When it comes to the environment, global warming and pollution often dominate the headlines, with other major concerns unfairly taking a backseat. One such issue that is commonly ignored or unnoticed is noise pollution. Noise pollution generally refers to disturbing or unwanted sound. Although this might seem inconsequential, noise pollution has devastating effects on human health and the environment.
Loud noises can be thought of in terms of decibels, where anything above 70 decibels has the potential to cause damage to the ear. If decibel levels rise above 80, there is a much higher possibility of immediate harm (“What Noises Cause…”). For reference, a vacuum is about 75 decibels. It should also be noted that a 10-decibel increase corresponds to an increase in sound intensity by a factor of 100. The most common causes of noise pollution include traffic, construction, aircraft, and animals (“Noise pollution: how…)). These causes are usually intensified within large cities, where there are higher population densities.
Commonly thought of as simply annoying, noise pollution has much deeper implications. Exposure to noise pollution is linked to higher levels of stress, lost productivity, high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, and noise induced hearing loss (“Clean Air Act…”). It can even lead to cardiovascular disease. These effects manifest themselves to a greater degree when the exposure is constant or abnormally loud. When children encounter noise pollution, developmental and cognitive issues can arise (National Geographic Society).
Noise can have an even more prominent effect on the environment, where it disturbs natural wildlife. For example, birds that communicate using calls are sometimes unable to be heard over the din of cities. Therefore, they have been forced to change their behavioral patterns to only call at night, when there is less noise (“Effects of Noise…”). Noise also has a large impact on mating, predation, migration, and habitat. Many species avoid loud areas, disrupting their respective ecosystems. This can lead to artificially altered food webs and relationships, which could affect the natural balance of the environment.
In the ocean, where noise travels further than on land, mammals that rely on echolocation for navigation are heavily impacted by human induced noise. For example, the use of mid-frequency sonar can cause whales to be stranded on beaches. Fish and crustaceans are not impervious to noise either. Ocean noise also causes stress, reduces communication, changes behavioral patterns, and even induces physical trauma when there is a rapid change in pressure[ZJ1] (Parris and McCauley).
For the sake of both humans and wildlife, noise should be more carefully considered as a dangerous pollutant. Because noise pollution commonly causes indirect or obscure changes, more analysis must be conducted to understand the fundamental and underlying impact of noise pollution. In the meantime, we can protect the environment and ourselves by wearing ear protection, turning down the volume when listening to music, developing quieter transportation, advocating for government regulation on noise, and establishing safe zones for animals to live in peace.
“Clean Air Act Title IV – Noise Pollution.” Environmental Protection Agency, 12 Aug. 2021, https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview/clean-air-act-title-iv-noise-pollution.
“Effects of Noise on Wildlife.” National Parks Service, 2 Feb. 2018, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/sound/effects_wildlife.htm.
National Geographic Society. “Noise Pollution.” National Geographic Society, 20 May 2022, https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/noise-pollution.
“Noise Pollution: How to Reduce the Impact of an Invisible Threat?” Iberdrola, Iberdrola, https://www.iberdrola.com/sustainability/what-is-noise-pollution-causes-effects-solutions.
Parris, Kirsten, and Robert McCauley. “Noise Pollution and the Environment.” Australian Academy of Science, 2 Apr. 2016, https://www.science.org.au/curious/earth-environment/noise-pollution-and-environment.
“What Noises Cause Hearing Loss?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Oct. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/what_noises_cause_hearing_loss.html.