What is that Noise?

Road traffic, along with excessive blowing of horns, is a critical contributor to noise pollution in India.

In an ever-increasing urbanized society, cities have become the hub for an unnoticeable, yet dangerous type of pollution. Some of its causes include the following:

  • Street traffic noise from pedestrians, cars, buses, etc
  • Construction activities that involve the use of enormous machinery
  • Events involving fireworks and loud music
  • Industrial noises like fans, generators, and mills
  • Persistent elevated sounds at airports, such as airplanes taking off or landing

Indeed, noise pollution is defined as regular exposure to elevated sound levels that can potentially induce harmful consequences for both humans and wildlife. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sounds levels less than 70 decibels do not pose risk to living organisms, regardless of the duration of exposure to those sounds. However the constant presence of noise beyond 80 decibels can be hazardous.

Impact of noise pollution on human beings

Whether an individual lives in a metropolitan city or works in close proximity to a busy road or highway, noise pollution can be unknowingly responsible for various health problems.

  • Hypertension – This is one of the few direct effects of noise pollution since blood pressure levels can be elevated for a long period of time. 
  • Noise induced hearing loss – Can occur due to prolonged exposure to loud drilling noises, considerable land and air traffic, or even listening to music at an unnecessarily loud volume. 
  • Sleep disturbances – Nightly noise pollution plays a major role in human sleeping patterns and can deplete performance on a physical and mental level. For children in particular, experiencing noise pollution is one of the contributing factors to higher stress levels, impairments in memory, and a reduced attention span. 

Impacts on Noise Pollution on Wildlife

This image highlights the presence of noise pollution in aquatic life.

While the environment contains natural sounds like rustling leaves (20 to 30 decibels) and thunderclaps (120 decibels), many animals have adaptations to these noises. In other words, they are able to understand and interpret nature’s calls in an effective way. However, when anthropogenic or manmade noise pollution is introduced to natural soundscapes, marine and terrestrial habitats can be significantly disturbed. As a result, animals can face major challenges in communication, reproduction, and navigation. 

Marine animals use echolocation to communicate warnings of danger,  attract mates, and look for food. When unwanted noise is created, it can disrupt these essential processes for survival. Ships, oil drills, sonar devices, and seismic tests are some threatening sounds that have transformed a tranquil marine environment into a chaotic atmosphere.

Similar to echolocation, sonar devices are used by sending pulses of sound into the deepest parts of the ocean so that the sound bounces off an object and produces an echo, indicating the presence of an object. While sonar may be a valuable technique for the navy, sonar transmits sounds up to 235 decibels, which is equivalent to a rocket take-off. Thus, marine animals like whales are not only hindered in their ability to use echolocation, but research also suggests that sonar can cause mass strandings of whales and alter their eating behaviors. 

Another important factor that damages the overall health of aquatic creatures is a seismic test, in which blasts of sound are transmitted within the ocean to find oil or gas deposits. Consequently, animals are forced to adjust the pitch of their calls in a manner that is not advantageous for echolocation. Furthermore, sea creatures can experience hearing impairments and other major injuries.

Ways to prevent noise pollution

As it can be seen, noise pollution leads to major physical, behavioral, and psychological hazards for both humans and other living organisms alike. Nonetheless, there are certain practices that can mitigate the dangers of noise pollution and contribute to a more productive society:

  • Proper placement of trees – Trees are one of the most powerful noise absorbents and can have a profound impact when planted near noise sources, such as roads and equipment facilities. 
  • Using quieter mechanical tools for maintenance tasks – Along with limiting unwanted noise, these tools are typically more efficient in energy usage. 
  • Taking precautions in loud areas – This is particularly important for senior citizens and infants as their hearing is more sensitive. By wearing earplugs, headphones, or monitoring the amount of time spent at noisy locations, individuals can protect themselves from any physical damage to their hearing and to their health.

Sources

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