When discussing pollution, it is easily assumed to be related to smog and gases in the atmosphere. However, it is not the only pollution that harms people. The European Environment Agency (EEA) states that noise pollution is responsible for 12,000 premature deaths and more than 48,000 hospitalizations annually in Europe alone.
Drivers are honking their horns, construction workers are drilling the road surface, and aircraft are flying over us in the sky – noise, and more noise.
Our cities have become the epicenter of noise pollution.
Not only does noise harm humans, but it is also bad for the environment and animals in them. According to the National Park Service (NPS) in the USA, noise pollution has an immense environmental impact and can harm wildlife. For instance, noise pollution means predators cannot hear their prey and can succumb to hunger and die, thus not being able to breed and hasten some species' extinction.
What is noise pollution?
Noise pollution is the spread of noise above a certain decibel level, above 70 dBA over 24 hours (75 dBA over 8 hours), before it damages our health.
We have noise constantly surrounding us, whether animals in nature, street noises, or other human activity like transportation. Research states that noise pollution build-up can significantly impact the well-being of humans and animals.
Noise pollution becomes harmful when it rises above 120 decibels (dB) and can become painful for human ears.
What are the causes of noise pollution?
Multiple causes contribute to noise pollution in cities. Several of the most prevalent causes are listed below.
1. A lack of urban planning
A lack of urban planning can create congested streets, with houses near each other, little to no green spaces, lack of car parking, and major roads being built over residential areas, creating more noise pollution in smaller congested city spaces.
A lack of urban planning doesn't just affect the sleep and hours of the rest of those living in the cities and harms the development and well-being of children.
2. Household items
Houses in urban areas are full of gadgets and electronic devices used daily. TVs, mobile phones, cookers, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and tumble dryers, air conditioners, and other household items that cause noises when switched on- all negatively affect the neighborhood's quality of life.
While this form of noise pollution may appear harmless, it does cause the decibel levels to rise within homes and in gardens if devices are on, causing animals not to hear each other and humans to speak louder over their usage.
Many vehicles on roads, airplanes flying over houses, and underground trains produce heavy noise, and people find it challenging to get accustomed to that.
The high noise leads to an average person losing the ability to hear correctly.
4. Social events and entertainment
Noise is at its peak at most social and entertainment events. Whether it is at a ceremony, party, pub, nightclub, or a place of worship – all can raise the decibel levels in the local area and, for some, cause a disturbance to others looking to get some much-needed rest later at night.
While this may seem more like a nuisance than noise pollution, it affects the hearing abilities of individuals constantly exposed to these sounds over extended periods.
When the weather is good, bars and restaurants begin to take up places on streets and terraces, causing more noise pollution during daily hours and not only at night, causing more prolonged periods of loud noise.
5. Heavy industry
Most industries, especially heavy industries, use big machines that produce a large amount of noise. Within industrial buildings, industrial workers also have to contend with noise from generators, fans, and other colleagues shouting above the noise created.
Most of these workers within and around these buildings wear earplugs to minimize the effect of noise. However, even after taking preventive measures like these, extensive exposure to high noise levels might damage their hearing abilities in the long term.
6. Building and construction
Construction activities like building new homes, roads, buildings, stations, dams, flyovers, and mining takes place in almost every part of the world. These construction activities occur as we need more facilities to accommodate more people in our growing population.
While these new buildings aid us in supporting the growing world population, it creates more noise for the workers involved and the general public who encounter these noises near their homes and places of employment.
7. The sound of animals
Animal sounds are generally considered therapeutic for us, which is true if you think birds singing in the morning or insects chirping at night. Yet consider when trying to sleep and you hear seagulls or other birds that attack rubbish bins looking for food, or dogs barking at night – all disturb our sleep due to their excessive noise.
What are the health and environmental impacts of noise pollution?
1. Hearing problems
Any unwanted noise that our ears have not been built to filter can cause problems within our entire body. Our ears can handle a specific range of sounds without getting damaged.
Human-made noises like jackhammers, horns, machinery, airplanes, and even vehicles can be too loud for our hearing range.
Constant exposure to loud noise levels can easily damage our eardrums and cause loss of hearing, causing tinnitus or deafness.
2. Other physical health concerns
Studies have suggested that high-intensity noise causes high blood pressure and increases heartbeat rate as it disrupts normal blood flow.
3. Psychological health issues
Loud noise pollution in working areas like offices, construction sites, restaurants, bars, and even homes can influence our mental health.
Studies show that humans and animals are linked to high noise pollution levels, which may induce aggressive behavior, stress, sleep disturbance, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. As the level of noise increases, so do our levels of irritation. As an effect, people become less impatient and more susceptible to becoming angry at more minor frustrations in life, thus contributing to a deterioration of our psychological health.
4. Behavioral worries
Excessive noise affects people's ability to focus, leading to poor-performance levels over an extended period.
Research shows that those who live near busy roads and airports are more likely to get headaches, take more sleeping tablets and sedatives, are more likely to have minor accidents, and are more prone to seek psychiatric treatment.
5. Sleeping disorders
Excessively high noise levels will obviously hamper a person's sleeping pattern, leading to irritation and an inability to focus the following day.
Without a good night's sleep, people might experience multiple fatigue-related problems, affecting their performance at work and home. Therefore, a night of sound sleep is recommended to give our bodies a proper rest.
Suppose a particular noise is disturbing our sleep. In that case, we can take an actionable measure to reduce it, like easily avoiding other issues (like noise from TV or gadgets) by making lifestyle changes.
6. Effect on animals and wildlife
Animals face far more concerns than humans because of noise pollution since they depend on their hearing to ensure their survival in the wild.
Research studies have found that human-created noise affects many animals, including pets at home, who react more aggressively when there is constant noise within the home.
In the wild, animals may suffer from hearing loss, making them easy prey. Due to excessive human-made noise, species that depend on mating calls to reproduce often cannot hear these calls.
As a result, animals cannot reproduce. Furthermore, many animals require the use of their hearing to migrate during seasons or to hunt, which can make them inefficient at hunting, and change the balance of the local wildlife ecosystem.
How can we reduce or prevent noise pollution?
Noise pollution is prevalent around us. While it may seem useless to eradicate it, it can be reduced if newer and existing cities are planned. Some ideas our community has proposed are the following:
- Establish laws that include preventive and corrective measures to battle noise pollution.
- Protect certain areas, parts of the countryside, places of natural interest, city parks to ensure noise management and reduce noise pollution.
- Build mandatory separation between residential zones and noise sources, like airports and rail stations.
- Create pedestrian areas where traffic is not permitted to enter other than offload goods at certain times.
- Promote green neighborhoods, full of trees, that are known to reduce sound levels.
- Control the sound levels in clubs, bars, and parties.
- Remove public loudspeakers.
- Improve urban city planning, and help foster 'no-noise' zones, where car honking and industrial noise are not accepted.
As 100TM builds new earth cities, we will encourage specialists in urban planning and city building to join our community and plan with us.