasizes the psychological consequences of noise pollution, which can include fatigue and an increase in aggressive behavior. A study from the British Medical Bulletin (BMB) indicated that noise pollution can affect people's performance on various tasks.
Chronic Noise Exposure
If a person is exposed to constant noise levels that might be deemed as chronic, then he or she could suffer hearing loss.
Job Related Noise
This type of exposure to noise historically has been job-related. According to OSHA, hearing loss related to noise pollution has been a widespread occupational health problem for more than a quarter of a century in the United States.
Many steps have been taken within various industries to protect employees from hearing loss through the introduction of noise-reduction earplugs or earmuffs, according to OSHA. Many of the new regulations about noise protection in the workplace date back to 1981, according to OSHA, and they also include various administrative and engineering solutions. However, OSHA also indicates that the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded over 21,000 incidences of occupational hearing loss in 2009.
City Life and Noise Pollution
If you live in a city, then noise is a common everyday element that you don't consciously notice. However, simply being conditioned to accept noise doesn't mean there isn't a physical side-effect. According to the UCLA Health Impact Assessment Clearinghouse Learning and Information Center (HIA-CLIC), noise has a tremendous impact on the quality of life that people living in cities can expect. The fact that urban dwellers can be as adaptable as they are does not mean that noise pollution isn't a severe problem associated with city living.
Things You Can Do
There are many things you can do to protect yourself from noise pollution.
The first is to wear hearing protection. You can also reduce the amount of noise you create in your home by being mindful of the volume of audio equipment and opting for ear-buds or headsets when feasible. ASHA indicates that earplugs and earmuffs can shave 15 to 30 decibels off of the noise in a person's immediate environment.
Different home improvement measures can also help people reduce the amount of noise pollution that they will experience within their own homes. The Environmental Professionals Network outlines several targeted modifications that homeowners can make, including using noise-absorbent drywall, installing thick, padded carpet, and adding foam insulation for the noise pollution that can occur within houses. ASHA recommends that customers examine the noise ratings on everything from power tools to appliances since relatively quiet products are available.
Curb the Cause of Noise
In some cases, people that are trying to protect themselves from noise pollution can get to the root of the cause. For instance, in the case of a neighbor with a barking dog, trying to negotiate with that neighbor or alert the local authorities can make all the difference, as the CYC suggests. However, urban noise pollution is much more of a systemic problem, and it may require systemic solutions.
Living With Noise Pollution
Many people have to live with the effects of noise pollution on a regular basis. Noise pollution is a problem that needs to be taken seriously and addressed on a societal level. While there are steps that people can take to make noise pollution less of a problem for them, many people will still experience noise pollution at work and at home.