Noise- the underestimated threat
Sheela, one of my friends, is a very gentle and peace loving person. The only occasions I find her in a foul mood is when she hears the sounds of young boys and girls speeding in a bike. She is not alone. Many of us also ends up getting irritated whenever we come across these youngsters in bikes. Since last few years, there are gangs of bikers operating in the town. Their idea of fun is speeding away in their bike whose silencers have either been taken out or modified to give sharp shrill sound. The noise that follows them disturbs everyone's peace of mind. If the policemen come across them they chase after them and those caught red handed are penalised. But often, they escape any kinds of punishment as they speed away noisily. They are clever enough to avoid areas patrolled by policemen. Moreover, the punishment given are not stringent enough to deter them. So they continue causing noise pollution.
What is noise pollution?
According to Britannica, noise pollution is an unwanted or excessive sound that can have deliterious effects on human health.
Merriam Webster defines it as an annoying or harmful noise in an environment.
While a report of World Health Organisation has described it as an underestimated threat whose impact is second only to the air pollution.
Sources of urban noise pollution
With developmental projects being undertaken all around, urban areas are bound to be more noisier than rural areas. The sources of urban noise includes various machineries used in industries, construction sites or even at residential areas, Vehicles and use of loud speakers or playing of loud musics are also major noise pollutants.
A case study of Imphal:
In my home town, the major contributor of noise pollution are the vehicles plying on the road, especially the public transporters. At present, there are lots of autorickshaws and other commercial vehicles plying on almost every routes of Imphal. Their numbers bloomed with the implementation of the Self Employment Generation Programs of the Government of Manipur. Some of the educated youth took the benefits of the scheme and avail the loans to operate autorickshaws as public transportation system. Others followed them and within a decade, such vehicles started operating in every nook and corner of Imphal. In no time, These autorickshaws started causing traffic problems in the congested market areas, so the Chief Minister had a discussion with the competent authorities on April 2018 to ban diesel autorickshaws, particularly those operating for 15 years or more.
As a mark of protest, the Association of autorickshaws drivers call a 2 days strike and ceased work for two days on September 2018. Data taken during those days revealed that the level of noise pollution dropped considerably, indicating them as a major noise pollutants.
Apart from the noisy engines of motor vehicles, lack of road etiquettes also creates unnecessary noise. Though horns were originally invented as a safety device, they are more frequently used for taking out the frustrations when caught in a traffic jam. In Imphal, it is also acceptable to use horns to announce the presence of a pick up vehicles. For instance, when school van drivers go to pick up the students from their respective houses, it has become almost a norm to announce their arrivals with a few incessant horns, thereby disturbing other people in that lanes and by lanes.
Other significant noise pollutants in Imphal are the various machineries used in construction sites or at residential areas, using of loud speakers during functions and concerts etc. Sometimes the concerts which are usually organised at evening continue late at night. The only saving grace about concerts in Imphal is that people refrain from organising concerts during matric exams and higher secondary school leaving examination. Another annoying source of noise pollution in Imphal are the fire crackers. Though diwali is officially celebrated only for a day, sporadic use of firecrackers continue for a long time after diwali.
Impacts of noise pollution
The World Health Organisation has rightly described noise pollution as an underestimated threats. It has become a cause for concern as many of us do not take it seriously enough and accept the noise we hear everyday as a normal thing. Often associated with the hearing loss, noise has the potential to cause far greater destruction to the environment.
Impacts on human beings
The auditory affects of noise is well known. Regular exposure to noise causes hearing loss either temporary or permanent. Permanent hearing loss occurs when a person is exposed to chronic noise of above 80 dB or more. A person exposed to chronic noise also risks heart failures. The disturbances caused by noise triggers the body to release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones increases the production of blood cholesterol and triglycerides which increases the risk of heart failures. Sleep disturbances caused by noise also leads to other problems like hypertension and gastric ulcers.
Noise are also known to hinder the learning abilities of children, probably due to lack of concentration and stress. I also came across an interesting article in which it was mentioned that noise interferes with the ability to understand speech. Studies conducted on a group of children reveals that when they are exposed to chronic noise, they find difficulties in identifying letters such as F, S, T, K and C which affects speech identification.
Impacts on other living things
One good example of how noise affects other living organisms is observed during Diwali celebration. While we celebrate this festival by bursting crackers of all sorts, our pet animals get frightened and starts running around, barking or howling continuously, cowering in fear and trying to hide somewhere. What makes it worse for them is that they are more sensitive to sound than us. While we human can hear sound only upto the frequency of 20,000 Hz, most of the dog species can hear upto the frequency of 60,000 Hz while the cats can hear upto a frequency of 79,000 Hz. Likewise, many of the animals and birds hear sounds which we do not.
Noise pollution also affects animals and birds in the wild. In 2000, 16 whales were found in the beach of Bahamas either dead or with bleeding ears. It is said that the noise created during Navy training near the beach were responsible for it.
Birds and animals try to adjust to the increasing noise pollution by changing their behavioral patterns. Some of the changes observed are as under:
- Some birds like starlings, corvids, house finches of Mexico have resorted to chirping louder
- Birds like European Robins of England are found to sing at night time, when its much quieter.
- Birds like Scrubjay of Mexico prefer to migrate to a new location. But such migration affect the existing ecosystem. In the past Srubjays were responsible for inadvertently growing of pinyon pine plants in Mexico. Some of the pine seeds they buried before winters were forgotten by them after winter and these grew into new plants. After their migration, number of pinyon pine trees also reduce considerably in Mexico.
- Animals like grey tree frogs and European tree frogs have reduced their mating call, which affects its populations.
The Indian government has enacted many laws to reduce noise pollution such as Cr.P.C of section 133, Motor Vehicles Act, Noise Pollution Control Rule under Environment Protection Act 1996 etc to name a fee. Under the Noise Pollution Control Rule, areas at a distance of 100 m around hospitals, educational institutions and courts are declared as silence Zone. Also, use of loud speakers or public address systems are prohibited at night time between 10 pm and 6 am. While it is upto the competent authorities to ensure that these rules are implemented strictly, we can also take certain measures at our level to reduce noise pollution.
- The best solution for preventing noise pollution is by reducing the sound at the source itself. Simple steps like listening to music at low volume, refraining from honking unnecessarily or maintaining the vehicles and every machines at good working conditions can reduce sound considerably.
- In residential areas and offices , some of the sound can be absorbed by using thick carpet or thick curtains in the room. Keeping sound absorbing materials like rubber below machines also absorbs sound to some extent.
- Some plants are capable of absorbing sounds effectively. Generally, any broad leaved evergreen trees and shrubs with thick branching at lower level can absorb sounds. If such plants are planted very close to each other, leaving no or very little space between them, noise can be controlled more effectively.
Noise pollutions have far reaching consequences other than hearing loss. It has the potential to change gradually the whole ecosystem. So we should take actions before its too late. We should minimise the noise we produce in our daily life.
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