News about noise pollution seems to be trending in a big way, as growing awareness of the health risks of noise makes more and more Americans less willing to put up with it. Recent articles and news coverage about unbearably loud environments in New York, Virginia, New Orleans and Los Angeles to name just a few raise a good question: Does noise pollution have to go hand-in-hand with urban living, or are city dwellers within their rights to demand change in the form of lowered decibels?
Recent articles in the New York Times, L.A. Times, and Wall Street Journal have blown the lid off of the life-threatening nuisance that is noise pollution. Several articles hit the media in early summer pinpointing roadway traffic noise as a proven contributor to heart attacks among people exposed. Long Island and Hamptons residents are close to anarchy over the uber-rich one-percenters flying back and forth in private helicopters daily between their Hamptons vacation homes to their Manhattan offices, with no regulation in place regarding flight paths or flight times. The helicopter noise, which residents claim shakes their homes and wakes them from their sleep, is being interpreted by the unhappy neighbors of these wealthy heli-commuters as intentionally inflicted harassment .
Yet the helicopter offenders don’t seem to care that they’re making their neighbors miserable and probably even affecting their health. Or if they do care, it’s not enough to give up their airborne transportation and return to fighting Manhattan-to-Hamptons roadway traffic every day.
But the escalating attention given to the hazards of noise pollution on everyday working Americans hit home hardest a few weeks ago when the New York Times published reporter Cara Buckley’s jaw-dropping account of noise levels measured in 37 Manhattan businesses - bars, restaurants, gyms and shops. Noise levels in one of every three business visited was 10-20 decibels or more above those levels deemed safe by OSHA and the World Health Organization.
City noise is no longer something Americans are taking in stride and chalking off as the price we pay to live in the city. Shortly after Ms. Buckley’s expose ran, New York Tines architectural critic Michael Kimmelman, tweeted about Manhattan noise.
"Not a sign of big city grit, but an urban blight." he tweeted. In a follow-up tweet, Mr. Kimmelman called noise pollution “the next ecological challenge for the city."
Could it be that people are becoming proactive about noise pollution? Maybe. Architects and builders in recent years have discovered the importance of including noise abatement materials in new home and renovation designs, as noise pollution creeps further and further into every cranny of our existence, with disastrous consequences to health and hearing. Soundproofing increases the value of real estate, as buyers find real appeal in the idea of home being a true haven, particularly when home is in the heart of any major urban area.
And, new and improved noise barrier and noise deadening materials are available today for use in residential, commercial, and industrial structures. As it stands, the U.S. is significantly less stringent on acceptable decibel levels in the workplace than almost every other country on earth! The economic impact of enforcing noise abatement in public places vs. the health risks of noise pollution has so far been siding with economics. For instance, noisy sightseeing planes in the Grand Canyon have been proven to damage wildlife habitats, and impose unhealthy noise levels on tourists, park rangers, and park employees alike; but a recent bill to regulate low flying aircraft noise over the Grand Canyon was rejected by Congress during passage of a federal transportation funding bill in early July that opponents claim was unexpected and unannounced.
Ironically, this happened just before the National Park Service was about to present its final recommendations on reducing aircraft noise over the Grand Canyon – a recommendation that was formulated after years of noise studies, at a cost of $6 million, plus the collection of nearly 30,000 public comments researchers had gathered. Arizona Senator John McCain spearheaded the effort to quash aircraft noise regulation in the national park, stating that the regulations would cause serious economic hardship to small plane and helicopter tour operators at the Grand Canyon.
It’s hard to say how much longer noise pollution in the U.S. will be relatively free of limitations. At lease noise deadening materials keep improving, so that if you choose to live in the city, you can install a noise abatement solution that can give you some peace and quiet.