Most of us do not even understand the concept of noise pollution. While great efforts have been taken to create awareness among the general public on the various contributors to environmental pollution, ‘noise’ has received the least attention.
In India, over the years, noise pollution has posed a major threat to human and environmental health. Not surprisingly, research shows that India is the global capital of noise pollution, with Mumbai being categorised as one of the noisiest cities in the world. Understanding the growing menace, India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) came up with an exclusive plan in 2011 to monitor, document and control noise pollution across various cities in India. According to the data obtained as part of this initiative between 2011 and 2014, Mumbai exceeded the prescribed limits for noise pollution and was seen at alarming noise levels quite consistently. Not far behind were cities like Hyderabad, Delhi and Chennai with very high levels of noise pollution.
Health impacts of noise pollution
Noise pollution can have moderate to severe impacts on the health of human beings, especially children. It can be both physiological and psychological, say experts. Karl D Kryter in his book, ‘The Handbook of Hearing and the Effects of Noise: Physiology, Psychology and Public Health’ mentions, “Noise pollution can cause annoyance, hypertension, high stress levels, tinnitus, hearing loss and other harmful effects.”
According to the CPCB report (2016) high noise levels can contribute to cardiovascular effects while exposure to moderately high levels can cause a rise in blood pressure. “As children spend more time in bed than adults, they are more exposed to night noise. Impairment of early childhood development and education, caused by noise, may have lifelong effects on academic achievement and health,” says the World Health Organization in their report, ‘Guidelines for community noise, 1999’.
According to the WHO, studies on the effects of chronic exposure to aircraft noise on children have found that consistent exposure harms their cognitive performance. WHO also states that studies have found moderate evidence of effects on blood pressure and catecholamine (which is produced by the adrenal gland and plays an important role in the body’s physiological response to stress) secretion.
Possible damage to a child’s health
- Threshold shift in hearing because of constant exposure to loud noise
- Old age deafness as a cumulative effect of long-term exposure
- Tinnitus – buzzing in the ear
- Lack of concentration
- Decreased memory
- Inability to do skilled work
- Loss of sleep and irritability
- Poor academic performance
- Psychiatric illness and seizure
Solutions to curb the pollution
Unfortunately, unlike in the case of water pollution, we cannot take too many individual measures to protect ourselves from noise pollution. What is needed is community action to insist governments and authorities to implement pollution control norms.
The urban development authority of every city, in its master plan, clearly segregates and separates noisy and polluting industries from residential areas. However, deviations from the master plan are rampant across India, resulting in industries and commercial spaces being established in residential areas. This is a primary cause for increase in noise pollution. Community action is needed to insist the authorities to follow the master plan. Construction of sound-proof rooms for extremely noisy industries may also be a viable solution.
While motor vehicles with jarring sounds for horns and damaged exhaust pipes are banned, they still continue to plague our cities. These sharp sounds can have severe impacts. Strict enforcement of laws, and increase and maintenance of ‘no horn’ silence zones near schools and hospitals can be effective.
Creation of buffer zones, with trees along the roads in residential areas, is a good way to combat noise pollution as trees absorb sound. With several elements vying for the top spot in the list of things that’s harmful for your health, it’s your responsibility to keep noise off the list. Make sure you take steps to reduce noise pollution, before it can have an irreversible impact on your health. As the adage goes, prevention is definitely better than cure!
Power Off: Electronic devices like TV, mobile phones and music systems are the primary sources of noise inside our homes. Strictly regulate time spent on these devices as at some level, your brain can convert even normal sounds into white noise and prove to be harmful.
Noise-cancelling headphones: These are not permanent solutions; but a pair of these while on the move through really noisy areas can help avoid the immediate effects.
Unplug those earphones: Using earphones to listen to music over long periods can again convert the music to noise in your brain, causing detrimental effects.
Equip your home: If you live near an airport or industries, equip your home space to deal with all that noise. Install basic noise protection facilities like rubber-insulated windows and doors to keep the noise away.
India is the global capital of noise pollution, with Mumbai being categorised as one of the noisiest cities in the world.
Sources of noise pollution
[Based on the 'Sources of Noise Pollution' by IMA (Indian Medical Association) Initiative for safe sound]
Traffic: Automobiles, trains, aeroplanes
Social: Loudspeakers, social and religious ceremonies
Industrial: Factories, construction activities, machinery
Home: High decibel music, home appliances
How loud is too loud?
(Source: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)Speech-Language-Hearing Association)
150 dB = fireworks at 3 feet
140 dB = firearms, jet engine
130 dB = jackhammer
120 dB = jet plane take-off, siren
110 dB = maximum output of some MP3 players, model airplane, chain-saw
106 dB = gas lawn mower, snow blower
100 dB = hand drill, pneumatic drill
90 dB = subway, passing motorcycle
80–90 dB = blow-dryer, kitchen blender, food processor
70 dB = busy traffic, vacuum cleaner, alarm clock
60 dB = typical conversation, dishwasher, clothes dryer
50 dB = moderate rainfall
40 dB = quiet room
30 dB = whisper, quiet library
“Noise pollution can cause long-term health problems. High impact noise, such as fireworks, can cause permanent loss of hearing. Such problems are acute during the festival season. Last year, during Deepavali, about 5-6 children came to me with problems like ringing in the ear.
The problem with noise pollution is that it manifests as a neural disease that can be irreversible. By 50 years of age, people exposed to severe noise may permanently lose hearing. This can affect them adversely in many ways, including being a hindrance to social interactions.
But, the effects of noise pollution can be mitigated easily. People who are exposed to excessive noise can take a break of 2-4 hours in-between to prevent major damage. It might be difficult to control noise production; but, it is very easy to prevent exposure to noise. You can do that by wearing ear muffs or ear plugs.
- Dr D Balakrishnan, Head of Department, Audiology, SRM University