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Noise pollution is now an environmental issue and its effects are more pronounced with modern technology. The distractive and intrusive sounds cause health problems as well as low productivity. Noise becomes detrimental when it affects health and wellbeing among other environmental issues, such as damage to infrastructures.
Effects of Noise Pollution
It has been established that exposure to noise levels of less than 75 dB is safe and do not cause hearing loss regardless of the duration of exposure. It has also been established that exposure to noise levels beyond 85 dB for more than 8 hours is potentially hazardous. Such exposures in work places, recreational places and other places and may cause significant deficits. Vulnerability to noise induced hearing impairment also differs between adults and children. This problem may be accompanied by tinnitus, abnormal loudness perception (loudness recruitment) and distortion (paracusis) (Rosenhall, Pedersen & Svanborg, 1990). Tinnitus may be permanent or temporary, depending on the time of exposure. Hearing impairment eventually leads to depression, impaired performance at school and job, loneliness, isolation, impaired speech discrimination and limited job opportunities.
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Sleep is important for physiological and mental health, and environmental noise pollution is one major cause of disturbed sleep. Noise levels of more than 30 dB can cause sleep disturbances and chronic sleep disruptions eventually lead to mood changes, reduced performances and other effects on health (Bergita & Lindvall, 1995). Some examples of sleep disturbances are complexity when sleeping, awakenings and shift in sleeping phases as well as sleep depth. Lack of proper sleep also causes psychological effects, high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems such as vasoconstriction, cardiac arrhythmias and increased impulse amplitude.
Disturbances in Mental Health
A growing number of evidence indicates that although noise pollution does not cause mental illness, it is associated with the development of latent mental disorders. Noise pollution is also an important contributor to certain adverse effects such as nervousness, argumentativeness, headache, stress, anxiety, emotional instability, changes in mood, hysteria, an increase in conflicts and neurosis (Bergitta & Lindvall, 1995). Other problems associated with noise pollution are changes in well-being, use of sleeping pills and psychoactive drugs and hospital admissions, related to mental problems. Noise levels above 80 dB are associated with an increase in aggressive behavior and reduced willingness to help others. Indeed, violent behavior has been reported in many disputes concerning noise and the outcome is either death or injuries.
Impaired task performance
Noise pollution impairs cognitive performance at work and at school, decreases concentration and motivation and increases the number errors. Memory, attention, and problem solving are also significantly reduced by noise. Impaired performance can lead to accidents and errors, which may have economic and health implications. It has also been discovered that language development and learning is significantly diminished in noisy homes (Kierman, 1997). Noise produces negative effects on reading, motivation, school performance and social and emotional development.
Negative Social Behavior and Annoyance Reactions
Noise has the same effect as other stressors in causing annoyance and displeasure (Field, 1993). The effect of noise increases with vibration and other low frequency components. Other social effects are anger, withdrawal, depression, disappointment, anxiety, exhaustion, distraction and agitation. Social and behavioral effects of noise pollution include unfriendliness, aggressiveness or disengagement.
Interference with Spoken Communication
Noise pollution interferes with normal communication in and out of doors. High levels of noise affect the ability to comprehend normal speech and may cause handicaps, disabilities and behavior changes (Field, 1993). This also comes with personal problems such as misunderstandings, irritation, concentration and fatigue, lack of self confidence, uncertainty, stress reactions, disturbed working and interpersonal relationships.
Research has found that noise pollution causes short-term and long-term impacts to the nervous and endocrine organism of both humans and animals. Evidence continues to show that noise produces a certain reaction that makes the body fight response. Consequently, noise pollution can trigger the nervous and endocrine organism reaction that are the keys to cardiovascular health and are the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Daily exposures to noise levels above 65 dB or even acute exposure of noise that is beyond 85dB activates hormonal and nervous rejoinders, thus, resulting in short-term vasoconstriction and rise in heart rate as well as blood pressure.
Noise pollution is unique in that unlike other forms of pollution like water and air, it is short lived. Therefore, when the production of noise is stopped, the problem is solved. There are four fundamental ways of controlling noise pollution, reducing noise at source, blocking the passage of noise, increasing the path of noise and protecting those exposed. Source reduction is the best, though it is sometimes hard to achieve.
Reducing the Noise Levels at the Domestic Level
Domestic appliances like radios, television sets, tape recorders, mixers, cooking operations and washing machines can be reduced by operating them selectively and judiciously (Nagi et. al., 1993). Carpeting the floor of a house can also reduce the noise, resulting from felling objects, in the house. When constructing a home, it is also advisable to use sound proof wall materials, windows and doors to block unwanted sounds from outside. The soundproof materials prove very helpful in crowded residential areas.
Automobiles are the major source of noise pollution. Regular servicing will help ensure that their noise levels remain within the right threshold. Manufacturers also have a major role to play by fixing silencers to reduce the noise levels. Other machinery also requires frequent servicing and maintenance to ensure their operation is flawless.
Technology has been seen as a driving force for noise pollution, but it can also act to deal with noise pollution. Using “white noise” can help reduce the effects of the background noise, especially in cases where keen concentration is disrupted by outside noise (Rosenhall, Pedersen & Svanborg, 1990) White noise generators and headphones are very helpful in noisy working environments. In construction sites noise pollution can be controlled by proper planning and scheduling of operations.
Prohibiting the Use of Loudspeakers
Loud speakers at public gatherings and religious meetings are major sources of noise pollution. Local governments must restrict the use of loudspeakers in highly populated areas, except when it is inevitable. Strict laws should be imposed against their use in crowded areas for the welfare of the people.
Factories are a common source of noise pollution in industrial cities. As a result, they should be relocated away from residential areas. Sound detectors should also be installed in industries to help in frequent analysis of factory sound levels. Erecting noise barriers is another effective and compact way of reducing noise pollution. Noise barriers work by reflecting or diffusing the noise. In working environments where noise is inevitable, the use of protective gear should be emphasized to minimize the levels of noise exposure (WHO). In addition, the management should practice job rotation to reduce the impacts of noise exposure on workers at particular noise areas.
A single measure cannot achieve successful control of noise pollution (WHO). Public education programs are necessary to ensure that piblic understands its role in controlling noise pollution. Providing them with information also ensures that the public is enlightened about the laid down regulations on noise levels. The role of the government in controlling noise levels cannot be overestimated. Enforcing stringent law is a good strategy for overcoming this problem. Police and civil administration should be empowered to facilitate their work of checking noise levels. There are many ways of mitigating noise pollution and no single method can work alone. There are significant challenges in attaining that goal, but it is certainly achievable. With determination, the government can work together with the citizens to successfully control this problem.