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Effects of Environmental Noise Pollution

Noise is an environmental contaminant along with radiation, and organic and inorganic chemicals such as heavy metals and pesticides. Defined as a source that emits noise high enough to impact a significant number of people, environment noise (or sound) is a non-ionized form of acousitcal radiation.

Ionized radiation is emitted by radioactive substances, while non-ionized radiation comes from radio waves, microwaves, and low frequency electromagnetic waves (Health Canada, p. 75).

noise pollution

Sources of Environmental Noise Pollution

The main sources of environmental noise pollution are air conditioners and industrial equipment; noise from industry, construction, and demolition; noise generated by human activity such as lawn mowers or leaf blowers, loud music, barking dogs, children playing, and outdoor events such as concerts or festivals.

Another significant source of environmental noise pollution is transportation related: buses, trains, cars, motorcycles, trucks, and emergency vehicle sirens being the most significant cause of noise in urban areas. Airplanes, too, can affect a smaller, local community and emit significant noise on a regular basis.

Most communities have federal and local regulations determining when certain noise producing activities can occur, but many noise sources are uncontrolled and unregulated and may occur at any time, day or night.

Health Effects of Environmental Noise Pollution

The occupational hazard of noise has long been recognized by employers, and workers are now protected from the impact of noise with specialized noise reduction equipment. However, the general public remains largely unprotected and left to endure a cacophony of sounds, often for prolonged periods. One of the obvious and measurable effects of noise pollution is hearing loss. While each individual is different in their tolerance to noise, length of exposure and decibel level, temporary or permanent hearing loss can occur.

However, a more difficult to measure, but increasingly significant health hazard, is the stress and agitation that may occur from exposure to loud noise. Persistent noise can increase stress levels, which in turn, can result in high blood pressure, an important health concern. Known as the "silent killer" because there are few obvious symptoms, it can result in serious health problems requiring medical assessment and intervention.

Sleep disruption is another common effect of loud and/or persistent noise. Lack of sleep or a disruption of the natural sleep cycle can result in poor concentration and performance, weight changes, and a general decrease in health and overall well being. The combination of stress and lack of sleep can also lead to frustration and aggravasion. The social consequences include becoming short-tempered or potentially aggressive resulting in more accidents, poor familial and social relationships, and poor work performance.

Prevention and Protection against Environmental Noise Pollution

The most effective prevention against the health effects of environmental noise pollution is to reduce noise at the source. This is the responsibility of the engineers and designers of buildings. While individuals often feel they have no say over this stage of the process, they can lobby the industry or local planning departments to ensure noise reduction construction practices are in place. These may include noise reduction materials used in the actual structure and that noise reducing barriers are erected during the build to combat the impact on the receiver of the noise.

Sound reducing barriers such as walls and fences may help reduce exposure to noise in urban areas. According to Health Canada's report on environmental contaminants, "for a barrier to be effective, it should be high enough to intercept the line of sight from the source to the receiver" (p. 77). While high fences do not make great neighbours, if noise pollution is affecting an individual's health, they may offer a viable solution.

Devices to protect individual hearing are also available in the form of ear plugs, muffs, or head phones. Unfortunately, people who use personal listening devices, such as ipods, as a barrier to environmental noise, often place themselves at high risk for hearing loss through persistent exposure to loud music.

Ultimately, it is everyone's responsibility to help reduce noise pollution by purchasing quieter household appliances, yard equipment, and vehicles; and to become aware of the affects of noise pollution on the health and well being of individuals and community members.

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