Some people may frown upon it, while others might nod their heads with their whole-hearted smile on their faces – no matter which category you belong to, as a person, especially as a person who must live in a neighborhood, the quality of the neighborhood has always been an important issue to be concerned about when you are looking for a place to live. For most people, the quality of the neighborhood is at the center of attention even more than the quality of the living spaces. As much as a good neighborhood can positively affect our mental and physical health and improve the quality of our lives, a bad neighborhood can increase anxiety among neighbors and can decrease their lives’ efficiency. Although there exist lots of problems that need to be solved in every neighborhood, noise pollution, no matter whether this noise is made by your neighbors or the surrounding environment, is with no doubt the most important issue in almost all neighborhoods. First, it is essential to investigate the reasons why noise is an important issue in almost every neighborhood and then explore the main contributing causes of the noise problem. After finding out that all types of noise in living areas have an immeasurably negative impact on people’s health, work efficiency, and daily life activities, I see that the potential solutions to the problem of noise pollution are to either control its level by the government or allow people to use various techniques in order to decrease the level of noise independently. However, as the government cannot apply effective measures to all areas where people live, citizens’ individual measures will be more efficient. Nevertheless, the efficient action plan that may mitigate noise pollution in the present day and in the future should imply the efforts of both governmental authorities and citizens as it focuses on the reduction of noise in new and already inhabited areas.
Effects of Noise Pollution
The first and also foremost reason why noise is an important issue in neighborhoods lies in the inevitable fact that noise pollution can have negative effects on our physical health. Living in a noisy area can affect the quality of people’s sleep, daily activities, and even general physical health factors. According to the International Program on Chemical Safety, “an adverse effect of noise is defined as a change in the morphology and physiology of organism that results in an impairment of functional capacity, or an impairment of capacity to compensate for additional stress or increases the susceptibility of the organism to harmful effects of other environmental influences” (Siano). Environmental noise exposure is responsible for a range of health effects, including increased risk of ischemic heart disease as well as sleep disturbance, cognitive impairment among children, annoyance, stress-related mental health risks, and tinnitus. This noise pollution becomes more important when we look at the noise level in residential neighbors where people spend most of their time. For instance, “the health risks caused by noise pollution in high income European countries account for a loss of 1-1.6 million disability adjusted life years (DALYs) – a standard measure of healthy years of life lost to illness, disability, or early death” (Siano). Also, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “noise pollution is one of the most dangerous environmental threats to health” (IBERDROLA). Moreover, according to the European Environmental Agency (EEA), “noise is responsible for 16,600 premature deaths and more than 72,000 hospitalizations every year in Europe alone” (IBERDROLA). Not only noise pollution can cause health issues for human, but it has a devastating impact on animals as well. According to the National Park Services (NPS) in the United States, “noise pollution has an enormous environmental impact and does serious damages to wildlife” (IBERDROLA). Most of the experts say that noise pollution can interfere with breeding cycles and rearing, and it is even hastening the extinction of some animal species. Therefore, noise pollution can not only affect mental health, but it can also affect our physical health.
Another reason, which is as important as the preceding one, if not more, is that noisy neighborhoods can substantively affect the efficiency of people’s work and their daily life activities. In the present day, the amount of noise in a living neighborhood becomes even more important since most of the people are forced to work from home due to the rules that companies made for their employees during the pandemic. To elucidate, the noisier a neighborhood is, the harder it becomes to concentrate on the activities that neighbors do, especially for the employees who work from home. The lower efficiency of activities will result in the lower efficient people in society. Moreover, the lower efficient people in society become more anxious and depressed as they see their activity outputs. Based on the report of the IKO Community Management survey, “48 percent of all survey takers said noise is number one complaint among the people who live in a neighborhood in large cities, whether this noise is from raucous late-night parties or opposite sleep schedules that result in one neighbor waking up the other” (IKO Community Management). As an illustration of the effect of noise pollution in the community that I live in, we always see struggling between the people who work at home during the day and the teenagers who play loud music and have parties at their apartment. Once, our neighbor, Larry, who is a programmer, complained to the community management office about George, a young boy who invites his friend to their apartment any time of the day to play loud music and laugh loudly. Larry told me, “it is important that people like George be aware of the rights of other people who live in the same area with them” (Pileggi). Therefore, noise pollution can affect our mental concentration level and efficiency at work.
Causes of Noise Pollution
After understanding the effects of noise on the neighbors, it is highly essential to explore the main contributing causes of noise. In comparison with ancient times when there were not many sources causing noise, these days, multiple different causes of noise exist. These causes can range from natural environment causes to human-generated causes. Although nature can make noises caused by animals and natural effects, human-generated noises are usually more dangerous and annoying. From a personal perspective, the most important three causes of noise that are also generated by humans are traffic and transportation noise, construction sites, and nightlife, though noise can come from a variety of other places as well.
Among these three sources of noise, I believe that the first and the most important cause of the noise is traffic and transportation noise. Without a doubt, we all live in homes that are close to at least one street or one alley. Living close to streets or alleys will cause being affected by the noise that is generated by passing cars. Moreover, some homes are close to bus stations or railroads, which means that people who live in these apartments suffer from louder noises generated by these huge public transportation facilities. According to the IBERDROLA, “a car horn produces 90 dB of noise and a bus produces 100 dB of noise.” On the basis of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of noise, if we consider noise above 65 dB as noise pollution, this generated transportation noise can have a negative effect on our health. To be precise, noise becomes harmful when it exceeds 75 dB, and it will become painful if it is above 120 dB. According to WHO, “it is recommended that noise levels to be kept below 65 dB during the day and 30 dB during nighttime” (WHO). A worse case is living close to the rail yard, as neighbors of the rail yard suffer from a higher level of noise pollution. Based on the interview that has been done about pros and cons of living close to a major rail yard, the interviewees felt that despite the fact that “the rail yard had a positive reputation and was highly valued for the jobs and economic growth it provides, it was also perceived, however, as a major contributor to the surrounding air quality as well as the noise pollution” (Spencer-Hwang). Several participants believed that “living in such close proximity to the rail yard had caused ailments in family, friends, and neighbors, as well as themselves” (Spencer-Hwang). Moreover, transportation noise can cause health-related issues, as previously discussed ones. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Clark et al. 2017 found “an increasing risk of diabetes with increasing exposure to transportation noise, but not with increasing exposure to traffic-related air pollutions.” In their study, noise pollution was independently associated with the incidence of diabetes in adult residents of metropolitan Vancouver, British Columbia (Clark). Therefore, transportation noise is not only unacceptable for most of the neighbors, but it is also risky for our health.
As the second source of noise, which is not as common as the first resource, we can consider construction. You may have experienced construction noise, even in the early morning, that affected your sleep quality and caused you to wake up because of this construction noise. Although not all the neighbors are close to construction zones and construction noise is not a common cause of the noise, building, car park construction, and road and pavement resurfacing generate an even greater amount of noise, with noise level even higher than transportation. As an example, according to IBERDROLA, “a pneumatic drill produces 110 dB noise,” which is higher than the noise that is generated by car horns and buses. Whether self-inflicted or common, everyday living noise can cause temporary or permanent deafness. When one is around noise for long periods of time, the risk of deafness is increased. “Construction noise has become the second most serious acoustic pollution in many cities, which could cause significant health damage and social costs. In addition, housing renovation and construction noise, which has rarely been investigated before, is a significant covariate of a wide range of mental health symptoms” (Ma). Specifically, as big cities are experiencing rapid urbanization processes, there are numerous ongoing construction projects that have led to an increase in environmental complaints, and construction noise has become a serious problem in the majority of big cities. For example, among people at higher risk of health problems caused by construction noise, “construction workers are at increased risk for being hearing impaired” (Cunningham). Therefore, construction as the second cause of the noise can result in serious mental and physical health problems as well.
The third cause of the noise is related to the nightlife. Humans have been created to live in social groups naturally. That is why all of us spend most of our time and socialize with our friends and family. However, sometimes this socialization can affect other people, especially if gatherings and socialization are generating loud noise and we are not paying attention to the others living close to us. Especially, a person who lives close to bars, restaurants, and clubs will feel noise that is generated by socialization and gatherings much more. According to IBERDROLA, “bars, restaurants, and terraces that spill outside when the weather is good can produce more than 100 dB noise. This includes noise from pubs and clubs”. According to Peplow et al., “sustained exposure to noise in areas close to public places also has been correlated with cognitive impairment and behavioral problems in children, as well as the more obvious hearing damage and sleep deprivation”. The European Environment Agency (EAA) has blamed “900 thousand cases of high blood pressure (hypertension), 43 thousand hospital admissions and 10 thousand cases of premature deaths a year in Europe on noise”. As a real example, I talked to our neighbor, Mr. Smith, about the reason of his high blood pressure. He told me that “the doctor told me that the main reason of my high blood pressure is living in the busiest part of the Santa Monica area. To decrease my blood pressure, the doctor recommended my wife and me to move to a suburb area”. Therefore, living close to the places that are designed specifically for nightlife can increase the risk of being affected by noise pollution.
Having scrutinized the issue, although people’s ideas vary on different points of the spectrum regarding the noise pollution issue in a neighborhood, I strongly believe that noise pollution is the first and most important issue that should be solved because of its destructive effects on mental and physical health. Although there exist many causes for noise pollution, I believe that transportation noise as the first and the most important cause, construction, and night life are the three most important causes of noise pollution. Hence, I think the explanation that I have provided above in favor of the destructive effects and the main causes of noise pollution are much stronger.
It goes without saying that noise pollution has already become an international problem as almost all big cities across the globe face it. In general, the most common measures aimed to reduce the level of noise include the limitation of noisy leisure activities, especially at night, the use of bicycles instead of cars, environmental education, and the insulation of houses with noise-absorbing materials (IBERDROLA). As a matter of fact, governmental policies may ensure noise control and correct control management by area protection and sustainable building construction. For instance, the United States Environmental Protection Agency established the Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) under the Clean Air Act to study noise pollution and investigate its impact on the public health and people’s welfare (EPA). Since 1972, ONAC had been operating “to coordinate federal monitoring and regulation of noise at its source and facilitate informed policy-making at the state and local levels” (APHA). The Office’s scope was expanded in 1978 by Congress that passed the Quiet Communities Act, including research funding and public health education dedicated to noise pollution (APHA). In general, ONAC created model noise ordinances, issued standards for local governments, and promulgated guidance documents in accordance with recommended or already existing exposure levels. In general, the governmental response includes appropriate planning policies and the introduction of the standards of sustainable construction in order to reduce the level of noise from the external environment in living buildings. In addition, the level of noise in residential buildings should be reduced as well according to the Building Regulations Approved Document E (Simonsen, “How Can the Government Reduce Noise Pollution?”).
At the same time, governmental control cannot be regarded as a highly efficient measure. First of all, in 1981, the Administration decided that all issues related to noise pollution should be monitored by state and local governments (EPA). That is why, due to funding limitations, ONAC was closed. As a result, since 1986, no standards, regulations, or rules have been promulgated to limit sources of noise in electronics, appliances, industry, recreational items, or machinery (APHA). In addition, contemporary measures are not fully efficient due to their limited scope. In other words, only such territories as city parks, areas of natural interest, and new parts of the city may be protected (IBERDROLA). As a result, the majority of districts, especially old ones with established infrastructure, will be left without any changes. In addition, the idea of the construction of houses with the use of noise-absorbing materials is relevant only for new buildings. Thus, old buildings will be unprotected, and the level of noise in them will remain the same. Consequently, people who live in old districts with established infrastructure will suffer from the same levels of noise until they solve this issue by themselves.
That is why private measures that aim to reduce noise pollution for individuals and families who apply them are more efficient in comparison with policies that cannot affect all people. In other words, citizens may apply multiple useful, cost-effective techniques in order to reduce noise pollution in their apartments by themselves. The measures include the installation of acoustic wall panels, window shutters, or noise-blocking doors, placing furniture strategically, and turning off electrical appliances that constantly produce noise as well (JosTec). Noise cancelling headphones or earplugs may serve as a short-term solution in the case of construction work. Due to them, people will have a good sleep at night. Moreover, such design elements as wall hangings and carpets or rugs help reduce the level of noise. In addition, planting bushes and trees around the house by community members will reduce noise pollution and improve air quality as well. All these techniques may be defined as an excellent alternative for all people living in big cities, especially for those ones who cannot afford to move to another area protected from noise pollution.
As previously mentioned, an efficient action plan should definitely include the implementation of the government’s initiatives in order to control noise pollution. First of all, noise maps should be created every several years, to see the whole scope of the issue, identify areas that require particular attention, and correct environmental noise directives in accordance with the current situation (Simonsen, “Effective Noise Control Strategies”). The next step is the implementation of strategies dedicated to the specific planning and design of buildings to reduce the negative impact of noise pollution. In other words, this planning includes particular disposition, geometry, and the use of noise-reducing materials and acoustic insulation. For instance, stone wool products will play a highly significant role in the implementation of an action plan dedicated to the reduction of noise pollution. As a matter of fact, high-density stone wool “has proven acoustic capabilities that allow it to isolate and control vibrations, thus efficiently absorbing sound and reducing noise” (Simonsen, “Effective Noise Control Strategies”). In addition, such insulation may provide immeasurably efficient solutions at entertainment venues and transport sites that may be regarded as considerable sources of noise. Another insulation includes traditional noise barriers, such as double-paned windows and weather stripping that will be extremely helpful in the noisiest areas and near an airport. Moreover, applying all mentioned changes to new or already existing buildings if possible may additionally protect from carbon emissions and reduce cooling and heating bills.
Another step of the action plan focus on the reduction of noise from transportation and may include the installation of noise barriers in the noisiest parts of a city and regulative measures. However, regulative measures should be applied after a thorough analysis of the current situation in order to evaluate their necessity. For example, in India, where noise pollution traditionally exceeds all permissible limits in the country’s biggest cities, the government banned the use of pressure horns, except for ambulance, police van, and fire brigades (PTI). However, these restrictions were determined by the excessive use of horns by citizens on the basis of their habits rather than necessity. That is why, the same measures cannot be applied to those societies where people demonstrate another behavior. The subsequent steps of the action plan include people’s education in order to raise awareness of the issue of noise pollution. Thus people will understand that they may reduce the level of noise by themselves and respect others. From people’s side, the use of noise-blocking and design elements, white noise machines, and playing calming music contribute to the reduction of noise in their apartments.
To conclude, it is necessary to say that noise pollution is a serious problem in big cities that substantially affects citizen’s physical and mental health. The most important three causes of noise generated by humans are traffic and transportation noise, construction sites, and nightlife, though noise can come from a variety of other places as well. The potential solutions of this issue include noise control by the government and the use of various techniques by people in order to decrease the level of noise in their apartments independently. Despite the fact that the governmental initiatives cannot be efficient in all areas, especially in old ones that cannot be reconstructed, the effective action plan for the mitigation of noise pollution in the present day and in the future cannot be created without the consideration of the authorities’ strategies along with citizens’ initiatives.
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