As noise pollution becomes a global epidemic, India — home to three of the world’s noisiest cities: Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata — has taken dramatic measures to establish quiet and privacy in a society inundated with the noise problems that accompany modern life. Indians are increasingly installing noise barriers and soundproofing materials in their homes, yards and businesses as noise pollution awareness grows.
India’s Supreme Court has put strict noise ordinances in place in an attempt to curtail unwanted and unnecessary sounds that are creating health problems in its citizens, and contributing to an unhealthy environment. Some Indians are embracing their new responsibility to tone down the ambient noise, particularly in the biggest cities, and adopting an environmentally friendly approach to some long held traditions.
One example is the upcoming celebration of Diwali, an annual Hindu festival of lights marked by large family gatherings, bursting firecrackers, raucous air horns, and lighting clay lanterns to signify the triumph of good over evil. Diwali takes place over five days in October and November.
Much like fourth of July celebrations in America, Diwali is not complete without its noisy elements – fireworks and air horns, most specifically. This year, however, Hindus living in India’s capital city of Delhi and other major metro areas plan to tone down their celebration of Diwali by opting for eco-friendly firecrackers and abstaining from using air horns, in order to lower noise levels.
India’s lowered noise standard is a growing trend but still catching on across the country. To make sure that firecrackers and air horns do not become a public nuisance this year, law enforcement will be working throughout the festival to remind celebrants to keep the noise down.
District administrations and the police plan to impose a total ban on the loudest firecrackers (exceeding decibels of 125, comparable to the sound of a tire blowout), in keeping with the new guidelines governing noise pollution levels across India.
Offenders can be arrested and even jailed under India’s Noise Pollution (Regulation & Control) Rules and the Environment Protection Act, and the guilty could be fined up to Rs 1 lakh (2,250.00 U.S. dollars) or face imprisonment for up to five years.
All the major cities are demanding eco-friendly fireworks, made of recycled paper and contain fewer chemicals than traditional versions, which makes them quieter and emit less smoke and harmful toxins.
Delhi and Kolkata lead in the purchases of eco-friendly fireworks, which actually cost less than traditional fireworks.
Residents in rural areas and small towns still prefer traditional firecrackers, but city residents insist they can celebrate with the green alternatives to noisy firecrackers without sacrificing festival fun.
Indian authorities and the pollution control board are also making it mandatory for firecracker manufacturers to mark each product with its corresponding level of noise pollution.
Last week, Kolkata police raided several parts of the city to identify shops selling prohibited air horns. Shop owners caught selling banned air horns were summoned to the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) office for a hearing
The use of air horns and the rampant use of banned firecrackers, particularly during the weeks before and after Diwali, are a major source of noise pollution across India. WBPCB authorities and the police plan to conduct raids during Diwali. However, with the exception of a few arrests, little is done to prevent banned fire crackers from entering city markets.
Although noise ordinances established in India may seem harsh to some, they represent a growing awareness of the dangers of noise pollution in communities across the globe, and a growing trend toward managing noise, just as other forms of pollution have been addressed in the latter half of the 20th century and early 21st century. India is already proving itself to be a leader when it comes to quieting the world.
The constant sounds of machines, alarms, voices, beepers and telephones are nothing out of the ordinary to people who work in hospitals. Like people in almost any working environment, medical staff members adapt to the constant clamor; over time, the ambient noise becomes a normal part of their work life.
However, these sounds are not normal to patients. In fact, they’re far from normal, and studies show that noise in U.S. hospitals adversely affects patient care directly and indirectly. Noise is not only causing additional stress on the infirm, it is causing serious mistakes to be made by medical staff.
Depending on age, the sharpness of their hearing, medication levels, even their culture and fears, the same sounds that hospital staff take for granted are increasing the stress levels and sleep disturbances in patients. Noise in hospitals has been found to cause confusion among patients, contribute to patient falls, and increased administration of medication and restraint use. Prolonged exposure to the ambient noise that is common to hospitals can increase a patient's anxiety and ultimately affect the patient’s well-being and safety.
Noise actually decreases patient confidence in the clinical competence of the staff, according to studies on the effects of noise in hospitals.
Compounding the problem, noise-induced stress impacts other patients and visiting family members exponentially.
Sudden noises like a slammed door or dropped tray may trigger the "startle reflex" in patients, resulting in physical responses such as increased heart and respiratory rate, facial grimacing, elevated blood pressure, muscular flexion and vaso-constriction. Patients exposed to noise continuously can experience increased agitation, altered memory, lowered pain tolerance and feelings of isolation. Such environmentally-triggered symptoms are often medicated or otherwise treated in ways unrelated to their cause.
Even more alarming, distracting sounds have been shown to contribute to medical and nursing errors. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) has pinpointed noise as a potential risk factor related to medical and nursing errors, and recommends ambient sound environments never exceed a level that could prohibit clinicians from clearly understanding each other. In one specific surgical incident, music being played in the operating room was so loud, the surgeon's directions to the anesthesiologist regarding levels of heparin – a drug used to prevent clots - were misunderstood by 8,000 units. This type of incident takes noise past a mere annoyance level and makes it a significant potential safety risk.
EPA recommended guidelines for continuous background noise in hospitals place acceptable daytime levels at 35 decibels, and 40 decibels at night in patient rooms – the equivalent of a very quiet or whispered conversation. But studies show that noise levels in most hospitals are much higher. Noise sources are numerous and loud, and hard surfaces — floors, walls, and ceilings — reflect sound rather than absorb it, causing reverberant sound problems like echo to overlap, linger, and repeat frequently.
While many hospitals are committed to creating a healing environment, the auditory environment, laced with noxious noise, is usually ignored. A healing environment requires both a physical setting conducive to recovery, and an organizational culture that supports patients and families already struggling with stress. The sound environment must be managed in such detail that neither patients nor staff are at risk.
When we talk about managing noise, it is understood that hospitals and other medical facilities cannot be expected to operate in silence.
The EPA defines noise as "any sound that may produce an undesired physiological or psychological effect in an individual or group." This definition accompanies the decibel scale. Therefore, it is necessary to determine whether noise in a particular hospital is an issue, and if so, to what degree.
To minimize the potential for noise to impact patients negatively, standards must be set to establish appropriate sound levels, including recommendations for modifying, maintaining, and purchasing equipment. In addition, repair and maintenance policies should be reviewed to incorporate language to address a quieter environment. An auditory impact query should be part of every new construction project as well as every remodel, equipment addition, and staff event.
A recent study by Blomkvist et al. (in press, 2004) examined the effects of poor versus good sound levels and acoustics on coronary intensive-care patients in a large university hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, by periodically changing the ceiling tiles from sound-reflecting to sound-absorbing tiles. When the sound-absorbing ceiling tiles were in place, patients slept better, registered lower sympathetic arousal (which indicates lower stress levels), and reported that nurses gave them better care.
The Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Michigan, experienced a 30 percent reduction in medical errors in one unit after it installed acoustical panels and went to decentralized nurse stations. Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, attributed its improved medication error index on noise abatement measures in its coronary critical care unit.
Noisy hospitals can compromise patient care and recovery. Hospitals must take measures to address sound quality and make noise abatement a priority in health care policy.
Many organizations and publications that promote green living, green construction, green manufacturing, and green energy focus on unhealthy pollutants that take the form of toxic or non-biodegradable waste.
Isn’t it time to include noise in the roll call of un-green, unhealthy pollutants?
Green living has taught us that every time a SUV is driven solo (no passengers), it’s adding more than 1.5 pounds per mile of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases to the environment. In the spirit of living green, many of us have changed our driving habits for the sake of the environment. We drive smaller cars, we carpool, and we take short trips on foot or by bike instead.
We buy reusable containers for carrying around water, and when we do buy bottled, we recycle the empties. We feed our families more organically-grown foods these days, and clean our homes with non-toxic cleansers because living green is healthier.
So when you consider the toll that noise pollution is taking on our health every day, you would think that addressing noisy matters would be number one on the list of “green living” priorities, or at least in the top five.
Noise pollution is a modern plague; it affects our hearing, our sleep patterns, our performance levels, and even the way food tastes. It has been documented to increase risks of heart disease and stroke. Noise pollution – from the neighbor’s constantly barking dog, to the unwelcome sounds of air and ground traffic, construction, manufacturing plants, lawn equipment and the hundreds of sources of ambient sounds that infiltrate our space daily – is not a component of green living.
Exposure to sound levels in excess of 85 decibels for more than eight hours is potentially unhealthy. Eighty-five decibels is roughly equivalent to the noise of heavy truck traffic on a busy road.
Above 85 decibels, hearing damage is related to sound pressure (measured in decibels) and to time of exposure. The major cause of hearing loss is occupational exposure to noise, although other sources (particularly recreational noise) are also culprits. Studies suggest that children seem to be more vulnerable than adults to noise induced hearing impairment. Children in noisy environments are also found to have more difficulty reading and learning, and experience a diminished quality of life.
Children, the elderly, and those with underlying depression may be particularly vulnerable to noise pollution because they may lack adequate coping mechanisms.
Noise pollution impairs task performance at work and in school, increases errors, and decreases motivation. Focusing, problem solving, and memory are most strongly affected by noise.
Although noise pollution is not believed to be a cause of mental illness, it is assumed to accelerate and intensify the development of latent mental disorders, anxiety, stress, nervousness, nausea, headache, emotional instability, argumentativeness, sexual impotence, changes in mood, increase in social conflicts, neurosis and psychosis. Population studies have suggested associations between noise and well-being, the use of psychoactive drugs and sleeping pills, and increased mental-hospital admission rates.
Noise levels above 80 decibels are associated with both an increase in aggressive behavior and a decrease in behavior helpful to others. News agencies regularly report violent behavior arising out of disputes over noise, often ending in injury or death. The effects of noise may help explain some of the dehumanization seen in the modern, congested, and noisy urban environment.
Noise pollution effects the environment very differently than regular fossil fuel pollution, but it can still have very negative effects. For this reason, many states and counties have developed noise control laws that designate exactly how much noise a vehicle can legally emit, or how loud a band can play in an outdoor restaurant. The problem with noise control laws, however, is they can be very difficult to enforce.
Green living is the healthy result of decades spent educating people on the ill effects of pollutants and ways to undo their damage. It’s time to include noise in the green education process that has produced citizens who recycle, compost, preserve water and energy, and look at the items bought and used every day differently than their parents and grandparents did.
It’s time to up the bar; involve citizens in managing noise wherever possible, and demand that businesses and other noise offenders do the same.
Noisy generators and HVAC units, pool pumps, car stereos played at heart-pounding volume and noise generated from a cranked home stereo all contribute to noise pollution. Even the drive to work and the eight-or-more hours spent there expose us to onslaughts of noise – construction, traffic, sirens and horns blaring, manufacturing plants, machinery and more – that take a toll on our health and wellbeing.
Even after years of living with noise in our daily lives, when we think we have become accustomed to it, our bodies are singing a different tune in the form of gradual hearing loss, cardiovascular disease, stress, sleep deprivation and other symptoms.
For one week, everyone shoud take note of the various noise sources that have become a part of their everyday lives. This might be a good start to recognizing those sounds that are harmful, and finding solutions to managing or eliminating the most damaging culprits.
We can even adapt some existing green slogans to eradicating noise:
Green revolution, the best solution to noise pollution.
I hear the Eco.
Be Quiet! Go Green!
The best thing about having the great home theater you’ve spent years dreaming of is the volume – that is, the ability to turn it up to your liking. No better place to indulge your love of super loud bass, or high octane sports, or scream-packed horror movies, right?
The worst thing about having a great home theater? Well, it’s the volume of course, unless your home theater has been soundproofed.
The point of having a home theater is to enjoy it, and soundproofing your home theater should serve a dual purpose – protecting those on the outside from your choice of entertainment, and protecting your investment in the home theater by blocking unwanted outside sounds from leaking in. You can do that by installing the right noise reduction material or combination of materials – you want to absorb noise before it leaves the space, and you also want to block outside noise from coming into you home theater.
For instance, the sounds that come from bass notes are some of the hardest to block because they come through the floor and walls even at normal listening levels. Bass contains a huge amount of energy, and those low frequency waves travel through most surfaces – walls, floors, ceilings – not only in sound waves but also in vibration. The louder you like your bass, the bigger the noise issues will be for other family members as well as neighbors, particularly if you live in an apartment or condo.
In fact, treating your home theater with the appropriate noise abatement material is going to pay off, both in your immediate pleasure (you can hear all the fine details from your HD screen or stereo without being disturbed by the neighbor’s dog barking) and later when it comes time to sell your home. In fact, homebuyers are more inclined to purchase a home with the convenience and privacy factor of soundproofing already installed.
The difference between attenuating noise caused by loud base, a full volume football game, or a noisy pool party in the next-door-neighbor’s yard is fairly complex and may require more than one approach to creating peace for those people within earshot of your home theater, as well as for making your home theater as enjoyable as it can be.
Noise abatement material that absorbs sound will keep your family and neighbors happy. This type of material works best when added to the wall studs during construction or renovation, before the drywall goes up. There is a wall treatment that can be attached over virtually any existing wall for a construction-free alternative to the stud treatment which carries the same STC, and can be painted or wallpapered to match the room’s décor. Once in place, the acoustical wallcover is virtually indistinguishable from any other wall.
Adding an appropriate noise barrier material, and/or a reverberant noise product will make the experience of listening to music, movies, or television all your own. You’ll still feel your bass waves inside, but family and neighbors on the other side of your home theater walls will remain blissfully ignorant.