July 18, 2019
Everyone knows about pollution. Whether it is smoke and exhaust in our cities, oil and chemicals in our waterways, or pesticides sprayed in our fields, pollution surrounds us. There are even areas that are well-known for their light pollution – having too many lights lit all hours of the day (think New York or Las Vegas). It’s simply too bright all the time to be good for us. But there is one more type of pollution that many people don’t even realize exists: noise pollution.
Noise pollution is exactly what you would imagine: too much noise in an environment. This noise can be in the workplace, in traffic, even just ambient noise in a city. Homes with young children can also suffer from noise pollution due to loud toys and television shows.
Just like with any other kind of pollutants, noise can cause physiological and psychological damage with enough frequency, duration, and intensity (loudness). For example, imagine landscapers begin working in your yard very early in the morning. It’s irritating, possibly startling you awake, and you start off the day in a bad mood. Now, you’re on your way to work and traffic is slow, people are honking and yelling; it’s a traffic jam straight from the movies. You finally get to work and the fax machine is constantly running, or the phone is ringing off the hook, or your coworkers simply won’t stop talking. When it’s finally time to go home, you realize road construction has begun on your street and will continue late into the evening. Feel the stress?
There are cities all over the world that suffer from noise pollution, and we do mean suffer. There are many negative effects of constant noise on the human body, including:
- High stress levels
- Hearing loss
- Lowered productivity
- Poor sleep quality
A study published in the Southern Medical Journal in 2007 showed that even if we have become accustomed to a certain level of noise, sustained exposure to even 65db of noise (e.g. restaurant conversation) causes cardiovascular issues such as raised blood pressure and heart rate; a “fight or flight” response.1 Another study has shown that noise can also affect learning and mental health by looking at test scores from a school that is noisier on one side than the other.2
Again, pollution affects us based on frequency, duration, and intensity. If you know you live or work in an environment polluted by noise, there are some things you can do for yourself. If possible, wear hearing protection such as earplugs or muffs, keep windows shut to minimize outdoor noise, or just give yourself a couple “quiet time” breaks throughout the day. You’ve earned it!
- Goines, L. and Hagler, L. (2007) Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague. Retrieved from http://www.nonoise.org/library/smj/smj.htm
- Bronzaft, A. L., & McCarthy, D. P. (1975). The effect of elevated train noise on reading ability. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1976-21562-001
Fun Random Fact: The two parts of the word “helicopter” are not “heli” and “copter,” but “helico” meaning spiral, and “pter” meaning one with wings, as in pterodactyl.