High noise levels are not just disagreeable — they are injurious to health and peace of mind.
SILENCE is golden," says an old German proverb. And for the millions packed together in urban sprawls, silence is indeed becoming as hard to find as the precious metal. Harried city dwellers are subjected to the confused din of autos, buses and trucks, the rumble of trains, the wail of sirens, the jolt of jack hammers, the roar of jet planes, the noises of industry, commerce, construction, demolition. And all the other activities that are part of today's city life. The suburbs aren't necessarily quiet havens either. Starting with the jangle of the alarm clock in the morning, the ear drums may be assaulted throughout the day with strident, nerve-wracking sonic dissonance coming from household appliances, TVs, stereos, power lawn mowers, chain saws, garbage trucks, passing motor bikes, and, oh yes, the incessant yapping of the neighbor's dog. "Our society is driving itself nuts with noise," declared Dr. T. Carlin, director of the Speech and Hearing Institute at the University of Texas Health Service Center. Noise pollution, he said, cannot only be blamed for loss of hearing, but also brings about other physical ailments, stress in marriage, a letdown in worker productivity and "all in all makes life miserable" (AP interview by Rob Wood).
What Is "Noise" Anyway?
For convenience, let's make a distinction between sounds and noise. There are many sounds that are beautiful, peaceful, awe-inspiring, edifying. These are pleasant to hear. There are other sounds that are not necessarily beautiful, but which are acceptable by-products of human activity. Then there is noise. Noise, as someone once wrote, is any undesired sound. It is sound at the wrong time and in the wrong place. A dog cavorting across the countryside is a happy sound. In the middle of the night, 10 feet from a bedroom window in a city, it is an aggravating noise. For the most part, noise is the result of human activity. Why is the dog 10 feet from a bedroom window instead of out in a field where it would rather be? Because it is tied up or otherwise trapped in circumstances of human devising — a part of city life. Whenever people are crowded together into cities, the noise made by some disturbs others. It is nothing new. The poet Decimus Junius Juvenalis commented on conditions in ancient Rome: "Insomnia causes more deaths amongst Roman invalids than any other factor... How much sleep, I ask you, can one get in lodgings here? Unbroken nights — and this is the root of the trouble — are a rich man's privilege. The wagons thundering past through those narrow twisting streets... would suffice to jolt the doziest sea-cow of an emperor into permanent wake-fullness." Today, in addition to the noise of modern traffic, we have to endure a deafening tumult from a multitude of modern mass produced mechanical noisemakers.
Emotional and Physical Effects
Sound is measured in decibels. A prolonged noise level of from 65 to 80 decibels puts a severe strain on the ears. A short period of more than 90 decibels can damage the hearing. Tiny hairs in the hearing mechanism, once destroyed by excessive noise, never grow back. The damage is permanent. You think you are not exposed to excessive noise? Well, a vacuum cleaner registers about 70 decibels; a hair dryer, 100; a garbage disposal, 80; a power mower, 90 to 100; an average factory, 85; an electric shaver, 90; heavy traffic at 25 feet, 90; a motorcycle at 50 feet, 100 to 110; a jet plane at takeoff, 150; a typical disco, 120. Daily exposure at lower but constant levels, from air conditioners, freeways or other background noise, can over a long period cause hearing loss ranging from slight to total deafness. But excessive noise does more than damage the delicate hearing mechanism. It has been found to affect the nervous system, the endocrine system, the stomach and emotions. Likewise it has been demonstrated that noise adversely affects the heart and blood vessels, causing high blood pressure and an increase of the cholesterol level. Sudden noise, such as a car backfiring or fireworks can cause a jump in pulse rates and blood pressure, muscular contractions and changes in the flow of digestive juices. Noise sets nerves on edge. It produces stress emotionally and physically. It is becoming increasingly recognized that the noises of civilization are partly responsible for the diseases of civilization. Still, some people, more often than not young people, enjoy noise — at least they think they enjoy it. But chances are they've known nothing else. To them noise is often synonymous with power. A loud motorcycle or automobile says, "Look at my power, everybody!" and in some cases even serves as a kind of mating call. The deafening (literally!) audio level at which disco or rock music is usually played has an actual physical impact on the body. While it may be interpreted as being powerful and desirable, it is far from that. Dr. Carlin said he went to a disco with two deaf friends. "I was going to tell them I had to leave because the noise was hurting. They left first because the decibel count was so high they felt pain in major organs of their body [sic] although they could not hear." Young or old, we are victims of more than the noise we can hear: many machines produce noise above or below the range of human hearing. Even though our ears cannot pick up these noises, they too may affect the body, bringing about such symptoms as headaches, nausea, loss of equilibrium and fatigue.
What Can You Do?
Unless you attempt to flee to the country, miles from civilization, foregoing all of its loud gadgets, you cannot completely escape harmful noise. But to some degree you can lessen its effects. Here are some of the recommendations of various experts who have studied the problem of noise pollution: 1) Avoid wherever possible subjecting yourself to loud noise. 2) Keep background noise to a minimum. 3) Keep doors and windows closed when there is a lot of outside noise. 4) Use heavier draperies, weather stripping and other noise deadening materials. 5) Have ear plugs available for use when needed. There are laws on the books in many areas that, if enforced, would cut down on some noise. Enforcement, however, is a problem. The police are too busy chasing criminals to answer a "loud stereo" complaint. The reply one police department gave expressed its frustration. When a caller complained because a neighbor had set up an amplified drum set in his back yard, the police officer asked, "What do you want us to do about it?" "Well," the caller replied, "can't you get him for disturbing the peace?" To which the policeman responded, "He's not disturbing our peace!" The real solution to the noise problem involves a fundamental change in the way society functions. Speaking about the harmful effects of noise, Dr. Carlin stated, "Adults should know better, but it is the children I worry about. With the loud music, the other noise pollution, the future doesn't look good for them unless their values are turned around." The values of the whole world do need to be turned around. So much needless stress from noise could be eliminated if people would just be considerate of others. Keeping the stereo turned down, keeping the dog quiet, not honking the horn or squealing the brakes without reason, not revving the engine. Just plain unselfish consideration. Rare in this world. The other basic step in solving the problem is to eliminate harmful noises at their point of origin by designing products and using procedures that do not exceed realistic, enforced noise level standards. That's the way it will be in the World Tomorrow. When society is set up and run God's way, there will be thoughtful planning against injurious side effects from human endeavors. There will be plenty of joyful sounds, but nerve-wracking, harmful noise will no longer be a factor in people's lives. God describes that time this way: "the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places" (Isaiah 32:17-18).