Noise Pollution

Policies that affect noise levels ultimately influence noise pollution. A major source of urban noise is attributed to mass transit as well as other transportation modes. Noise from motor vehicles includes engine acceleration, tire/road contract, horns, and alarms. Therefore, strategies to decrease noise are being considered to improve the quality of life among urban dwellers.The associated health outcomes from noise are considerable. Noise-induced hearing loss is a significant problem in urban settings among industrialized nations. In addition to auditory damage, increasing attention is being paid to the non-auditory health effects of noise. Hearing loss has negative effects on interpersonal communication, quality of life, and work-life as it disrupts speech and sleep, increases stresses, and reduces productivity in the workplace and in school. Excessive exposure to noise is often associated with adverse effects on mental health (arousal of cortisol and catecholamine) and the cardiovascular system.Noise adversely affects short and long-term memory and sleep patterns, affecting productivity in the workplace and school. The Centre for Sustainable Transportation (February, 2004) reported that low-level but chronic noise of moderate traffic can stress children and raise their blood pressure, heart rates and levels of stress hormones. In addition, Evans and colleagues (2001) examined the two comparable groups of children living in noise conditions and found that children in the noisier neighborhoods had elevated resting systolic blood pressure and an elevated heart rate reactivity while taking a reading test and had higher self-reported perceived stress scores in comparison to those in less noisy neighborhood. Further, girls displayed diminished motivation in standardized behavioral protocols.

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MNoise is measured by an instrument called a sound level meter and is expressed in units called decibels, dB. According to the National Environmental Agency, typical noise levels are measured in the following way:

  • Library- 35 dB
  • Office – 60-65 dB
  • Traffic – 70-80 dB
  • Plane take off- 120 dB

Downstream Health Effects

Noise pollution, at significant levels, leads to noise-induced hearing loss, which is a significant problem in urban settings and is associated with adverse effects on the cardiovascular system. Hearing loss also has negative effects mental health including interpersonal communication, quality of life, and work-life as it disrupts speech and sleep, increases stresses, and reduces productivity in the workplace and in school.

Policies and Other Determinants

The Environmental Protection Agency, through its Office of Noise Abatement and Control was once responsible for coordinating all federal noise control activities in the US.  However, in 1982 the primary responsibility for noise control shifted to state and local governments.  Therefore, regulatory authority in governing noise is a function local government, many of whom conduct noise pollution programs.  The Noise Pollution Control Clearinghouse's Library provides a comprehensive list of federal, state and local ordinances regulating noise pollution

  • Residential codes and highway noise-abatement programs can promote the development of “sound barriers” particularly in communities that are adjacent to freeways, major streets and urban settings. Such barriers can be made to suit the aesthetics of the community, while at the same time protecting against potentially damaging noise levels
  • Sprawl increases travel time and forces people to travel outside of their neighborhoods for many everyday tasks, thereby contributing to high decibel levels in an environment.  To be effective, efforts to control sprawl need to be combined with efforts to promote mixed use development and mass transit
  • Land use planning and control- Local governments can exercise their authority to regulate land development in such a way that noise-sensitive land uses are either prohibited or performed in such a way that noise impacts are minimized