Noise Pollution: Environmental and Health Effects

By Gabriella Orta on October 7, 2017

There is nothing worse than waking up on a Saturday morning only because your neighbor has decided to clean the house. You know this because the freaking music is practically making you jump from the bed. Excessive noise produces noise pollution and it affects both our environment and health.

What is noise pollution?

It is the collection of unpleasant sounds in the environment. There is controversy when classifying noises because we commonly label a sound we do not like as noise. In other words, we could say that sound is what we make and noise is what others make.

For example, I hate mouth sounds and that is why I try to avoid doing it. When someone else does it, it is so annoying that I consider it a noise. However, the truth is that a sound is considered noise when its frequency and pitch are extremely high. Therefore, noise can be defined as a loud sound. I guess mouth sounds are only my biggest pet peeve.

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Noise pollution causes

Noise pollution is mainly produced by means of transportation, factories, public places, and construction machines. Since we are never pleased with what we already have in our city, these sounds are inevitable.

Let’s be real, infrastructures and developments are never going to be rejected by people. The problem is that we do not realize that the developments of our city disturb our environment and ourselves.

History of noise pollution

Excessive sound has been annoying people for a long time. According to Goines and Hagler, authors of Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague, chariots could not circulate during the night in Rome because the noise would disturb the citizens’ sleep.

Comparing this fact to the world today; it would be great if we could restrict the circulation of sports cars late at night.

Excessive noise makes people feel annoyed and stressed. In fact, in 2000, the United States Census revealed that 30 percent of people were being annoyed by the noise near their residence and almost half of those who were annoyed wanted to move out because of it. Even though there have been attempts to reduce noise levels, the reality of urbanization and development is constantly adding more and more noise to our environment.

Noise regulation laws

In 2013, the Board of County Commissioners of Leon County, Florida passed and adopted a noise ordinance to regulate noise production (click here to read the ordinance). Leon County has a 70-decibel restriction for non-residential areas all day. For residential areas, there is a 60 or 55-decibel restriction depending on the time (click here to learn more).

Environmental impact

The environmental impact of noise pollution is on wildlife. According to the National Park Service, the habitat choice of animals depends on the sounds produced in it. Basically, if an animal cannot tolerate the sounds of an environment, it would not tolerate any of the conditions of it.

Likewise, noise pollution affects the behavior of animals. According to Autumn Lyn Radle, author of The Effects of Noise on Wildlife: A Literature Review, strong noises cause something called “behavioral reactions” such as panic and escapement.

For instance, a study showed that caribous get stressed and nervous because of the noises produced by airplanes; they are not likely to get used to the sound because it is unpredictable. These animals are likely to abandon their habitat because of the fear of sounds.

If you think about it, the frightened reaction of animals is very similar to people’s. Let’s say the fire alarm of your building activates. You are going to panic and try to find a way out of there. The sound of the alarm is unbearable so you just stay outside of your place until it goes off.

Animals do not live in a house or in an apartment. Their home is their habitat and if there is something they cannot deal with then they’ll have to leave. Unfortunately, not all animals are able to adapt to a new habitat and in consequence, they die.

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Some animals use sounds as their means of communication. When there are a lot of noises in the environment, the communication is harder. Animals, in order to communicate with others, have to find a way to increase the sound of their calls.

For example, frogs use communication via sound to find a partner. Because of the traffic noise, they have to make their calls at a higher pitch. The problem is that female frogs prefer calls at a lower pitch (click here to read the Effects of Noise by the National Service Park).

We can say that the reproduction of animals is being affected by noise. It is obvious that some animals are trying to adapt to the environmental noises of nowadays. However, some organisms are still not able to adjust to situations in which they have to use different methods of adaptability.

Human health impacts

Noise pollution has some impacts on human health. The most important ones are psychological effects, hearing impairment, and sleep disruption.

1. Psychological effects

Based on the journal article by Willy Passchier-Vermeer and Wim F. Passchier called Noise Exposure and Public Health, the most seen psychological effect is annoyance.

Imagine yourself studying for a biology final, and all you can hear are traffic noises and construction machines. Would you be able to study? Noises are “stressors” that combine annoyance with anger, anxiety, distraction, depression, and agitation. In other words, noises can simply make you go crazy.

At some point, being unable to concentrate because there are several disruptions around you will make you have negative feelings. Knowing that you have a biology final and you are not able to study is stressful. This simple situation can develop a psychological problem, such as anxiety or depression.

The mental state of a person is seriously affected when there is excessive noise. The United States military used loud music as a method of torture when the prisoners refuse to talk. This torture technique made the prisoners feel frustrated, annoyed, and stressed. The only way they have to avoid the torture is talking (click here to read Cranking up the Volume: Music as a Tool of Torture).

Picture yourself alone and locked up in a room. Every time you want to get some rest, heavy rock metal music makes you want to go deaf. This will cause weakness, annoyance, and tiredness because you are not able to sleep. This lack of sleep will obviously result in a psychological effect.

2. Hearing impairment

Hearing impairment is developed when a person loses a part or all of his or her ability to hear. It is caused because of excessive exposure to strong sounds, or sounds that pass over 85 decibels.

We do not think on the decibel level when we hear a sound. However, we can identify when a sound is too loud. For instance, I think that one of my friends does not hear correctly. He loves rock metal and he listens to it so loud that my head can literally bounce. I thought he was used to the loud music, but the truth is that people cannot get used to loud sounds; instead, they get deaf.

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3. Sleep disruption

As we all know, noises interrupt our sleep. These interruptions cause an inability to fall asleep and repeated awakenings.

There is a construction going on next to my apartment complex. The other day I asked one of my friends, who lives closer to the construction, if she was sleeping well on Saturday mornings. She said that she is having trouble sleeping because there is always an unbearable noise coming from the construction machines.

Think about it — people normally rest on weekends. My friend and many of my neighbors are unable to have a good sleep since it is almost impossible to rest on Saturday mornings because of the construction noise. According to Goines and Hagler on Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague, when we are regularly interrupted by noises while sleeping, our “mood changes, [and our] performance [decreases].”

Let’s say you want to get a good grade at school or maybe get promoted at work. You have to perform your tasks correctly to achieve what you want. If you are too tired, you are probably not going to perform your tasks at 100 percent. Therefore, being unable to rest will seriously affect your life goals.

Likewise, when you are disturbed by noises while sleeping, your blood pressure, heart rate, and pulse amplitude increase. In other words, the calmness you normally have when you are asleep is interrupted by noise and this makes you feel stressed and nervous. For example, if you are sleeping and suddenly a loud sound wakes you up, you are going to be frightened because of the unexpected sound. The fear of noise is responsible for causing increases in the blood pressure, heart rate, and pulse.

Conclusion

Noise pollution is something that needs to be taken more seriously and cannot be disregarded. It is an invisible threat to the environment and health. Our world is calling for help very loudly. That is the sound we should be listening to.

International Student at Florida State University. Majoring in Editing, Writing, and Media with a minor in psychology and Italian. Obsessed with music and theatre.

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