Mumbai resident and writer Anuradha Sengupta is on a mission to save her sanity from rickshaw honking, apartment parties and construction noise drilling into her eardrums at all hours. The following is her account of the serious noise problems Mumbai residents face.
You are stuck in traffic in Mumbai. A sea of vehicles surrounds you. You try to shut out noise from revved-up engines and impatient horns. The increasingly frantic crescendo, much like the grand finale from a work by Rachmaninov, makes you want to shoot little darts tinged with South American poisons at the drivers of the cars around you or pull an Ambani and hail a passing helicopter.
Interrupting your desperate escape to your happy place is your autorickshaw guy, honking. He presses his thumb on the button, holds it there and doesn't let go.
Mumbai's three-wheeled menace.
After years of traveling by public transport, I have realized it is the autorickshaw driver above all who really loves to blow his own horn at miles of insurmountable traffic spread out in front. There is no possible escape from the crushing noise in sight. Yet the indefatigable driver insists on repeated blasts of his horn, thinking this will solve the problem. What's the point? I often ask them. Is the traffic ahead going to magically part like the Red Sea before Moses and let you through? You think the people ahead are all stuck in one spot on purpose, just to bug you? A non-committal or puzzled look or a lecture all the way to your destination are the only two responses.
I sit in the midst of all the cacophony, slowly grinding my teeth, considering banging my head against the side of the seat to ease the pain. Or getting those embarrassingly large noise canceling headphones. Or writing a letter to car manufacturers. "Dear Sirs, Can we just do away with horns altogether? Are they really needed?" Apparently they are, as one autorickshaw driver I asked said, as in the absence of horns, drivers would end up running down most pedestrians.
Noise-induced hearing damage is related to duration and volume of exposure -- safe exposure being not more than 85dB for about eight hours. At 100 dB or more, damage can take place in 15 minutes. The level from which humans can begin to identify sounds is 10 to 15dB. At the other end is the threshold of pain -- 140 dB. Prolonged exposure to this level can cause pain, nausea and loss of muscle control. Noise as a form of torture has been used by governments against perceived enemies, detainees and prisoners for a long time. The Nazis employed it. In 2003, the BBC reported that the U.S. Army had used Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and Barney the Purple Dinosaur's "I Love You" to torture Iraqi detainees, playing the songs at high volume over and over.
Now compare that statistic to the ear-blasting 145dB we are exposed to during festivals like Ganpati, where the level is equivalent to being close to a jet engine on take-off. Or the 127dB football players were exposed to from the thousands of vuvuzelas at the World Cup this year. No wonder that players have asked for a ban on the instrument with the drone-attack sound. Argentinean football player Lionel Messi complained about the vuvuzelas after Argentina's 1-0 victory over Nigeria. It is impossible to communicate, he said, it's like being deaf.
Maybe Messi should try visiting Mumbai sometime to get used to that feeling of being stuck inside a vuvuzela zone, night and day, and that's your life.
The growing racket against noise is not surprising since its pollution, like any other environmental issue, is increasingly being viewed as a human rights issue. In October 2009, the International Euronoise Conference was held in Edinburgh, with 800 delegates discussing noise pollution as an environmental concern. Here's why:
Silent zones of zero tolerance
Unfortunately, at this point, the only solution is zero tolerance. Whatever the event -- whether it's a festival, a neighborhood party or construction near his building, if the noise generated is breaking rules, call the police station and file a complaint. The Environment Protection Act makes noise pollution a non-bailable offense and stipulates a jail term of five years and a hefty fine of Rs 100,000.
Rercently, I had to look up the rules on noise when, late in the night, my windows started shaking due to the noise from a party next door. Under the Environmental Preotection Act of 1986, and the Rules on Noise 1989, and Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000, noise is classified as a pollutant. And just so you know, the maximum decibel levels permitted are as follows: Industrial areas 70 db (10 p.m. - 6 a.m.) to 75 dB (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.); similarly, commercial areas must stay between 55 dB abd 65 dB. In residential zones it's 45 dB to 55 dB.
Now we just need to get the messafe to the 22 lakh vehicles in Mumbai, the 8,000 buses, 55,000 taxis and the swarm of autorickshaws -- god bless them.
Ten percent of the world's population has some degree of hearing loss, making it the most widespread and chronc disability in the world. Hearing loss caused by noise pollution has been rising steadily since the advent of the industrial revolution in 1750, with no relief in sight. In the upcoming decades, noise-related health problems and hearing damage are expected to rise exponentially unless serious changes are made in the way noise is addressed.
The acoustical environment of most residential, commercial and industrial space is typically given little or no attention during project planning and design. Instead, functionality and aesthetics are the primary focus of the architect, builder, and interior designer. This unwillingness or inability to design and construct buildings with sound absorbing, sound blocking and sound deadening qualities to address different types of noise pollution in today's clamorous world has led to a global population living unnecessarily with permanent hearing damage.
Hearing loss has enormous social, economic and emotional impacts, affecting individuals, families and all members of the community. The impacts are far-reaching in terms of healthcare costs, loss of economic stability, and reduction in quality of life. The ability to remain self-sufficienct is undermined when one's hearing is damaged, as is the basic well-being of everyone exposed to the levels of noise that fill the airwaves of everyday life.
Society loses out when a significant portion of its members are unable to communicate and participate effectively; this affects not only the quality of life, it also affects the economic viability of the community.
Applying the principals of universal design - also called “accessible” or “healthy” design – as a preventative measure by incorporating soundproofing and noise reduction materials into the design of all new construction and renovation projects - from a single room in a residence, to the largest industrial manufacturing plant - may be the ticket to averting noise-related health problems, including hearing loss.
Interior designers are educated in the princiipals of Universal Design, which arms them with the the knowledge necessary to create spaces that incorporate a level of accessibility for people with disabilities. Today, demand is growing for interior design that adopts these same principles to living and working spaces as a preventative measure.
Below are some tips that anyone can incorporate when creating a quiet environment within a space:
Background noise from heating and air conditioning units should be addressed with the right noise blocking / noise absorbing materials.
Hard surfaces (wood, tile, stone) and high ceilings are notorious for causing problematic reverberation and echo. Designers should be familiar with standards of reverberation and available materials to buffer this type of noise. Every room design should include some sound-absorbent materials.
Room adjacency is always an important consideration in good design. No designer should abut a room meant for quiet, such as a bedroom or study, with a bathroom, kitchen, or other noisy room without an intermediary closet or soundproofing material in between, unless the “cheap motel room effect” appeals. A poorly sound-proofed dishwasher or washing machine on a wall adjacent to a living room, or a noisy HVAC unit in a room or closet adjacent to a conference room or office can seriously undermine the usefulness of a space.
When it comes to noise HVAC and plumbing, if you can’t change the layout of an acoustically inferior building or room, make sure that the noise source is treated properly with the right noise abatement material.
Rule of thumb for hearing safety in any environment: If you have to shout to be heard three feet away, then the noise is too loud and is damaging your hearing. (Sound systems with headphones can produce sound levels as loud as 105 – 110 decibels. Children who listen to this much noise for several hours a day face an inevitable hearing loss.)
While these pointers apply to all kinds of interiors, some places and functions require special consideration. A doctor’s office or law office may require a special noise barrier treatment to protect the privacy of patients and clients. Classrooms need special attention to prevent reverberation and background noise. Even ordinary workplaces can benefit from noise reduction measures.
Gunfire is noisy business, and the men and women who own and manage shooting ranges – both indoor and outdoor – are beginning to take soundproofing measures to protect the hearing of their employees and customers, and avoid complaints from neighbors.
Shooting ranges are constructed with safety in mind; solid surface walls, ceilings and floors create hard, reflective surfaces that exasperate noise in the form of echo and reverberation – exactly the types of noise that results when gunshots are bouncing around a hard surface space.
Gunshots register high in decibel levels, meaning high noise levels. When the firing range is indoors, the noise levels go up exponentially. For this reason, gun club members are required to wear hearing protection, since gunshot noise is directly related to hearing loss. The risk increases for those members who practice frequently, and for employees, as does the risk for other noise related health problems, including elevated blood pressure, depression, and other problems.
Gun ranges are isolated, to varying degrees, from neighbors. However, that is not to say that neighboring homes and businesses are immune to the sounds emanating from the local firing range. A common problem for gun range owners and managers occurs when the isolation factor is inadequate, and shooting noise leaks out of buildings, or is carried from an outdoor range. Not only are the decibel levels problematic, the repetitiveness of the fired guns over a long period of time can drive neighbors to distraction. More often than not, neighbors in close enough proximity to the gun range will file complaints and begin a course of action to drive the gun range out of the community.
Whether or not they’re successful at ridding their community of a gun range, they can certainly make operating a gun range difficult and expensive. Legal costs, court appearances, and time spent trying to iron out a compromise that both sides can live with can take a toll. But as noise barrier and noise absorption materials improve, there are options for creating a quieter environment both inside and out, one that will appease the neighbors without interfering with operations.
Noise barrier and sound absorption materials have become highly sophisticated in recent years, and more and more gun ranges now have noise abatement material — whether it is noise blocking fencing or indoor noise deadening material — in place that has dramatically decreased the noise problem, both on site and within the community.
Another problem firing ranges have is the lead particles and dust that accumulates on walls and fixtures. Gun range owners and managers need to choose sound abatement material that does not absorb the lead residue, such as open or closed cell foam rubber. Sound panels manufactured by Acoustiblok, Inc. can be purchased with a micro-fine stainless steel dust filter that prevents the lead from accumulating on the soundproofing material, making it easier to remove the accumulated lead residue and comply with Occupational health laws.
By installing noise deadening materials strategically, gun ranges can improve safety for staff and guests by:
Decreasing the impact of the sounds of gunshots.
Protecting members and staff from gunshot noise.
Reducing reverberation and echo for improved sound quality.
Creating a sound barrier between the firing range and neighboring community.